Jeff Bezos goes to space

By Jackie Wattles, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT) July 20, 2021
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11:49 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Progressives call out Jeff Bezos's space flight as "self-indulgent" and renew calls for wealth tax

From CNN's Sarah Fortinsky 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, retweeted CNN's story on Blue Origin, this morning adding, "On a related note, a wealth tax would generate at least $3 TRILLION for our communities." And Rep. Jerry Nadler called the space flight "self-indulgent" and joins Jayapal and other progressives in calling for a wealth tax "on mega billionaires like Bezos." 

Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said of Bezos' trip into space, "He's laughing at every person in America who actually paid taxes ... Jeff Bezos' trip to outer space is being financed by all the rest of the US taxpayers who paid their taxes so that Jeff Bezos didn't have to."

Warren and Jayapal together introduced legislation for a wealth tax along with Rep. Brendan Boyle.

11:46 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

NOW: Jeff Bezos and crew hold a news conference after spaceflight

The crew members aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard are holding a news conference following their successful spaceflight this morning.

On board today's flight were Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, pilot Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen.

The 10-minute flight went up more than 60 miles above Earth.

After landing safely back to Earth, the crew went through a procedural status check. Jeff Bezos could be heard saying inside the capsule that it was the "best day ever." Mark Bezos said he was feeling "unbelievably good."

11:30 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Bezos: Seeing Earth during spaceflight "was more profound for me than I expected"


CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke with Jeff Bezos and his brother moments after they landed back on Earth. Bezos said the experience of flying to space was "amazing" and nearly impossible to express in words.

Seeing planet Earth from his New Shepard rocket "was more profound for me than I expected," Jeff Bezos told Cooper.

"The thing that was most different for me was the view of Earth. That is the thing that I was surprised by," he said.

"You get up there, and it's so tiny ... It is a small little thing, and it is fragile and ... drives home that point that we know theoretically, that we have to be careful with the Earth's atmosphere. But it really makes it very powerful and real," he said.

Bezos said he and his crew had some "traditional" zero-gravity fun by tossing Skittles at each other and trying to catch the candy in their mouths.

"Zero-G was certainly different than I thought it was going to be. But it was surprisingly natural to move around in that environment, which is not what I was anticipating," Mark Bezos said.

Jeff Bezos said his flight underscores his goal of space exploration, which he views as moving heavy industry to space and keeping Earth for residents and light industry. He said that could take "many decades."

"What we need to do is build a road to space so that future generations can take all heavy industry and polluting industry on Earth and move it up into space. So that we can keep this gem of a planet as it is, instead of ruining it, which unfortunately we might do," he said.

10:45 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Just a reminder: This has all been done before

From CNN's Michael Ballaban

As we wait to hear from Jeff Bezos at a 11 a.m. ET post-flight press conference, it's worth remembering that in the grand scheme of things, what Bezos did today and what fellow billionaire Richard Branson did earlier this month is nothing new. Not really, anyway.

Sure, they're the first billionaires to ride rockets that they've funded themselves to touch the edge of space, but humans have been doing that with publicly-funded programs for decades now.

The first person to go to space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, went on a 108-minute orbital flight in 1961. The United States government followed shortly after, launching Alan Shepard on a quick suborbital flight — much like Bezos and crew.

It's taken 60 years for billionaires to accomplish the same feat, though they hope to launch a bit more frequently than NASA or the Soviet Union ever did.

10:12 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

The oldest and youngest people to travel to space just made history

After decades of waiting, Wally Funk finally accomplished her dream of flying to space, becoming the oldest person to do so.

The 82-year-old pilot volunteered as a member of the "Mercury 13" program, otherwise known as the "Women in Space Program," in February 1961, which was a privately-funded effort intended to begin training women to fly in NASA's earliest space programs.

"I got ahold of NASA four times, and said, 'I want to become an astronaut,' but nobody would take me," Funk said. "I didn't think I would ever get to go up. Nothing has ever gotten in my way. They say, 'Wally, you're a girl, you can't do that.' I said, 'Guess what, doesn't matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to do it,' and I like to do things that nobody's ever done before."

Funk has extensive experience piloting aircraft, logging over 19,600 flying hours and teaching more than 3,000 people how to fly private and commercial aircraft.

Also making history in the Blue Origin spaceflight was 18-year-old recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, who became the youngest person to travel to space.

Daemen was Blue Origin's first paying customer, and his father, an investor, purchased his ticket.

Daemen replaced a mystery bidder who agreed to pay $28 million for a ticket, but who had to reschedule for a later mission because of "scheduling conflicts."

