The flight of the New Shepard spacecraft carrying billionaire Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen and American aviator Wally Funk, went off without a hitch this morning. The launch, from Van Horn, Texas, Blue Origin’s West Texas launch facility, had a few short delays but headed spaceward at right around 9:15 East Coast time.
Everything went flawlessly. The launch team gave the thumbs-up for the mission to proceed a few minutes before launch—as with NASA, it only takes one vote to scrub a mission—and ignition went flawlessly, the rocket ascending through fair weather in early-morning West Texas skies, reaching better than Mach 3 and attaining an altitude of nearly 330,000 feet, well past the Kármán Line, which is the internationally recognized dividing line between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
Unlike the Virgin Galactic space launch system, which is designed to carry tourists into space by using a large aircraft to take the spaceplane to 50,000 feet, the Blue Origin spacecraft goes up in the same way NASA launched its spacecraft throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, on a large multi-stage rocket.
The twist with Blue Origin is that its rocket is reusable and flies itself back to the launch pad. As it has the last 15 flights, the rocket landed safely back on the pad well before the capsule returned to earth.
After hitting its apogee and zeroing out its speed, the spacecraft’s occupants unbuckled and enjoyed a few minutes of life in zero gravity. After returning to their seats and strapping back in, the occupants enjoyed an easy trip back to earth after a trio of drogue chutes and then three main chutes deployed and brought the ship back to a safe and easy landing—it employs a blast of air to soften the landing to a soft bump.
Blue Origin isn’t saying how much it will charge tourists for subsequent rides to space, but its competitor, Virgin Galactic, is said to be charging better than $250,000 for the ticket. Speaking of Virgin Galactic, its CEO tweeted his congrats to Bezos and crew after the safe landing, tweeting, “Well done @blueorigin, @jeffbezos, Mark, Wally and Oliver. Impressive! Very best to all the crew from me and all the team at @virgingalactic.”