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A rocket carrying American businessman Jeff Bezos blasted off Tuesday from a remote desert launch site in Texas, as he becomes the second billionaire to self fund a trip to space this month.The 57-year-old founder of e-commerce giant Amazon and three companions were on board the New Shepard rocket built by his company Blue Origin, which he founded in 2000 with the goal of creating permanent space colonies where people will live and work.FILE – This undated file illustration provided by Blue Origin shows the capsule that the company will use to take tourists into space. (Blue Origin via AP)New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut, traveled at three times the speed of sound before the capsule separated from the rocket and floated above the Earth for a few minutes, allowing Bezos and his three crewmates to experience weightlessness. The fully automated capsule then re-entered the atmosphere and made a parachute landing near the launch site, while the rocket made an automated vertical landing several kilometers away.Bezos is joined by his brother, Mark, plus 82-year-old aviation pioneer Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, making them the oldest and youngest persons to fly into space.  This undated family photo shows Oliver Daemen. Blue Origin announced July 15, 2021, that the Dutch teen would be traveling on its July 20 space launch in west Texas.Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13, the first group of women to train for the U.S. space program in the 1960s but were denied a chance to become astronauts because of the gender. The Dutch-born Daemen was a last-minute addition to the crew after the anonymous winner of a $28 million auction for a seat on New Shepard dropped out, citing a scheduling conflict. Daemen’s father was a runner-up in the auction, which makes the young astronaut Blue Origin’s first paying customer.   Bezos hopes New Shepard will reach an altitude of 106 kilometers above the Earth, past the so-called Karman line (100 kilometers above Earth), which is recognized by international aviation and aerospace federations as the threshold of space. It will also surpass the 85 kilometer mark reached by British billionaire Richard Branson on July 11 when he and five crewmates flew aboard his Virgin Galactic rocket-powered space plane.Bezos, a fervent space enthusiast since watching the Apollo lunar missions in his youth, is heading into space on the 52nd anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing.   During a television interview Monday, Bezos insisted that his goal was not about competition with Branson, but “about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things in space.” Blue Origin’s first manned mission comes after 15 test flights of the New Shepard vehicle. Bob Smith, the company’s chief executive officer, says two more manned missions aboard New Shepard are planned by the end of this year if Tuesday’s flight is successful. The company is also building a larger rocket, New Glenn — named after John Glenn, the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth — that will send both manned and unmanned vehicles into space. 


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