The sun climbed over a private spaceport in rural West Texas, a six-story-tall rocket lit its engines and lifted off, carrying a spacecraft with four people on board—the first passengers to ride Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket to the top of the sky. The rocket hurtled star-ward, and at about 250,000 feet the crew capsule separated from the booster and continued to the edge of the atmosphere, while the rocket fell back to Earth and executed a controlled vertical landing.
As the capsule climbed, the crew members unbuckled their seatbelts and floated in weightlessness for a few minutes, whooping excitedly as they took in the views out the windows. At 351,210 feet, not quite in orbit but well above the 62-mile line marking the internationally recognized boundary of space, the capsule began to fall. About ten minutes after launch, parachutes helped it safely alight back on Earth.
The flight carried a crew by spaceflight standards. One of the passengers was Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and currently the world’s richest person. His brother Mark joined him for the inaugural flight. And perhaps outshining the Bezos brothers, at least for those versed in aerospace history, is Wally Funk, an 82-year old aviator who has dreamed of being an astronaut since the early days of NASA’s human spaceflight program—when she trained to be an astronaut and outperformed the seven men chosen for the Mercury program on many of the tests, but did not get a chance to go to space.
Completing the crew is Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands, now the youngest person to visit space. Daemen’s father paid an undisclosed amount for his son to experience weightlessness, see the darkened sky, and gaze at Earth’s curved horizon for a few fleeting minutes.
Bezos has said he founded Blue Origin because he wants to help create a future where millions of people live in space, residing on lush, rotating manufactured worlds in orbit.
It’s not clear how hefty the price tag for the opportunity will be—but Blue Origin says it has a list of passengers waiting for their turn to make the parabolic journey. One of those is an anonymous customer who bid $28 million for a chance to fly on this inaugural flight but had to postpone the trip to space at the last minute because of “scheduling conflicts,” the company said.