Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, reached space on Tuesday on his rocket company’s first flight with several other people on board.
Blue Origin, the space company founded by Bezos about 20 years ago, has been testing prototypes for its rocket and capsule for years. On Tuesday, the launch vehicle New Shepard soared above the Texas desert and reached about 66.5 miles above the Earth’s surface before returning. It lasted about 10 minutes in all.
New Shepard was designed to hurtle at speeds upwards of 2,200 mph to an altitude beyond the so-called Kármán line—or 62 miles—set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
After the capsule separated from the booster, the crew unbuckled for a few minutes of weightlessness. Then the capsule returned to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expelled a “pillow of air” for a soft landing in the Texas desert.
Bezos gave a thumbs-up sign from inside the capsule after landing on the desert floor before stepping out, wearing a cowboy hat and blue flight suit, according to reporters at the scene.
Also included on the flight was Wally Funk, 82; Oliver Daemen, 18; and Mark Bezos, 53—the billionaire’s brother.
“Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history. This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass,” Blue Origin wrote in a tweet.
Blue Origin aims for the first of two more passenger flights this year to happen in September or October.
Blue Origin appears to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries entered an auction to become the first paying customer. The auction winner, who made a $28 million bid, dropped out of Tuesday’s flight, opening the way for Daemen.
The point of Blue Origin, according to a description on its website, is to “[enable] a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth” and is “developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial and defense customers.”
More than a week before Blue Origin’s flight, Virgin CEO Richard Branson became the first person to ride into space on a rocket that he helped fund.
Virgin Galactic said 600 people have booked reservations for its flights, priced at about $250,000 per ticket.
Bezos, who is worth about $200 billion according to a recent Forbes estimate, stepped down earlier this month as the CEO of Amazon but is still the company’s executive chairman.