On the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s and “Buzz” Aldrin’s moon landing in 1969, Jeff Bezos and three fellow crew members successfully completed a 10-minute ten-second suborbital flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard, reaching a maximum altitude of 66.5 miles (107 km). Describing the event as “Best day ever,” Bezos was accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen who is a recent high school graduate, and the pioneering female aviator 82-year-old Wally Funk who was one of the original Mercury 13 group of women who trained with NASA to become astronauts in the 1960s, but the program was cancelled and none of the 13 flew.
The spacecraft, New Shepard, was named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space and it reached a top speed of 2,233 miles per hour (3,595 kph) and exceeded the Karmen line, set at 62 miles above the Earth’s surface and defined by an international aeronautics body as the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. This exceeded the altitude achieved by Sir Richard Branson on July 11 and his Virgin Galactic Unity spacecraft which has a maximum achievable altitude of 55 miles (99 km). Unlike Branson’s spacecraft, New Shepard was pilotless and resembled more a space rocket as opposed to an aircraft like Unity. Once New Shepard’s capsule containing the four crew members had separated from the booster rocket, they were able to enjoy a short period of weightlessness, after which the capsule returned to earth under parachutes, with a retro-thrust system expelling a “pillow of air” being deployed for a soft landing.
These two successful spaceflights have given greater credibility to the space tourism industry, with Swiss Bank UBS estimating it will have a US$3 billion value in annual sales in ten years’ time. Currently Bezos has sales of approximately US$100 million for flights aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard, while Sir Richard Branson has sold 600 flights aboard Virgin Galactic’s Unity at US$250,000 a seat for a total value of US$150 million.