“Billionaires go to space” tends to conjure up images of beach vacations on Mars. As a result, many were surprised to find that Jeff Bezos’s vaunted trip to space this morning aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle lasted all of 11 minutes from launch to landing. The vessel traveled a bit over 63 miles into the air (a little more than 10 miles higher than Richard Branson’s similar trip earlier in the month). The entire event felt less like “space tourism” as sci-fi movies would have us imagine it, and more like the world’s most expensive thrill ride. The claim that its passengers went to space feels like the equivalent of someone saying they’ve been to a country, even though they just had a layover in one of its airports. I’ve been in the Copenhagen airport for roughly 30 times longer than Bezos’s entire flight lasted, but I wouldn’t say I’ve truly visited Denmark.
The entire Blue Origins endeavor largely failed to inspire in the way that NASA’s publicly funded launches could. While it was easy to dream that all of human achievement would be aboard each and every Challenger and Apollo shuttle, the spectacle of the Blue Origins launch stirred up no such emotions. The endgame of the “billionaires in space” missions of Bezos’s company (along with Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s Space X) is to develop commercially viable companies that offer some new rarified thrill to the monied. We were witnessing the commercialization of the dream of space in real-time.
Twitter, predictably, was less than thrilled.