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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3:43 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Here's how Jeff Bezos' spaceflight unfolded this morning

From CNN's Alyssa Kraus

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos successfully flew to space this morning on the first crewed flight of New Shepard, a rocket ship made by his space company, Blue Origin. The trip took approximately 10 minutes.

If you're just reading in, here's what you need to know about the flight — and what comes next for the company:

  • The billionaire space race: Jeff Bezos was not the first billionaire to space to fly on a craft he helped fund — thanks to Richard Branson and his company, Virgin Galactic, which rocketed into space only nine days prior. Bezos is, however, now the richest person to go to space. Not to mention, Bezos' rocket ship flew farther into space than Branson's, reaching 62 miles above Earth — otherwise known as the Kármán line. In comparison, Branson's crew flew roughly 50 miles above Earth.
  • The crew: In addition to the Amazon founder, New Shepard was crewed by Jeff Bezos' brother, Mark Bezos, pilot Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. At 82 years old, Funk is the oldest person to go to space — and she she had decades of piloting experience under her belt. Funk 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. However, Funk was denied her chance to go to space until today. At 18 years old, Daemen is the youngest person to go to space, according to Blue Origin. A recent high school graduate, Daemen was Blue Origin's first paying customer, after his father, an investor, purchased his ticket.
  • The flight: Despite a couple of brief delays, the New Shepard launched into space smoothly. The rocket fired into space, the engine kicked off, the crew capsule separated from the rocket and the booster successfully landed on the ground pad. More than 60 miles above Earth, the passengers experienced about three minutes of weightlessness, unstrapping from their seats and floating about the cabin while taking in panoramic views. Then, the crew capsule returned to Earth and made its landing, kicking up a large cloud of desert dust. 
  • The celebrations: Upon landing successfully, the crew popped a bottle of champagne, and Jeff Bezos called it the "best day ever." Later, during a press conference, each passenger aboard the New Shepard rocket was presented with Blue Origin's wings to commemorate their trip.
  • The future: Blue Origin says efforts such as today's trip to space will allow the company to provide a future where people can live and work in space in order to keep the planet clean. "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," the company said. However, Blue Origin will continue to explore space tourism by offering tickets for joyrides to high-paying customers. In fact, the company announced it is open for ticket sales today. Those interested in flying on a future Blue Origin flight were asked to send the company an email — but we still don't know how much a ticket will cost. Nevertheless, Jeff Bezos said his space company is approaching $100 million in private sales.
3:16 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin's rival space company, congratulates crew on successful flight

From CNN's Alyssa Kraus

Blue Origin's New Shepard traveled over 60 miles above Earth in its first crewed trip to space. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, joined by his brother Mark Bezos, pilot Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, experienced about three minutes of weightlessness during the 10-minute flight to space.

Jeff Bezos' trip came only nine days after British billionaire Richard Branson launched into space with the help of his company, Virgin Galactic. The two billionaires have been intertwined in the "billionaire space race," as both men have worked to develop, test and launch suborbital rockets that can take customers to space.

Although Branson was the first billionaire to reach space on a craft he helped fund on July 11, Bezos is now considered the richest person to launch into space.

Today, Branson's company congratulated Blue Origin on its "successful flight."

"It continues to be a great time for commercial space travel! We are encouraged by seeing more people exploring and conducting research in space, and creating a positive impact here on Earth," Virgin Galactic wrote on Twitter, adding that the two companies will together "open space for good!"

Here's a look at the company's messages:

2:07 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Former NASA astronaut says spaceflights like Blue Origin's could make space travel more accessible

Astronaut Leland Melvin in 2018.
Astronaut Leland Melvin in 2018. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin said that he thinks Blue Origin spaceflight can help inspire more civilians to go to space.

"I think if more people can see the type of technology that's been applied to this, autonomous rockets that are taking off and landing, we have a whole spectrum of people that are going to be thinking 'hey, one day I may start my own company and build my own rocket.' And maybe that's a kid from a ZIP code that doesn't usually get a chance to do some of these things. And so seeing this access and opportunity and belief that anything is possible for all kids," Melvin said to CNN's Ana Cabrera.

Melvin said having a capsule and rocket that are reusable is a "game-changer."

"I think this is going to be making space more affordable. The price point will come down for more tourists to be able to go to space," he said.

