With a few clouds in the early morning West Texas sky, the four member crew of New Shepard walked across the gantry bridge, rang the ceremonial bell, and then proceeded to enter the New Shepard capsule and were secured for launch. Less than 35 minutes later they rocketed on their short flight to the edge of space.
For Blue Origin’s CEO Jeff Bezos today’s launch was a lifetime in the making. For 82 year old Wally Funk, it was an unexpected trip, and the fulfillment of a dream that started in the 1960’s and which seemed unlikely to happen. For 18 year old Oliver Daemen whose father secured the flight for his son through the Blue Origin auction, he becomes the youngest person to fly to space, and what an amazing experience for a young adult. And for Mark Bezos, the younger brother of Jeff and his close friend, he grew up watching his brother dream and then make this day a reality and couldn’t be happier to share this once in a lifetime experience.
The New Shepard flight
There was tremendous excitement from the Blue Origin webcast team leading up to the launch and even more excitement during the launch when the capsule audio was turned on. Wally Funk could be heard gleefully cheering as they went weightless and after the flight was ready for another go-around. Jeff Bezos, with a commanding voice throughout the flight was joyous in proclaiming “best day ever.”
In watching this flight as compared to the recent Virgin Galactic flight it seemed to be more excitement and less worrying. Certainly both flight systems have risks, yet the New Shepard flight seemed smooth, more polished. From launch to landing it was less than 12 minutes., and wow, did that ride look fun. During their brief time in weightless, you could hear Jeff Bezos comment on how much easier it was then he expected. And for the record, if anyone cares, the Virgin Galactic flight reached an altitude of 86.1 km while New Shepard reached a touch over 107 km.
At the post launch news conference each of the Blue Origin astronauts received the astronaut wings. Bezos thanked all the Blue Origin employees along with those at Amazon. He also thanked all the Amazon customers who helped fund the development of New Shepard.
When it came to how he felt, here’s what Bezos said “you know now on how it felt, oh my god. My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded. We were talking about this a little bit in the car ride on the way back, and I don’t know the zero G piece may have been one of the biggest surprises because it felt so normal. It felt 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 one gravity. It’s a very pleasurable experience just from the sheer, just with feels the tactfulness of it. That it you know, 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 I look out, you know, we’re sitting in this room, we’re driving our cars, and we’re moving around the planet. In our normal ways, the atmosphere is so gigantic, you know, we’re these tiny little things in the planet, the atmosphere is so big, but when you get up above it, 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. And you know, so that is, you know, that’s very profound. It’s one thing to recognize that intellectually. It’s another thing to actually see with your own eyes. how fragile it really is, and that was amazing.”
Bezos also commented of a few other things related to New Shepard. With respect to sales, he said were approaching $100 million in sales. He also hopes that New Shepard can fly between 25 to 100 times, hopefully closer to 100. He doesn’t know how many missions they’ll do next year, but he wants to ramp up the cadence quickly. Then came the big surprise.
A surprise $200 million announcement
Towards the end of the press conference Bezos said he had a surprise philanthropic announcement. He announced the Courage & Civility award that recognizes “leaders who aim high, pursue solutions with courage, and always do so with civility. The award comes with a $100 million prize for the recipients to use for whatever causes they want.
Bezos then announced the first two recipients, Van Jones and José Andrés.
Van Jones is a lawyer, political commentator, author, and the founder of several not-for-profits including the Dream Corps which was cited by Bezos.
José Andrés is know as a world class restaurateur, and the founder of World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit that provides meals in the wake of natural disasters.
It was a fitting way to the end the press conference.