‘Oh my god’: Richest man blasts into spaceThe crew looking out over the Earth.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, has described his brief trip to space as “the first step of something big” after blasting off aboard a Blue Origin rocket on its first human flight.

The rocket launched from a base in the west Texas desert at 8:12am on Tuesday local time (11:12pm AEST), and hit speeds of 3700km/h as it shot towards space.

The capsule separated from its booster and crossed the Karman line, the internationally recognised boundary between Earth and space, at 100km of altitude.

A quick 11 minutes after takeoff, it landed back on Earth.

The trip was timed to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the first moon landing.

Bezos was joined by his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, who won his seat in an auction, making him Blue Origin’s “first paying customer”.

Blue Origin has not disclosed how much he paid.

Funk, a barrier-breaking female pilot, completed testing in the 1960s as part of the Women in Space Program, but was stopped from going to space by her gender.

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The four-person crew appeared at a media conference after returning to Earth.

Jeffrey Ashby, a former space shuttle commander who now works as Blue Origin’s chief of mission assurance, presented each of them with their “wings” – a badge signifying their visit to space.

Ashby described Funk, Daemen and the Bezos brothers as “the first four of millions to follow”.

“I’m so happy. Thank you Jeff,” Bezos said as he accepted his badge.

“There are few people I know more deserving of this, Jeff. Seriously,” said Ashby.

“And I don’t know what you’re going to do next, but I can’t wait to watch.”

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Once it was his turn to speak, Bezos started by thanking a list of people, including the engineers, trainers and safety experts who made the flight possible.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this,” he added, getting a laugh from the crowd.

“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.”

He then described how flying to space and experiencing zero gravity had made him feel.

“Oh my god! My expectations were high, and they were dramatically exceeded,” Bezos said.

“It felt so normal. Almost like we were, as humans, evolved to be in that environment. Which I know is impossible. But it felt so serene, and peaceful, and the floating – it’s actually much nicer than being in full gravity. It’s a very pleasurable experience.

“The most profound piece of it, for me, was looking out at the Earth and looking at the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Every astronaut, everybody who’s been up into space, they say this, that it changes them. And they look at it, and they’re kind of amazed and awestruck by the Earth and its beauty, but also by its fragility. And I can vouch for that.

“When you get up above (the atmosphere), what you see is it’s actually incredibly thin. It’s this tiny little fragile thing. And as we move about the planet, we’re damaging it.

“It’s one thing to recognise that intellectually. It’s another thing to see with your own eyes how fragile it really is. And that was amazing.”

Asked if he would be flying again, Bezos said “hell yes”.

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

The billionaire was also asked about the prohibitively high cost of space flight for most people, and that cost could be lowered.

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

“Big things start small, but 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.

“This is not about escaping Earth. The whole point, this is the only good planet in this solar system. This is the only good one, I promise you. And we have to take care of it.”

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage to space on July 11, narrowly beating the Bezos in their so-called battle of the billionaires.

But Bezos, like Branson, insisted it wasn’t a contest.

“There’s one person who was the first person in space, his name was Yuri Gagarin, and that happened a long time ago,” Bezos told the US Today Show, referencing the Soviet cosmonaut’s 1961 milestone.

“This isn’t a competition, this is about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things in space.”

Blue Origin’s sights were set higher: both in the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft ascended compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, but also in its ambitions.

Bezos, 57, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.

Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA.

New Shepard has previously flown 15 uncrewed flights to put it through its paces and test safety mechanisms, like firing the capsule away from the launch pad if the rocket explodes, or landing it with one less parachute.

“We learned how to make a vehicle safe enough that we’d be willing to put our own loved ones on it, and send them to space,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said at a briefing on Sunday.

The company has remained relatively coy about what comes next. It says it plans two more flights this year, then “many more” next year.

Analysts say much will hinge on early successes and building a solid safety record.

Mr Smith revealed the next launch could take place in September or October, adding “willingness to pay continues to be quite high”.

At the same time, the sector is beginning to face criticism over the optics of super wealthy individuals blasting off to space while Earth faces climate-driven disasters and a coronavirus pandemic.

“Could there be a worse time for two uber-rich rocket owners to take a quick jaunt toward the dark?” wrote Shannon Stirone, for example, in an Atlantic piece titled: Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room.

– with AFP

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