On the anniversary of the first Moon landing, Blue Origin became the second commercial space company in just nine days to send people just past the edge of space. During the seemingly flawless 10 minute and 10 second flight, the four passengers on board the New Shepard rocket whooped with glee and exhilaration. The crew included Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and the oldest and youngest people to ever fly to space.
Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneering female aviator and member of the so-called “Mercury 13” women astronaut-hopefuls made the flight, along with Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student.
Bezos’ and Blue Origin’s flight comes after fellow space billionaire Richard Branson launched in his own Virgin Galactic rocketship on July 11.
“Blue Control, Bezos. Best day ever!” Bezos said during the flight, with a near-constant chatter of the crew could be heard during the live webcast. “You have a very happy crew up here!”
Screenshot from Blue Origin webcast of the liftoff of the New Shepard rocket on July 20, 2021.
The New Shepard vehicle lifted off from the company’s facilities in Van Horn, Texas, shortly after 8 a.m. CT. The crew had approximately four minutes of weightlessness during the flight. The suborbital mission passed the Karman line, the point 100 km (62 miles) above Earth’s surface where some international organizations consider where space begins.
The booster rocket touched down in a smooth, vertical landing about seven minutes after liftoff. A few minutes later, the capsule containing the crew landed relatively softly, with parachutes and cushioning retrorockets. The jubilant crew climbed out of the capsule, joining in hugs and champagne with family and friends.
Blue Origin tweeted out the stats for the flight:
Key Mission Stats from #NSFirstHumanFlight:
Crew capsule apogee: 347,563 ft AGL / 351,210 ft MSL (105 km AGL / 107 km MSL)
Booster apogee: 347,188 ft AGL / 350,835 ft MSL (105 km AGL / 106 km MSL)
Elapsed mission time: 10:10
Max ascent velocity: 2,233 mph (3,595 km/h)
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 20, 2021
While Bezos may have made billionaire history, the true winner of the flight was Funk. In 1960-1961, Funk was a member of thirteen women who called themselves the First Lady Astronaut Trainees, FLATs. (The term Mercury 13 was coined in the 1980s for a documentary.) The thirteen female pilots went through the same medical tests and training as the male astronauts selected for NASA’s Mercury program. These women were all experienced pilots who did better than their male counterparts in some aspects of training and (in some cases) even had more flying time. Funk was at the top of her class and outperformed the male astronauts in every category, but never got to go to space after NASA decided to choose only male astronauts. Bezos’ choice of adding Funk to the flight was widely lauded.
18-year-old Daemen’s seat was paid for by his father, and he was named to the crew after the winner of an anonymous $28 million auction for the flight had to postpone due to a scheduling conflict.
While Blue Origin’s company’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter,” Latin for “step by step ferociously,” Bezos suddenly made the decision to forego the step by step test flights with the astronauts on their payroll, and in May of this year, announced that he put himself and his brother on the first flight.
While today’s successful flight was a big triumph, still up for debate is whether Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s flights are a dawning of breakthroughs that will open the space for everyone, or if they are just a harbinger of more suborbital joyrides for the rich.
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