THE RACE TO SPACE
YOU South Africa|5 August 2021
The out-of-this-world battle of the ‘billion-nauts’ saw JeffBezos take the youngest and oldest people on his rocket
DENNIS CAVERNELIS

THE best day ever. That’s how the richest man on Earth describes his journey to the edge of space – although that odyssey took up only a fraction of his day.

In fact, it took just 11 minutes from blast off to touch down but for JeffBezos and the three other people aboard the New Shepard rocket, it was as close to heaven as you can get.

“It was unbelievably good,” an ecstatic Jeff(57) says. “We’re a very happy crew.”

That crew consisted of his brother, Mark (53), a volunteer firefighter who does work for Jeff’s space exploration business Blue Origin; Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk (82), who became the oldest person to travel to space; and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen (18), the youngest person to go to space.

Oliver’s dad, Joes Daemen, the billionaire owner of a private equity fund, bought his son’s ticket on auction for $28 million (R406m).

New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961, launched into a clear-blue sky from the Texas desert on 20 July, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.

The trip was textbook-perfect. The crew capsule successfully separated from its rocket booster shortly before reaching the Kármán line, the internationally accepted boundary of space, at an altitude of 106km three minutes later.

For four heady minutes, Jeff and the crew experienced weightlessness as they gazed at the big blue ball of our planet from their lofty perch.

Then it was time to head back to Mother Earth – a ride described as a “free fall for the passengers” by Time magazine, subjecting the crew to maximum gravitational pull of 5,5gs.

Three small drogue parachutes then opened, followed by three main parachutes which slowly lowered the capsule towards the Texas scrubland.

“About 2m above ground, a blast of air was released from the bottom of the capsule, providing a cushioning that set the passengers down at a speed of less than 3,2km/h,” Time reports.

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