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Special Report: Bezos launches to space
Special Report: Bezos launches to space 58:46

Riding his own rocket, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos streaked into space Tuesday on a thrilling 10-minute up-and-down flight, a high-tech joyride that sets the stage for the start of commercial passenger service later this year.

"Best day ever!" an elated Bezos said upon landing.

Competing head to head with fellow billionaire Richard Branson, who flew into space aboard his Virgin Galactic rocketplane July 11, Bezos blasted off with his brother Mark and two history-making passengers: 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, the oldest person to fly in space, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student who is the youngest ever to fly in space.

Funk, who was barred from NASA's initially all-male astronaut corps in the 1960s, finally got her chance to prove the naysayers wrong, realizing a lifelong dream. 

The crew lifted off from the company's West Texas launch site at 9:12 a.m. EDT. 

Climbing straight up atop 110,000 pounds of push, the rocket rapidly accelerated as it consumed its load of supercold liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellants, pushing the passengers back in their recliner-style seats with about three times the normal force of gravity.

Blue Origin Bezos launch
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launches on July 20, 2021, carrying passengers Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and Amazon, his brother Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk. Tony Gutierrez / AP

In a little more than two minutes, the spacecraft was shooting skyward at three times the speed of sound, dwindling to a blur more than 30 miles up. A few seconds later, at an altitude of about 45 miles, the booster's company-designed BE-3 main engine shut down and the crew capsule was released to fly on its own.

Coasting upward along an unpowered ballistic trajectory, Bezos and his crewmates enjoyed about three minutes of weightlessness, unstrapping, floating about the cabin and taking in the view through the largest windows ever built into a spacecraft.

"I love it!" Funk exclaimed.

Tossing candy and ping pong balls back and forth, doing somersaults and marveling at the view, the crew cavorted like school kids, clearly thrilled by the experience.

"Who wants a Skittle?" Bezos called. "All right, see if you can catch this in your mouth." Daemen did just that, prompting cheers in the cabin. "Toss me one," Bezos said. "Awesome!"

"That is just incredible," Daemen said a moment later.

"I love it, I love it," Funk said again. She could be seen floating in front of a window, staring out at Earth and space, a view she had dreamed about for decades.

The capsule, named "First Step," reached a maximum altitude of 66.5 miles, more than four miles above the internationally recognized 62-mile-high "boundary" between the aerodynamically discernible atmosphere and space.

That's the altitude recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, a Switzerland-based organization that sanctions aerospace records.

Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceplane flies about 10 miles lower but well above the 50-mile altitude recognized by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as the point where wings, rudders and other aerosurfaces no longer have any effect.

Two minutes after booster engine shutdown and the onset of weightlessness, the crew was warned they had about a minute to make their way back to their seats to strap in for re-entry. All too soon, weight returned as both began falling back into the lower atmosphere.

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Wally Funk, 82, the oldest person to fly in space, floats to the right of 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, who became the youngest when they launched on the Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, 2021. Blue Origin

The crew had no problems strapping back in. And even on the way down, the view was spectacular. "It's dark up here!" Funk exclaimed. One of her crewmates could be heard saying "well, that was intense" while another said he was "happy, happy, happy!"

The reusable New Shepard booster, meanwhile, headed back to Earth on its own, plunging tail first toward a landing pad two miles from the launch site.

The rocket relied on deployable air brakes and steering fins to maintain its orientation before re-igniting its BE-3 engine, unfolding four hinged legs and settling to a picture-perfect landing.

"Your booster has landed," Blue Origin capsule communicator, or CAPCOM, Sarah Knights radioed the crew.

"It's great to hear about the booster," Bezos replied replied. "You have a very happy crew up here, I want you to know."

At an altitude of about 2,700 feet, three large parachutes unfurled and inflated, slowing the New Shepard's descent to about 16 mph.

Blue Origin Bezos landing
Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule parachutes safely down to landing with passengers Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk onboard, near Van Horn, Texas, on July 20, 2021. Tony Gutierrez / AP

Then, just six feet or so off the ground, nitrogen powered thrusters fired, slowing the capsule to just 1 mph and kicking up a roiling cloud of dust as the spacecraft gently touched down.

