This is a new stage for the lucrative, burgeoning and no less polluting space tourism industry, which has become the battleground for billionaires in the race for space. The richest man on the planet, the American Jeff Bezos, offered himself, Tuesday, July 20, the realization of his dream of going to space, aboard the first manned flight of his company Blue Origin.
These expensive expeditions led by billionaires are far from winning the support of many Terrans, in a context of repeated climatic disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The New Shepard thruster, with a capsule carrying four people at its top, took off at 8:11 a.m. (3:11 p.m. in France), from an isolated site in the Western Desert of Texas, 25 miles from the small town by Van Horn.
Alongside Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark were aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, and Blue Origin’s first paying customer, 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, in the fully autonomous flight. On this occasion, the latter two became respectively the oldest and youngest astronaut in history.
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New Shepard propelled itself at speeds exceeding Mach 3 using an engine running on liquid hydrogen and oxygen, without carbon emissions. The capsule then separated from its thruster, and space travelers spent a few minutes 107 kilometers from Earth, beyond the Karman line (100 kilometers), the limit recognized by the Aeronautical Federation. international relationship between the Earth’s atmosphere and the rest of the Universe.
They were able to admire the curve of the Blue Planet and the deep black of the rest of the Universe, through large picture windows accounting for a third of the area of the cabin. “It’s all black here”exclaimed Mme Funk, depending on the audio stream emanating from the capsule.
After a few minutes in weightlessness, the capsule descended in free fall before deploying three giant parachutes, then a back-thruster, so as to land delicately in the desert after a flight of about ten minutes. When they left, the four passengers, in good shape, were greeted by cries of joy from the Blue Origin teams. Jeff Bezos wore a cowboy hat when he left the module.
The thruster, for its part, returned autonomously to a landing area located near the launch site. The mission took place fifty-two years to the day after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon.
On July 11, the founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, also crossed the confines of the earth’s atmosphere, toppling the former CEO of Amazon in this battle of billionaires. But the Briton only reached 86 kilometers altitude with his Virgin Galactic spacecraft. Jeff Bezos, 57, however, made it clear that this race for the stars « n’[était] not a competition ”.
“The first one who was in Space was Yuri Gagarin, and that was a long time ago, he assured Monday on the NBC channel, in reference to the Soviet hero of the space conquest in 1961. It’s about [ici] to build a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things there. “
Send humanity to space
The founder of Amazon created Blue Origin in 2000 and set himself the goal, one day, to build floating space colonies, with artificial gravity and where millions of people could work and live.
Today, the company is developing a high thrust orbital rocket named New Glenn, but also a moon landing module in the hope of securing a contract with NASA and its Artemis program, and becoming the main private partner of the US space agency.
This first manned flight from Blue Origin was also the first carrying a paying passenger. Oliver Daemen replaced the original winner of the online auctions held in mid-July. The latter, who paid his ticket 28 million dollars, chose to fly on a future mission.
Elon Musk and SpaceX in the race
Wally Funk, who had participated in the Mercury 13 female astronaut training program in the early 1960s, had to give up his dream of joining NASA after the program was disbanded by the US government.
Blue Origin plans two more launches this year and ” many others “ from 2022. “We had 7,500 bidders in more than 150 countries, there is obviously a great enthusiasm”, assured the chief executive of the company, Bob Smith, adding that the first flights “Leave at a very good price”.
A third billionaire, Elon Musk and his company SpaceX, will join the Space Race in September with an orbital expedition made up entirely of civilians aboard his Crew Dragon rocket. SpaceX has also teamed up with the company Axiom to take visitors aboard the International Space Station.