Jeff Bezos, the founder of online retail giant Amazon and the world's richest man, launched into space on Tuesday morning atop a rocket built by his space exploration company, Blue Origin.
Bezos and three others lifted off around 9:10 a.m. ET on Tuesday from Blue Origin's launch pad in Van Horn, Texas — a tiny town in the western part of the state.
The capsule carrying Bezos, his brother, Mark, longtime aviation specialist Wally Funk, and Blue Origin's first space tourism customer, Oliver Daeman, traveled 351,210 feet — 66.5 miles — above the Earth's surface.
Blue Origin's broadcast feed played audio of Bezos and other crew members whooping and cheering as they left Earth's atmosphere.
"Let's go to the moon!" crew members cheered. "I'm in!"
"How did it feel? Oh my god! My expectations were high and they were exceeded," Bezos said in a press conference following the flight.
With Tuesday's flight, Funk, 82, and Daeman, 18, became the oldest and youngest people to travel into space, respectively, the Associated Press reports.
According to Insider, Funk trained with NASA in the 1960s with Project Mercury — the NASA astronauts who were among the first to travel into space. Funk was slated to travel with an all-female crew, but the mission was later scrapped, and she never traveled to space — until today.
"I've been waiting a long time to finally get up there," Funk said. "I loved it. I loved being here with all of you and your family. The four of us had a great time. I want to go again, fast."
Bezos later said the Funk had out-performed the other men in the crew during astronaut training — just as she had done throughout her career.
Daeman is the son of Joes Daeman, the CEO of a Dutch real estate private equity firm. In an auction to determine the final seat on the flight, Daeman was outbid by an anonymous bidder who paid $28 million to join the flight. However, in a blog post on Thursday, Blue Origin said that the anonymous bidder had to drop out due to a "scheduling conflict."
"It was a bit more emotional than I thought," Daeman said Tuesday. "Everyone on the ground was a lot more emotional, we were just having fun."
The capsule that the group traveled in on Tuesday was fully automated, meaning no pilot controlled its movements.
The rocket took off just after 9 a.m. ET after a short six-minute pause in the countdown.
"I thought, 'are we going to go or not?' Let's go, we're burning daylight," Bezos said.
The craft launched atop Blue Origin's 60-foot New Shepherd rocket and traveled to speeds of up to Mach 3.
The capsule separated from the rocket, which returned to Blue Origin's launch pad for a successful upright landing. The capsule then continued to travel to about 66 miles above the Earth's surface, where travelers experienced about three to four minutes of weightlessness.
After a brief period in space, the capsule fell back to Earth before parachutes deployed, allowing the craft to land in the Texas desert. The entire flight lasted about 11 minutes.
"You have a very happy crew up here, I want you to know," one crew member yelped as the capsule touched down in the Texas desert.
Bezos is the second billionaire this month to travel into space. On July 12, Virgin Galatic founder Richard Branson rocketed into space aboard one of his crafts, which was operated by two pilots and launched from a mothership.
Bezos addressed criticism of his and Branson's trip during Tuesday's press conference.
"This isn't about escaping Earth...this is the only good planet in the Solar System," Bezos said, adding that a trip to space will allow more people to appreciate the fragility of the Earth and its ecosystems.
"As we move about the planet, we're damaging it," Bezos said of the Earth's atmosphere. "It's another thing to see with your own eyes how fragile it really is."
Bezos added that Blue Origin has two more flights planned for later this year and that demand for more tourist space excursions is "very, very high." He added that the company has already made $100 million in sales.