"Welcome back to Earth, First Step, congratulations to all of you," Knights radioed.

"Very happy group of people in this capsule," Bezos replied. "We're so grateful to everybody who made this possible. Thank you."

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Jeff Bezos gives a thumbs-up inside the crew capsule moments after landing. Blue Origin

Blue Origin recovery crews converged on the capsule within minutes of touchdown to open the hatch and help the returning astronauts exit. All four emerged in obvious high spirits, smiling and hugging family members and support personnel.

"Oh my God!" Bezos told reporters later. "My expectations were high, and they were drastically exceeded. The zero G (gravity) piece may have been one of the biggest surprises because it felt so normal, it felt almost like humans evolved to be in that environment. ... It's a very pleasurable experience."

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin New Shepard crew
Blue Origin's New Shepard crew pose for a picture near the booster after flying into space on July 20, 2021, at the launch site near Van Horn, Texas. Left to right: Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Wally Funk and Mark Bezos.  Getty Images

The most profound aspect, he said, was the view of Earth from an altitude that showcased the fragility of the planet and its thin 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 it beauty, but also by its fragility," he said. "And I can vouch for that.

"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 and crew speak after spaceflight 33:38

Funk, who once underwent grueling medical tests only to be barred from NASA's early astronaut corps, said she enjoyed "every minute of it."

"I want to thank you, sweetheart, because you made it possible for me," she told Bezos. "I've been waiting a long time to finally get it up there. ... I loved it. I loved being here with all of you, your families. We had a great time. It was wonderful. I want to go again, fast!"

Former astronaut Jeff Ashby, now chief of mission assurance at Blue Origin, pinned astronaut wings on all four crew members. 

As for Tuesday's flight, it was the 16th successful launch of a New Shepard spacecraft, the third for the booster and First Step capsule, and Blue Origin's first with passengers on board.

Blue Origin plans to launch three more New Shepard flights before the end of the year, one with science payloads on board and two with passengers.

"We're going to fly human missions twice more this year," Bezos said. "What we do in the following year, I'm not sure yet. We'll figure that out and what the cadence will eventually be. We want the cadence to be very high."

He added, "We're approaching $100 million in private sales already and the demand is very, very high. So we're going to keep after that."

Ticket prices have not been revealed. The cost of a flight aboard Virgin Galactic's spaceplane is believed to be around $250,000 and Blue Origin tickets are expected to be competitive. But both companies hope economies of scale will eventually lower prices to less astronomical levels.

"We're not done once we fly this vehicle, it's really just the beginning," Lai said. "We are going to ramp up operations. We're going to have dozens and eventually hundreds and thousands of astronauts we hope fly on New Shepard. So it is just the beginning. But it is a monumental moment nevertheless."

CBS News' Mark Strassmann reports on the historic journey in the video below:

Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin complete historic spa... 03:46
 

Jeff Bezos shares emotional moment in exclusive interview

Jeff and Mark Bezos sat down for an exclusive interview with "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King after they landed back on Earth.

Bezos shares emotional moment aboard spacecra... 00:54

"Clearly it's a bonding moment for the two of you. Did you have a moment with the two of you up there?" King asked.

"We had a couple of those moments," Jeff Bezos replied. "We had about, I don't know, 25 minutes on the ground, with the crew capsules sealed. So it's just the four of us in there, and my brother and I, we picked seats so that we could see each other from our seats … We had some really good, quality time there." 

Before liftoff, mission control read them a message from their sister, Christina: "Now hurry up and your a-- back down here so I can give you a huge hug. We love you and Godspeed," her message said. 

"I actually teared up right there in the capsule," Jeff Bezos said. "It was so heartfelt and, you know, she talked about some of the things we did as kids. It was a very sweet message." 

Watch more of Gayle King's interview with Jeff and Mark Bezos on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday.

By Caitlin Yilek
 

Bezos announces major philanthropic donation

Bezos capped off his post-landing press conference by announcing a new philanthropic initiative, the Courage and Civility Award. Recipients will be given $100 million to distribute to the charities and nonprofits of their choice.

"It recognizes leaders who aim high and who pursue solutions with courage and who always do so with civility," Bezos said. "It's easy to be courageous but also mean. Try being courageous and civil. Try being courageous and a unifier. That's harder, and way better, and makes the world better."