10:05 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Jeff Bezos is worth more than the entire Apollo program

From CNN's Michael Ballaban

Jeff Bezos has a net worth of approximately $200 billion — but pinning an exact number down is difficult, as it goes up and down with Amazon's share price and a lot of other factors.

But what we do know for certain is that, as of this moment, his net worth is greater than the combined cost of the entire Apollo space program, adjusted for inflation.

The Apollo program cost about $19.4 billion, in 1973 dollars, according to NASA. Adjusted for inflation, that's a mere $118.7 billion.

Blue Origin hopes to go to the moon one day, so they might need the cash.

10:02 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Fellow billionaire space traveler Richard Branson congratulates Jeff Bezos

From CNN's Alyssa Kraus

Blue Origin's first flight to space with humans onboard was a success. Crew members Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen traveled more than 60 miles above Earth on a flight that took roughly 11 minutes.

This joyride to space came only nine days after British billionaire Richard Branson successfully flew to space with his company, Virgin Galactic.

Branson congratulated the Blue Origin crew after their flight, calling it "impressive!"

9:50 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Blue Origin wants to know if you'd like to buy a ticket to space — so how much will they cost?

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Michael Craft Photography/Blue Origin
Michael Craft Photography/Blue Origin

After Jeff Bezos and crew completed their spaceflight, Blue Origin announced it is open for ticket sales. Those interested in flying on a future Blue Origin flight were asked to send the company an email — but they did not divulge how much a ticket will cost.

Unlike its chief competitor, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin has not sold tickets to the general public yet, nor has it said how much it will sell seats for.

So far, the only price point made public was the $28 million that the as-yet-unnamed auction winner put up. But they mysteriously canceled on the richest man in the world on his rocket, saying only that they had a scheduling conflict, according to Blue Origin.

That person will fly on a later flight, possibly sometime this year as Blue Origin says it will do up to two additional crewed missions in 2021 that it's already in the process of booking.

We also know that Oliver Daemen's — the 18-year-old who is flying in the auction winner's place — dad was an auction participant and was given the option to purchase a ticket after the winner bowed out of today's flight. But Blue Origin has stayed strictly mum about how much money was exchanged.

"We are selling tickets. Obviously, the first ticket was done via auction but we are chatting with our customers that participated in that auction. But if anybody's interested, send us an email — — and we'll have a conversation, because we want to get people up to space and get them up there soon," Blue Origin's head of sales, Ariane Cornell, told CNN Business' Rachel Crane.

The bottom line: We still have no idea how much most people have paid — nor are willing to pay — for the chance to spend 11 minutes aboard Blue Origin's New Shepherd rocket as it blasts into space.

But the company says the auction did give a strong indication that there are plenty of people anxious to go: 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to bid.

9:38 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Blue Origin’s ultimate goal: Colonizing space

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

New Shepard NS-14 lifting off from Launch Site One in West Texas during a test flight on January 14, 2021.
New Shepard NS-14 lifting off from Launch Site One in West Texas during a test flight on January 14, 2021. Blue Origin

There's been plenty of blowback about billionaires in space. Bezos, the world's richest man, has funded the company almost solely out of his own pocket. And the way things in the commercial space industry are shaking out has critics concerned that the ultra-wealthy view outer space as their own personal escape hatch.

Still, Blue Origin and other billionaire-backed space companies put out a lot of talk about their technologies paving the way toward a "democratization" of space in which everyday people — not just government-trained astronauts — get to experience the thrill of spaceflight. These early suborbital space tourism flights are prohibitively expensive to the vast majority of people, and that's not expected to change anytime soon.

Blue Origin, however, describes its long-term vision as one of spacefaring colonization and benevolence:

Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth. To preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space.  Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial and defense customers. 

It's still early days, of course. The New Shepard rocket and capsule system is suborbital, meaning it doesn't drum up nearly enough energy to remain in space for more than a couple of minutes. But the company is working on a much larger rocket for that purpose — called New Glenn — and a lunar lander that it hopes will be used to support NASA missions.

Bezos has also talked in the past about O'Neill colonies, a concept for spinning space stations that can mimic Earthlike gravity for passengers, as a possible habitat for future space dwellers.

Who will own the space stations? And will passengers be employees or tourists? Will space travel, if necessary to save humanity, only be available to those who can afford to pay? And is Bezos' time and money better spent trying to solve Earthly problems rather than seeking to escape them?

We don't know. There are plenty of unanswered questions and raging debates.

CNN's Rachel Crane asked Bezos about the pushback on Monday.

"They are largely right," Bezos said of critics who say billionaires should focus their energy — and money — on issues closer to home. "We have to do both. We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We've always done that as a species, as a civilization."