The New Shepard after successfully landing in West Texas.
For years now, we’ve been getting pretty regular updates (sometimes accompanied with dramatic videos of exploding rockets) on Elon Musk’s and SpaceX’s efforts to land a spent rocket back on Earth — specifically on a fancy drone ship-landing pad in the ocean. Then, on Monday, fellow Internet tycoon Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin just quietly did it, successfully landing a spent rocket with minimal fanfare in the dusty desert of West Texas and beating the Muskian hype machine to the history e-books.
“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts — a used rocket,” Bezos said in a release today. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission — soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just 4 and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”
That altitude of 329,839 feet, or about 100.5 kilometers, is symbolically significant because it’s just past what’s known as the Karman line, generally accepted as the dividing line between the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.
SpaceX, NASA dream of selling dream trips…
It’s a surprisingly beautiful thing, to see something man-made touch space and then fall back toward the ground, firing up its rockets again about a mile above the surface to execute a graceful and controlled landing; the same machine designed to overcome gravity now working in concert with the mysterious force to avoid being destroyed by it in the hopes that it will fly and conquer it again another day.
Now that Bezos and Blue Origin can claim that they’ve successfully launched a rocket to space and returned it to Earth dry and in one piece, they’ve wasted no time revving up the marketing machine. The below video documents the historic launch and landing of the spent New Shepard rocket from the same facility.
And yet the video also does not shy away from mixing in its marketing message, as the entire thing is an advertisement for similar manned flights to the edge of space that Blue Origin plans to offer to citizen space tourists in the future. The video concludes with this statement: “Perfect landing. We made history today. Now who wants to go to space?”
In a phone call with reporters on Tuesday, Bezos said he hopes to see people aboard Blue Origin launches in “a couple of years.”
Suddenly it seems like more than just a punchline that people might one day purchase that opportunity through Amazon.