He announced two recipients Tuesday: Van Jones, a lawyer, TV commentator and co-founder of Dream Corps, which is focused on criminal justice reform; and chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, which provides meals in the wake of natural disasters.

Both men will receive $100 million, Bezos said, with "no bureaucracy, no committees, they just do what they want. They can give it all to their own charity or they can share the wealth. It's up to them."

By William Harwood
 

Jeff Bezos on the most profound moment of spaceflight

Bezos reflects on seeing Earth from space 02:57

Shortly after landing, Jeff Bezos told CBS News' Mark Strassmann that he felt at peace up at the edge of space. 

"The most interesting thing about that is it felt so normal and natural. Almost like we were, humans were evolved to be in zero G. Which of course is impossible, but it felt that way. It felt peaceful, serene and calm, surprisingly natural," Bezos said. 

The most profound moment, he said, was when he looked out at the Earth's atmosphere and realized how "teensy" it was.

"You hear about that, but to see it is a different thing. We think the atmosphere is gigantic because it is all around us, but in reality, when you get up there, you can see it is life-sustaining and teensy."

Bezos said spaceflight was a humbling experience.

"You look at this thing, and you see how small you are, and you see that the world is big, you see that the atmosphere is small. You see that there are no boundaries or no lines, no national states," Bezos said.  "This world is full of not enough unifiers and too many vilifiers. When you get up there, you see that we are one world, this is one planet, and we should have a lot of unifiers."

While Bezos' space dream became a reality when he blasted off aboard his New Shepard rocket, he says this is just the beginning. Asked if today's flight will motivate him to push deeper into the cosmos, Bezos replied, "Hell yes!"

"We are already building our orbital vehicle. We have to build a road to space. This … tourism mission is about practicing. You can fly this over and over again and get really good at it. Because we have to have space vehicles that are operable as commercial airliners," he said. "Then the next generation of kids can build truly great things in space and move all heavy industry and polluting industry off Earth and protect this gem of a planet." 

By Analisa Novak
 

"How it felt? Oh my God!"

The crew held a press conference at the Blue Origin launch facility to talk about their flight about two and a half hours after landing.

Jeff Bezos thanked the team and added, "I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this."

Bezos and crew speak after spaceflight 33:38

He said the spaceflight experience was even better than he hoped.

"How it felt? Oh my God! My expectations were high but they were drastically exceeded," he said.

"I felt great," said crewmate Wally Funk, who first sought to join NASA's astronaut corps in the 1960s.

"I want to thank you, sweetheart, because you made it possible for me," she said to Bezos. "I have been waiting a long time to finally get up there."

 

Who is Wally Funk?

Wally Funk, a trailblazing aviator, became the oldest person ever to travel to space with  Tuesday's flight.

The 82-year-old had her first flight lesson at age 9, became a licensed pilot at 17 and has logged more than 19,000 flying hours. But her lifelong dream of going to space eluded her — until now.

Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos and pioneering female aviator Wally Funk emerge from their capsule
Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos and pioneering female aviator Wally Funk emerge from the crew capsule after their flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket near Van Horn, Texas, on July 20, 2021. Blue Origin/Handout via REUTERS

In the 1960s, while America's first astronauts were going through NASA's rigorous training, Funk was part of the Mercury 13, a group of 13 women who went through the same grueling exams. She recently described to CBS News' Michelle Miller some of the painful and strenuous tests the group of women endured.

"X-raying all over your body, every bone, every tooth, sticking water into your ears. I had to drink radioactive water," she said.

The women of Mercury 13 met — and often surpassed — the results of the men. But the women would never get their chance. NASA required astronauts to be military test pilots, and the military at the time didn't allow women to fly.

On Tuesday, though, her dream was realized.

"I'm going. That is my quest," she said ahead of the spaceflight. "I love flying, that's my job, that's what I love. And I'm not a quitter." 

At a press conference after landing, she grinned from ear to ear as she received her astronaut wings for the achievement.

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Wally Funk grins as as her astronaut wings are pinned on at a press conference following the flight. Blue Origin
 

Celebrating with a champagne shower

Jeff Bezos and his crewmates were greeted by cheering family members and friends upon their return. Bezos and others popped bottles of champagne in celebration, showering the crew with it.

