World’s richest man Jeff Bezos lifts off on inaugural space voyage

Jeff Bezos is launched with three crew members aboard a New Shepard rocket on the world's first unpiloted suborbital flight from Blue Origin's Launch Site 1 near Van Horn, Texas, US, on 20 July, 2021

Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, and three crewmates blasted off from the West Texas desert on Tuesday aboard his company Blue Origin's New Shepard-a launch vehicle for a suborbital flight, another milestone in ushering in a new era of private space travel.

The spacecraft ignited its BE-3 engines for a liftoff from Blue Origin's Launch Site One facility about 32 km outside the rural town of Van Horn.

There were generally clear skies with a few patchy clouds on a cool morning for the launch.

(From left) Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk pose in an undated photograph, ahead of their scheduled flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard

The 57-year-old American billionaire is flying on a planned 11-minute voyage to the edge of space, nine days after Briton Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic's successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.

"They are in for the flight of a lifetime," launch presenter Ariane Cornell of Blue Origin said on a live webcast.

Branson got to space first, but Bezos is due to fly higher-100 km for Blue Origin compared to 86 km for Virgin Galactic.

Bezos, founder of ecommerce company Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos were joined by two others. Pioneering female aviator Wally Funk and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen are becoming the oldest and youngest people to reach space.

The flight coincides with the anniversary of Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon, on 20 July, 1969.

New Shepard is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space.

Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s but was passed over because of her gender.

Daemen, Blue Origin's first paying customer, is set to study physics and innovation management in the Netherlands. His father, who heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners, was on site to watch his son fly to space.

The launch was being witnessed by members of the Bezos family and Blue Origin employees, and a few spectators gathered along the highway before dawn.