Last week we covered the first strike in the ‘Billionaire Space Race’, as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic took flight and broke new ground in making him the first person to ever enter space aboard their own spacecraft and signaled ‘all systems go’ on his commercial space tourism operation. Rival billionaire Jeff Bezos was (relatively) gracious in his praise for Branson accomplishment, likely comforted with the knowledge that in 9 days time, it would be his turn to own the headlines with his own trip through the clouds in his own self-funded creation.
Well, he might not have been first, but Bezos trip was undoubtedly a success, as Blue Origin blasted into space on July 20, a date sentimentally chosen by Bezos it was the 52nd anniversary of the famed Apollo 11 moon landing, and returned safe and sound roughly 10 minutes later. The trip garnered headlines for its late addition to the flight team; 18-year old Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who lucked into the seat after its original occupier, an unidentified auction winner, pulled out on late notice due to scheduling conflict. Also joining Bezos on his big day was his younger brother, Mark, and aviation pioneer, 82 year old Wally Funk. Daemen and Funk became the youngest and oldest people to ever visit space, respectively.
After jetting up into the skies at Mach 3 speed (three times faster than the speed of sound), the capsule settled at an altitude of 106km. The crew made it high enough to experience weightlessness and performed their own versions some iconic acrobatics and floating food antics. That 106km was of significance to Bezos, who was able get one back on his rival, Branson, who’s Virgin Galactic flight last week settled at an altitude of 16km’s lower than Bezos’ Blue Origin. Such distinctions might seem totally trivial to the average person, but to the world’s uber-competitive elites, such a slight could not go unnoticed or unreturned. Both companies are now set to get their space tourism operations fully in motion. Despite his rival Virgin Galactic having made a clear head start selling tickets and drumming up excitement for their inaugural commercial flights beginning later this year, Bezos kept his card close to the chest in post-flight interviews, claiming that he was not ready to confirm ticket prices or flight dates just yet.
Not exactly known for his media savvy, Bezos did make sure to unintentionally stir up some controversy at subsequent press conference, after offering thanks to “every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer. Because you guys paid for all this.” A sentiment that is likely to be not well received by many. However, no amount of negativity could deter Bezos’ spirits on this day, as he rejoiced upon returning to Earth, yelling “Best day ever!” while exiting the capsule.
Images courtesy of Blue Origin