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Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin crew, family and support staff celebrate with champagne after landing. Blue Origin
 

Picture-perfect landing

Eight minutes after liftoff, the three parachutes deployed on the crew capsule to slow it down for landing as it descended back to Earth.

The capsule landed with a gentle touchdown at 9:22 a.m. EDT.

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The New Shepard crew capsule moments after landing. Blue Origin
 

Liftoff!

Jeff Bezos and three crewmates blasted off at 9:12 a.m. EDT on Blue Origin's first passenger space flight. The thrilling 10-minute up-and-down flight to an altitude of over 62 miles above the Earth is intended to set the stage for the start of commercial passenger service later this year.

Blue Origin Bezos launch
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launches on July 20, 2021, carrying passengers Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and Amazon, his brother Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk. Tony Gutierrez / AP
 

"Brief hold" is lifted, with crew in the capsule ready to go

The four crew members are strapped into their seats and ready for launch, but with about 15 minutes left in the countdown Blue Origin said there would be a "brief hold." It did not explain the reason for the delay. Most of the company's recent test flights have also had at least brief delays before launching.

The hold was lifted a few minutes later and the countdown resumed.

 

Astronauts head to the launch pad

The crew emerged from Blue Origin's astronaut training center and climbed into an SUV for the ride to the launch pad about 45 minutes ahead of the scheduled launch time. A few minutes later they arrived and climbed the stairs to board the crew capsule.

New Sheparrd rocket on the launch pad
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and crew capsule on the launch pad on July 20, 2021, ahead of its first human spaceflight. Blue Origin
 

Final preparations underway

"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King reports from the launch site near Van Horn, Texas, that weather conditions look good for launch Tuesday morning. Blue Origin says the crew is ready to go.

"Our astronauts have completed training and are a go for launch," the company tweeted.

"#NewShepard is on the pad. The launch team completed vehicle rollout this morning and final preparations are underway." 

The launch is scheduled for a significant date in space history — the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

 

New Shepard rocket designed to be "the safest human spaceflight vehicle"

When he launches into space, Jeff Bezos will be giving his company's product the ultimate endorsement: riding on a fully automated rocket that has never before carried a human to the edge of space.

"We set out to create the safest human spaceflight vehicle ever designed or built or operated," said Gary Lai, director of design for the New Shepard.

Blue Origin preps for Bezos launch 04:02

The system's safety features include three braking parachutes and thrusters to slow the capsule right before landing so it touches down at just 1 mile per hour.

"The capsule is designed to be survivable if only one of the main parachutes opens," Lai told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. The system "will do its utmost to slow the vehicle down, but then there is a crushable structure at the bottom of the capsule that will absorb some of the impact, and then the seat has an energy absorption mechanism, a scissor mechanism, that then takes the astronaut and decelerates them at a safe velocity."

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A New Shepard crew capsule returns to Earth under three huge parachutes to close out the spacecraft's 15th test flight. Blue Origin

Another safety feature is the integrated, autonomous escape system. 

Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut and orbital sales at Blue Origin, explained, "If there's any issue detected with the rocket ... we will fire this escape motor to get the capsule far and fast away from the booster."

And they've made sure it works at every stage of the mission: on the launch pad, in flight and all the way in space. In all 15 test flights, the capsule returned safely to the ground.

"There's a lot of people, hundreds of engineers over the years that have worked on this vehicle. So this is a culmination of a dream for them," Lai said.

By Nicole Brown Chau
 

Meet the Blue Origin crew

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on launch into spac... 08:01

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the wealthiest men in the world with a net worth of more than $200 billion, started Blue Origin in 2000 to turn his dream of commercial spaceflight into reality. Two decades later, he announced plans to board its first passenger flight along with his younger brother, Mark.

"Ever since I was five years old, I've dreamed of traveling to space," Bezos wrote on Instagram. "On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend."

He later introduced two more crewmates: Wally Funk, a legendary pilot who was one of the 13 female fliers tested but ultimately barred from NASA's initially all-male astronaut corps in the 1960s, and teenage space enthusiast Oliver Daemen, whose family paid an undisclosed sum for his seat.

