Jeff Bezos and his co-flyers joined a very exclusive club of those who visited space on the 20th of June. This on board of his very own space tourism project called Blue Origin.
The flight is a collimation of 21 years of work by a large and dedicated team that was founded by Bezos in 2000. The flight itself was not new for the company, this very rocket had flown 15 times already, without incident. However, the 16th flight was still a special one, as it was the first one with a crew.
Ushering in an age of space tourism
The ship, called ‘The New Shepard’ launched early in the morning with a crew of four. The founder, his brother, a Dutch high school graduate and Wally Funk, an 82 year old woman who had trained to be an astronaut in the 60’s, but never got to fly due to her gender. The flight itself took a mere 10 minutes and 10 seconds, a third of which was spent in ‘space’, which is defined as 100km above sea level. Still one should not underestimate the value of this journey, as it definitively shows that we have entered the age of space tourism and private owned space flights.
No pilot necessary
The flight had many ‘firsts’, but perhaps the most important one is that the rocket was fully autonomous and no pilots were needed neither on the ship or on the ground. A system safe enough that several millionaires are willing to travel on it. Bezos and his crew are not the first private citizens to reach space in a private ship, that honor goes to Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, who launched just nine days earlier.
A big topic of discussion was whether or not the passengers of the Blue origins flight can be called astronauts. Many people say yes, while about as many absolutely refuse. This confusion seems to come from the unclear definition of the term astronaut. Some believe it to apply to all who go past the 100 km line, while others add extra qualifiers. For example the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) only gives astronaut wings to those who have “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.” NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency agree with this distinction and call space tourists “spaceflight participants”.