After Jeff Bezos and crew completed their spaceflight today, 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. Blue Origin has not sold tickets to the general public yet.


1:07 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Bezos gives new philanthropic awards to Chef José Andrés and CNN's Van Jones

Jeff Bezos unveiled a new philanthropic initiative during the Blue Origin post-flight press conference today called the "Courage and Civility Award."

"It recognizes leaders who aim high and pursue solutions with courage who always do so with civility," Bezos said.

The award is $100 million, Bezos announced. The recipient can give that money to the charities and the nonprofits of their choice. 

The first two awardees are Chef José Andrés and Van Jones, a CNN political commentator.

Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen have responded to several major crises, mobilizing volunteer chefs in disaster areas to prepare meals for thousands of people in need.

"I'm grateful for this award. And the incredible support from you, Jeff, and the entire Bezos family. Our kitchen was born from a simple idea that food has the power to create a better world. A plate of food is a plate of hope. It's the fastest way to rebuild lives and communities," Andrés said.

Bezos said the awardees "are people who have demonstrated courage," adding, "it's easy to be courageous but also mean. Try being courageous and civil. Try being courageous and a unifier." 

"I haven't always been courageous. But I know the people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines, grassroots communities. They don't have much, but they're good people and fight hard and they don't have enough support," Jones said.

12:46 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Youngest person to fly to space says being in zero gravity felt natural 

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Oliver Daemen — a 18-year-old recent high school graduate, Blue Origin’s first paying customer and the youngest person ever to fly to space — said “for sure” when asked if he got his money’s worth. 

Daemen said “it was so amazing” and agreed with Jeff Bezos that “it feels so natural, like, almost like we should be doing this” to be in zero gravity. 

Earlier Bezos said being in zero gravity “felt so normal, it felt like, almost like, we were, as humans, evolved to be in that environment which I know is impossible.”

12:58 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Blue Origin passengers also flew with Amelia Earhart's goggles

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Jeff Bezos said they took the goggles Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic with to space.

“I like to think that if Amelia were here, she’d be very, very proud of Wally,” Bezos said, referring to Wally Funk, the oldest person to ever travel to space.

Earhart became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1937.

Bezos also presented his mother with a Blue Origin feather necklace that he wore up into space.


12:34 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Bezos said Blue Origin is nearing $100M in private sales

Jeff Bezos said his space company Blue Origin is approaching $100 million in private sales.

"The demand is very, very high. So we're going to keep after that, because we really do want to practice with this vehicle. So we're going to have to build more boosters to fly more frequently, and we're going to be doing that and working on the operational things we need to do, all the the things we learned," he said.

After Bezos and crew completed their spaceflight today, 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. Blue Origin has not sold tickets to the general public yet.

Bezos said he is planning two more flights this year and more in the future.

Bezos compared this first spaceflight to him starting out with Amazon.

"What we're doing is the first step of something big. And I know what that feels like. I did it three decades ago, almost three decades ago, with Amazon. ... You can tell when you're onto something. And this is important. We're going to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future," Bezos said.

12:40 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

The New Shepard crew brought these two meaningful items to space

From CNN's Carma Hassan and Alyssa Kraus

Mark Bezos said the crew borrowed two meaningful items from The Explorers Club to take on their trip to space: a piece of canvas from the plane the Wright Brothers flew and a bronze medallion made from the first hot air balloon flight.

“We were able to fly with a piece of canvas from the Wright Flyer, so the plane that the Wright Brothers flew, we brought a piece of that canvas with us which was really powerful, as well as a bronze medallion that was made from the first hot air balloon flight in 1783, which was the first time man ever, you know, left the Earth in controlled flight so we were very thrilled to bring both of those along with us,” Mark Bezos said.

His brother, Jeff Bezos, quickly added that they brought those items back to Earth with them.

The Explorers Club supports research and scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space.

12:34 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Bezos says he wants to make space travel accessible to everyone

Asked how do you bring the cost of space travel down over time so it's more accessible to everyone, Jeff Bezos said, "You've got to do it the same way we did it with commercial airline travel." 

He said that space travel is in the "barnstormer phase" right now.

"That's what we're doing right now. You know where that barnstorming phase leads? To 787s. And that's what we have to do," he said.

Bezos and his crew successfully completed a spaceflight earlier Tuesday. They were flying on the New Shepard, the rocket ship made by his space company, Blue Origin.