All four talked about their excitement in an interview on "CBS This Morning" the day before launch.

The flight was originally supposed to include the winner of an online auction who bid $28 million for the privilege, but that anonymous bidder had a schedule conflict and opted to join a later flight instead.

The crew was slated to undergo 14 hours of training over two days to familiarize them with the spacecraft, but they won't actually be flying it themselves — the New Shepard is fully automated, with no pilots or flight controls onboard.

 

Billionaire owners deny it's a "space race" as they vie for wealthy passengers

After Bezos announced his launch plans, Richard Branson, owner of the rival space company Virgin Galactic, upstaged him by lifting off on his own sub-orbital flight on July 11. But they both insist they don't view the competition as a "space race."

"I've said this so many times, it really wasn't a race," Branson said after landing. "We're just delighted that everything went so fantastically well. We wish Jeff the absolute best and the people who are going up with him during his flight."

Blue Origin, in its mission statement, says "we are not in a race" and vows to pursue its goal of "building a road to space" according to its Latin motto, Gradatim Ferociter: "Step by step, ferociously."

Space tourism is new adventure for the ultrar... 02:07

Yet both are looking for an edge in the emerging business of launching paying customers on short trips to space. 

Virgin Galactic plans to start regular commercial operations in early 2022, and is aiming to carry out 400 flights per year from Spaceport America, its base in New Mexico. Some 600 tickets have already been sold, including to Hollywood celebrities, for prices ranging between $200,000 and $250,000. Tickets are expected to be even more expensive when they go on sale to the public.

Blue Origin has yet to announce ticket prices or a date for the start of commercial operations. 

However, while the companies are enthusiastic, the idea of billionaire owners and wealthy passengers spending huge sums on space tourism has sparked some backlash. 

"Jeff Bezos' 11-minute thrill ride to space is an insult to the millions of people here on planet Earth who struggle every day to feed their families and make ends meet," Oxfam America said in a statement. "Many of them are the very Amazon workers who helped make Bezos the richest man in the world."

 

Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic: How their spacecraft compare

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin chose different routes to space.

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane, which carries two pilots and up to six passengers, is launched from a carrier jet that flies it up an altitude of about 45,000 feet. From there, it is released and fires its rocket engine to propel it to an altitude of a little over 50 miles above the Earth. 

The crew gets to experience about three minutes of weightlessness before the spaceplane begins a spiraling descent and glides to a runway landing. Branson's flight lasted 59 minutes from takeoff to touchdown.

unity-release.jpg
A camera mounted on the twin-fuselage carrier jet VMS Eve captures the release of Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane during a test flight.  Virgin Galactic

Blue Origin's crew capsule launches vertically atop a reusable single-stage rocket and then soars out of the lower atmosphere on its own to an altitude higher than 62 miles before arcing over and beginning a parachute descent back to Earth. The entire flight lasts about 10 minutes.

Though Blue Origin's flight is shorter, both companies offer passengers about the same amount of time in weightlessness.

launch3.jpg
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and crew capsule blast off from the company's west Texas launch site for an unpiloted test flight.  Blue Origin

NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Space Force agree that space effectively begins at an altitude of 50 miles, so Branson's flight earned him his "astronaut wings."

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), an international body based in Switzerland that certifies aerospace records, considers an altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles — a level known as the Kármán Line — as the dividing line between the discernible atmosphere and space. 

Blue Origin's spacecraft is designed to reach that higher altitude, and the company boasted in a tweet: "None of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name." 

Virgin Galactic says the altitude difference is trivial and that no such "asterisk" is warranted given that NASA and other U.S. authorities all consider altitudes higher than 50 miles to be in space.

 

How to watch the Blue Origin space launch

  • What: Jeff Bezos and three crewmates launch aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft
  • Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2021
  • Time: Liftoff currently targeted for 9 a.m. EDT
  • Location: Blue Origin's Launch Site One, in the desert near Van Horn, Texas
  • On TV: "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King and "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell lead CBS News' Special Report on the launch — coverage begins at 8:59 a.m. EDT on your local CBS station
  • Online stream: Watch live on CBSN in the video player above or on your mobile or streaming device — coverage begins at 8:15 a.m. EDT
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