On July 20, 2021, at 9 a.m. EDT, the New Shepard rocket took off, materializing 22 years of work for Blue Origin. The company was founded at the turn of the millennium by Amazon’s boss Jeff Bezos, who in the meantime became the richest man in the world. The goal of Blue Origin is to make space more accessible by developing reusable space launchers.
Half an hour before departure, the businessman took his seat in the RSS First Step capsule placed at the top of his New Shepard rocket. Sitting by his sides were his brother Mark Bezos, as well as Oliver Daemen and Mary Wallace Funk. At 18 and 82 years old, the latter became respectively the youngest and the oldest astronaut in history, once they escaped the atmosphere.
It took just under 4 minutes for the rocket to reach the separation point, traveling at a speed of over Mach 3. The capsule was then released as it passed the Kármán line which separates the Earth’s atmosphere from space, 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the surface of the planet.
The New Shepard rocket then descended back on its own, assisted by retro-rockets to decelerate. The RSS First Step capsule followed, descended much slower thanks to the help of parachutes.
Mary Wallace Funk, aka Wally Funk, saw her dream come true after six decades of trying to become an astronaut. In 1963, the then-flight instructor became part of the “Mercury 13” project, created to demonstrate the advantages of sending women into space. It was argued at the time that given women weigh less on average and require less food and oxygen than men, they could save NASA some precious resources. But the project was eventually scrapped. Funk then moved on to become a member of the Federal Aviation Administration, and then the first female investigator of the National Transport Safety Bureau. Throughout her career, Wally Funk trained 3,000 pilots and accumulated over 19,600 flight hours.
Oliver Daemen was initially due to fly on the second New Shepard rocket launch. The seat he occupied was initially auctioned off, but the winner, an anonymous person that bid $28 million, forwent their seat. Thus, the lucky young Dutchman who is about to enter university to study physics saw his flight moved forward by a couple of months.
Blue Origin is the second pioneering space tourism company to carry out a successful maiden flight in recent times. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity carried a crew of mission specialists, as well as founder Richard Branson, to the edge of space on July 11, 2021.