Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has officially become the second person in history to travel to space aboard their own private vessel. Blue Origin's manned New Shepard launch went off without a hitch Tuesday morning, as Bezos traveled above the Kármán line (the internationally recognized border of outer space) and into Zero-G with his brother, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen. When ground control asked for Bezos's status during the flight, he replied with: "Happy. Happy. Happy."
“We’ve built it to continue indefinitely and to take hundreds and hundreds of astronauts in the future. We hope to be into the thousands soon,” Gary Lai, senior director of the New Shepard design crew, said during the livestream prior to launch.
“This might’ve looked easy today; it was anything but easy," he added once the capsule safely returned to Earth. "To design a vehicle like this that is so safe, that anybody can get on board ... Not only did we do it today, but we can do it again and again and again."
You can watch a replay of the livestream here.
The flight only lasted a few minutes, with the crew returning to the ground in West Texas shortly after the rocket booster made a clean remote landing. "Best day ever!" Bezoz declared, while confirming his post-mission status with ground control. Once back home, the newly christened astronauts popped a bottle of champagne in a celebratory reunion with their families and loved ones.
Funk, who is now the oldest person to reach space at the age of 82, bestowed Bezos with a warm embrace and thanked him for inviting her along. "You did it," she said. "Without you, it would never happen." The trailblazing pilot was originally supposed to be one of NASA's very first female astronauts before the agency canceled the "Mercury 13" program in the 1960s.
New Shepard also boasted the youngest human to ever travel into space: Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands.
"I don’t think I’ve realized yet how special it is to become the youngest person ever, and it's such an opportunity for me to do that," Oliver said on Good Morning America Monday. "And also to be an example for other kids. It's so amazing for me to go, I still can’t believe it."
Blue Origin has two more missions planned before the end of 2021 and at least six more in 2022. Seats on upcoming flights are now available for pre-order. If you're interested, just fill out this form.
"Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history," the company wrote on Twitter. "This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass."
During a post-flight press conference Bezos thanked the Blue Origin engineers; the town of Van Horn, Texas (where the launch operated out of); and every Amazon employee and customer. "You guys paid for this," he remarked to general laughter from the gathered audience, which included Alan Shepard's two daughters (the New Shepard was named in honor of the Mercury Seven astronaut).
When discussing how the mission itself, he exclaimed: "OH MY GOD! My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded ... The Zero-G piece may have been one of the biggest surprises because it felt so normal. It felt almost like we, as humans, evolved to be in that environment, which I know is impossible. But it felt so serene and peaceful and floating ... It's a very pleasurable experience, just the way it feels, the tactileness of it."
"I totally agree, it feels so natural," echoed Daemen. "It was almost like we should be doing this ... Let's hope that many, many more people can do this. Because this experience, you should share with more and more people. It's so amazing."
Funk, displaying the tenacity of a much younger person, said she "loved every minute of" the flight and voiced her wish that it could have lasted a bit longer. "It was great," she said. "I loved it [and] I can hardly wait to go again!"
That chance may not be so far off. "Hell yes!" Bezos answered after a CNN journalist asked if he'd be taking to the skies again anytime soon. "How fast can you refuel that thing? Let's go!"