The wealthiest man on the planet becomes the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own rocket into space, with the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket reaching an altitude of about 106 kilometres - higher than Richard Branson’s July 11 ride.

The capsule carrying billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos and three crew members returns by parachute after their flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket near Van Horn, Texas , US, on July 20, 2021.
The capsule carrying billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos and three crew members returns by parachute after their flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket near Van Horn, Texas , US, on July 20, 2021. (Reuters)

Jeff Bezos, the world's wealthiest man, has returned to earth after riding his own rocket to outer space.

"Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history. This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass," the company tweeted on Tuesday after touchdown.

Blue Origin had planned its first crewed mission, an 11-minute hop from west Texas to beyond the Karman line and back again, to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on July 11, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

But Blue Origin's sights are set higher: both in the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft will ascend compared to Virgin's spaceplane, but also in its ambitions.

READ MORE: Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson flies own rocket to space

Bezos, 57, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.

Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA.

New Shepard has flown 15 uncrewed flights to put it through its paces and test safety mechanisms, like firing the capsule away from the launchpad if the rocket explodes, or landing it with one less parachute.

READ MORE: Dutch teen to fly Blue Origin’s first passenger spaceflight

Richest, oldest, youngest

82-year-old barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, joined Bezos as the oldest ever astronaut. 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen also joined the crew as the youngest.

Rounding out the quartet was Jeff Bezos' younger brother and best friend Mark, who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.

Daemen's father, the CEO of a private equity firm, was a runner-up in the bidding, allowing his teenage son to become the company's first paying customer.

After lift-off, New Shepard careened towards space at speeds exceeding 2,300 mph (3700 kph). The capsule then separated from its booster, allowing the astronauts to unbuckle and experience weightlessness for three to four minutes.

The capsule then descended at a comfortable 16 mph / 26 km/h and touched down in the West Texas desert.

Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk and recent Dutch high school graduate Oliver Daemen pose in an undated photograph ahead of their scheduled spaceflight
Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk and recent Dutch high school graduate Oliver Daemen pose in an undated photograph ahead of their scheduled spaceflight (Blue Origin / Reuters)

"Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room"

Blue Origin has remained relatively coy about what comes next.

The company says it plans two more flights this year, then "many more" next year.

Analysts say much will hinge on early successes and building a solid safety record.

CEO Bob Smith revealed Sunday that the next launch could take place in September or October, adding "willingness to pay continues to be quite high."

At the same time, the sector is beginning to face criticism over the optics of super wealthy individuals blasting off to space while Earth faces climate-driven disasters and a coronavirus pandemic.

"Could there be a worse time for two uber-rich rocket owners to take a quick jaunt toward the dark?" wrote Shannon Stirone in an Atlantic piece titled "Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room."

Source: AFP