By Kyle Arnold
The Dallas Morning News
Blue Origin and West Texas made space history Tuesday morning by successfully launching and landing a private rocket ship with an all civilian crew just outside of the tiny town of Van Horn.
The New Shepard rocket, which passed just over the 100-kilometer high line to enter space, took off just after 6:11 PDT on Tuesday in route to an 11-minute voyage before it landed softly with its crew safe after a flight that seemingly went off without any problems.
The four passengers, which included Jeff Bezos and female aviation trailblazer Wally Funk, spent three minutes in zero-gravity before strapping back in for the return journey back to Earth.
“It’s so dark up here,” Funk could be heard on the broadcast.
Bezos, the world’s richest man, could be seen waving his arms in joy upon landing and giving thumbs up to Blue Origin employees outside as he waited to exit the crew capsule. Funk, who became the oldest woman to travel into space, exited the capsule with a wide grin and arms extended.
“Oh my God, it was so good,” Funk said as the crew, employees and family members celebrated the landing.
It was a major milestone in space travel with the first fully civilian crew taking off from a private facility under the direction of a private rocket company.
It was the first human launch for Blue Origin, a company that has spent 20 years developing its commercial rocket system but has fallen a few steps behind its bigger and splashier rival SpaceX, which launched a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station. Virgin Galactic increased the pressure earlier this month with a suborbital flight on its plane-like SpaceShipTwo Unity with six passengers on board.
Blue Origin previously launched 14 rockets into space from its West Texas facility, but none of them has drawn as much attention as human space flight, especially when it involves one of the world’s most famous men.
It’s the next step in the billionaire space race led by the modern titans of industry that have conquered the business world and set aim beyond. SpaceX is helmed by Tesla founder Elon Musk and Virgin Galatic by British billionaire Richard Branson. The Blue Origin flight is also the next step in a decadelong effort to take the burden of space travel away from NASA and the federal government and place it into the hands of the private industry, although still heavily supported by public dollars.
“We are also flying our first paying commercial customer, and the fact that doing this on a private vehicle that is completely privately funded from a private launch site is just something that hasn’t been done in this industry before,” said Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of New Shepard Operations.