Bezos’ Blue Origin lands flight with youngest and oldest ever astronauts

20 Jul 2021

The inside of the New Shepard capsule. Image: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s autonomous New Shepard spacecraft completed its first human flight – a 10-minute journey with founder Jeff Bezos onboard.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, was one of the all-civilian crew onboard the successful Blue Origin flight today (20 July). The flight launched at 2:12pm IST, 12 minutes after its scheduled launch time because of a slight delay.

The crew experienced zero gravity for four minutes onboard the New Shepard spacecraft and achieved a maximum altitude of approximately 107km.

The spacecraft is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space. Today marked the spacecraft’s sixteenth successful consecutive mission but was its first human flight.

The vehicle is fully autonomous with room for six individuals and so there was no need for a pilot onboard. The crew consisted of company founder Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, veteran pilot Wally Funk and student Oliver Daemen.

Funk trained with the first astronauts to venture into space in the early 1960s but never became an astronaut because she was a woman. She continued to pursue aviation and has clocked up 19,600 flying hours and taught more than 3,000 people to fly.

Bezos described how the 82-year-old pilot had been outperforming the rest of the crew in the preparation for the flight in an interview with CBS This Morning.

“Wally can outrun all of us,” he said. “[She] is a role-model for all of us in grit and determination and resilience – everything. She’s incredible.”

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Daemen was recently named as the fourth and final crew member.

The Dutch teenager was previously scheduled on Blue Origin’s second commercial voyage after taking part in Blue Origin’s auction but was bumped up the list when the anonymous auction winner dropped out due to a scheduling conflict.

He graduated from high school in 2020 and took a gap year before continuing his studies to obtain his private pilot’s licence. Daemen will attend the University of Utrecht to study physics and innovation management in September.

At 18 and 82, Daemen and Funk represent the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space.

The flight occurred just over a week after that of Virgin Galactic’s mission with Richard Branson. Blue Origin claimed the Virgin Galactic voyage may not be considered spacefaring as the flight did not pass the Kármán line, but still congratulated the expedition after its flight.

Sam Cox is a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news

editorial@siliconrepublic.com