New Shepard lifting off from Launch Site One in West Texas during a test flight. Credit: Courtesy Blue Origin.

In the end, there were pickup trucks, cowboy hats, cheers and the spray of victory champagne in the Texas desert.

As one CNN commentator joked, “Bezos took same day delivery, to a new level.”

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — the richest human in the world — and his fellow passengers celebrated a picture perfect 11-minute trip aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule on Tuesday morning.

On board today’s sub-orbital flight were Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, veteran pilot Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen.

After landing safely back to Earth, Bezos could be heard saying inside the capsule that it was the “best day ever,” CNN Business reported.

He said to 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk that the trip was “incredible,” and she responded “it was!”

Jeff’s brother, Mark, said “I’m unbelievably good” after landing.

The crew launched from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility in West Texas at 9 a.m. ET and were in flight for 10 minutes and 20 seconds, flying 107 kilometres (351,210 ft) above the Earth’s surface.

Bezos and the passengers unbuckled and floated around the capsule, cheering in the capsule as they experienced about four minutes of free fall.

“There’s actually a light that the astronauts see on their panels,” said capsule designer Gary Lai. “And one second after we separate (from the booster), that fasten seatbelt light basically goes off and they’re free to move about the cabin.”

The rocket booster landed vertically, similar to the reusable Falcon 9 booster of the rival spaceflight company SpaceX.

“You have a very happy crew up here, I want you to know,” Bezos said as the capsule descended.

Before hitting the ground in a puff of dust under a set of parachutes, the capsule uses what’s called a “retrothrust system,” which creates a nitrogen-powered air cushion under the gum-drop-shaped vehicle to further cushion to blow of landing. 

What’s more, each of the passengers’ seats also sit on top of scissor-like shock absorption mechanisms.  

Wearing a cowboy hat and blue flight suit, Bezos gave a thumbs-up from inside the capsule after landing in the West Texas desert before stepping out to hug family members and Blue Origin colleagues.

All crew members were greeted by their family members, who were standing next to the capsule, waiting for the hatch to be opened.

In a post-flight press conference, Bezos said the venture had reinforced his commitment to tackling the climate crisis, and using New Shepard as a stepping stone towards colonizing space for the benefit of Earth.

“The whole point of doing this is to practice,” said Bezos, who announced in February that he was donating US$10 billion to efforts to “preserve and protect the natural world.”

“Every time we fly this tourism mission we’re practicing flying the second stage of New Glenn,” he added, referring to Blue Origin’s planned reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, which is central to his vision of ultimately moving industry off the planet.

“We’re going to build a road to space so our kids, and their kids, can build the future. This is not about escaping Earth … this is the only good planet in the solar system and we have to take care of it. When you go to space and see how fragile it is you want to take care of it even more.”

Bezos also announced two US$100 million “Courage and Civility” awards for recipients to donate to charities of their choice.

The first two awardees are Chef José Andrés and Van Jones, a CNN political commentator.

Asked if he would fly into space again, Bezos was unequivocal.

“Hell yes,” he said. “How fast can you refuel that thing? Let’s go.”

Bezos also confided that he took Amelia Earhart‘s famed goggles with him to space.

Earhart used them to fly across the Atlantic, he told the crowd, as he proudly held up the rare collectible.

The firm now intends to run regular space tourism flights for commercial passengers, Bezos said.

The four crew members of Blue Origin’s first crewed flight. From left: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark. Credit: Handout.

New Shepard’s manned trip comes nine days after Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson flew to about 85 km into space aboard a rocket plane he helped fund.

More than 600 people have reserved tickets priced at US$200,000 to US$250,000 so far, for Branson’s Virgin Galactic, according to media reports.

Branson congratulated the Blue Origin founder and the New Shepard crew after the successful spaceflight.

“Well done,” Branson tweeted. “Impressive! Very best to all the crew from me and all the team at @virgingalactic”

The New Shepard spacecraft — which has no pilot — was named after astronaut Alan Shepard, the first US citizen to travel into space in 1961.

It was not only Bezos’s dream to fly to space, but Funk’s as well.

In the early 1960s, she was selected to be part of the Mercury 13, a group of women who went through a privately funded program designed to mimic the NASA training for John Glenn and the rest of the Mercury 7 astronauts.

Ultimately the program was canceled, and none of the women were selected as part of the astronaut corps.

Funk went on to have a pioneering career as an aviator, spending nearly 20,000 hours flying all sorts of aircraft.

She was the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

The last seat on the flight was supposed to go to the winner of an auction.

The winner, who remains anonymous, paid US$28 million for the right to fly alongside Bezos, but Blue Origin announced last week that the person could not make it because of “scheduling conflicts.”

That paved the way for Daemen, who is planning to enroll in college in the Netherlands this fall. Blue Origin has declined to say how much Daemen, whose father runs Dutch private equity firm Somerset Capital Partners, paid for the flight. 

Bezos compared this first spaceflight to him starting out with Amazon.

“What we’re doing is the first step of something big. And I know what that feels like. I did it three decades ago, almost three decades ago, with Amazon. 

“You can tell when you’re onto something. And this is important. We’re going to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future,” Bezos said.

Tuesday’s launch date also happens to be the 52nd anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 moon landing.

The recycled rocket and capsule that carried up Tuesday’s passengers were used on the last two space demos, according to company officials.

Before Tuesday’s flight, Blue Origin had launched New Shepard 15 times — all without anyone onboard — and the capsule landed safely every time. (On the first launch, the booster crashed; on the next 14 launches, the booster landed intact.)

Elon Musk and SpaceX are promising to soar to even greater heights than Bezos and Branson, sending an all-civilian crew for a several-day orbital flight aboard its four-seat Crew Dragon capsule.

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos celebrates with a well-wisher as 82-year-old Wally Funk looks on after the New Shepard capsule landed in the Texas desert. Credit: Blue Origin.

Blue Origin is working on a massive rocket, New Glenn, to put payloads and people into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The company also wants to put astronauts back on the moon with its proposed lunar lander Blue Moon; it’s challenging NASA’s sole contract award to SpaceX.

Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s CEO early July, handing over the reins to Andy Jassy, who ran Amazon’s cloud-computing business.

At his press conference, Bezos thanked Amazon employees and customers for funding Blue Origin’s trip to space.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, ’cause you guys paid for all this. So seriously, for every Amazon customer out there, and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart, very much. It’s very appreciated.”

Source: CNN Business, Space.com, Global News, CTV News, New York Times, CBS News, CNBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post