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Jeff Bezos Will Briefly Leave Earth Aboard Historic Blue Origin Flight

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The world's richest man has left the planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Five, four - command and then start (ph) - two, one. Ignition.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSH)

MARTINEZ: Earlier this morning, Blue Origin, the space flight company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, made its first trip into space with passengers on board, including Bezos himself. The jaunt into space went just as planned. Here to tell us more about the flight and its crew is Brendan Byrne. He covers space at NPR member station WMFE in Orlando, Fla. So, Brendan, how did the flight go?

BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: Oh, it was a picture-perfect launch. The spacecraft, which is called New Shepard, took off from Blue Origin's facility in West Texas. The rocket headed to the boundary of space, and just as it reached that point, a capsule carrying the crew separated from the rest of the rocket. The passengers on board had about four minutes of weightlessness and views of the Earth against the blackness of space. And as you can hear, there was plenty of excitement in the capsule.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, wow, wow, wow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Don't forget to look out the window.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible).

BYRNE: So as they were looking out the window, the reusable rocket booster landed back near the launch site, and not long after, the capsule carrying the crew gently landed in the Texas desert, thanks to a set of parachutes. The whole mission from start to finish lasted less than 11 minutes.

MARTINEZ: That is some serious same-day delivery, even for Amazon.

BYRNE: (Laughter).

MARTINEZ: All right, so we know Bezos was on this flight. Who else went with him?

BYRNE: So there were three other passengers, which included the oldest and youngest person to ever go to space. So there was 82-year-old Wally Funk. She's a pilot and was a member of the Mercury 13 back in the 1960s. That was a program that put female astronaut candidates through the same training and testing as NASA's male astronauts. But Funk and, actually, none of the women from that program ever got the chance to go to space. Here she is speaking with StoryCorps back in 2017.

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WALLY FUNK: I applied to NASA four times. And finally, they said, Wally, you know, we're sorry, but you don't have an engineering degree. I said, well, I'll get one. So I never let anything stop me.

BYRNE: So now about a half-century later, she finally gets that chance. Then there's also Oliver Daemen. He's only 18 years old, which makes him the youngest person to travel into space. Daemen wasn't originally supposed to be on this flight. Actually, the spot was reserved for the winner of a $28 million auction. But the person who paid for that seat ended up having a scheduling conflict.

MARTINEZ: (Laughter) Still can't get over that.

BYRNE: So Daemen got the seat. I know, right?

(LAUGHTER)

BYRNE: So because of that conflict, Daemen got the seat instead. And the fourth and final spot went to the brother of Jeff Bezos, Mark.

MARTINEZ: All right. So we got Bezos. We got Branson. Anyone that's not a billionaire, will they be having a chance to go to space any time soon?

BYRNE: Well, probably not. These are the very first flights, and they're very expensive. Eventually, prices will go down so it only costs a mere few hundred thousand dollars to go to space...

MARTINEZ: Well...

BYRNE: ...Which means (laughter) clearly most people will still not get that chance to fly to outer space.

MARTINEZ: What do you think, Brendan? What's the future of this industry? I mean, is there going to be a market for these kind of flights?

BYRNE: You know, it sure appears that there is. So Blue Origin says it's planning two more space tourism flights this year, half a dozen next year. And the company's long-term goal is to fly as often as once every two weeks. And Virgin Galactic - that's Richard Branson's space tourism company - says it already has around 600 reservations filled for flights on its spacecraft.

MARTINEZ: That's Brendan Byrne, a reporter covering space at member station WMFE in Florida and also host of the podcast "Are We There Yet?" Brendan, thanks a lot.

BYRNE: Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.