Jeff Bezos goes to space

By Jackie Wattles, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 4:24 PM ET, Tue July 20, 2021
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9:23 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Passengers cheer as they rocket to space

Jeff Bezos and the New Shepard passengers could be heard cheering and whooping during their journey to space.

"It's dark up here!" 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk exclaimed.

Another one of the four said there was a "very happy crew up here."

10:00 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

The booster is back on the landing pad

The rocket booster created a sonic boom before returning to the ground in its upright position, using little fins to keep itself upright and oriented. Some breaks near the top of the rocket are also helping it slow down. 

About 3,000 feet above the ground the engine will relight, slowing it down to manageable speeds just before it hits terra firma.

9:18 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

And now, it's time to float around and soak in the views 

The New Shepard capsule just hit the very top of its flight path — more than 65 miles above ground — and the passengers are all experiencing about three minutes of weightlessness.   

They’ll be able to unstrap from their seats and float about the cabin while taking in panoramic views of the Earth and cosmos.  

Quick reminder: Experiencing zero gravity has nothing to do with altitude. The Earth’s gravitational pull is still very much tugging on the capsule, but it’s now reached “apogee” — the term in spaceflight for the very top of a flight path.  

The astronauts are weightless because the energy the rocket and capsule drummed up on the way up is now being canceled out by the Earth’s gravity, giving them a very extreme version of the sensation you experience when you reach the very peak of a big roller coaster hill.   

9:17 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

JUST IN: Bezos has reached space 

The New Shepard capsule just soared past the 62-mile-high so-called Karman Line, which is frequently referred to as the altitude at which outer space begins. 

The capsule is now heading for the peak of its flight path. 

9:18 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

New Shepard capsule and booster separate 

Blue Origin
Blue Origin

Everything is going right on schedule. 

The New Shepard rocket finished firing, and its engine just kicked off. In rocket jargon, this is referred to as “MECO” or “main engine cut off.”

The crew capsule — with Bezos and his three fellow passengers on board — then separated from the rocket and is continuing to vault upward. 

The booster, which is more aerodynamically shaped and will begin falling back to Earth quicker than the capsule, will now head back down for a controlled, pinpoint landing on a ground pad.

9:13 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Max Q: The New Shepard just hit a major milestone 

The New Shepard rocket and capsule just experienced what’s called “Max Q,” an aerospace term that refers to the point during flight at which a vehicle experiences its maximum dynamic pressure.

Put simply: It’s when the rocket is drumming up high speeds at a time when the atmosphere is still pretty thick, putting a lot of pressure on the vehicle.  

Here’s NASA’s explanation

“The density of the air decreases with altitude in a complex manner. The velocity of a rocket during launch is constantly increasing with altitude. Therefore, the dynamic pressure on a rocket during launch is initially zero because the velocity is zero. The dynamic pressure increases because of the increasing velocity to some maximum value, called the maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q. Then the dynamic pressure decreases because of the decreasing density.” 
9:17 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

We have liftoff: Jeff Bezos and the other passengers are now on their way to space

Blue Origin
Blue Origin

The New Shepard rocket just fired up its engines, blasting off from its concrete launch  pad with Jeff Bezos and his fellow passengers strapped inside.  

About 16 seconds into flight, the New Shepard booster capsule will start to rotate ever so slightly, completing one full turn every two or three minutes, giving all the astronauts a  360-degree view of their surroundings as they blast toward the upper reaches of the  Earth’s atmosphere.  

The entire flight is expected to take about 11 minutes.

WATCH:

9:14 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

The bridge around the capsule has retracted

The bridge around the Blue Origin ship is retracting now, signifying just minutes from launch.

The New Shepard just launched from the concrete pad. The passengers on board can hear all this happening through their headsets inside the capsule as well.  

The flight will go more than 60 miles above Earth and the whole thing will last about 11 minutes.

9:03 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Bezos: "I could have done this flight as CEO of Amazon"

From CNN's Jackie Wattles and Rachel Crane

Jeff Bezos inspecting the booster on the landing pad after a NS-15 flight and landing test.
Jeff Bezos inspecting the booster on the landing pad after a NS-15 flight and landing test.

Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon — which he helmed for the past 27 years — on July 5.

Though the leadership transition was previously announced, it kicked off quite a bit of speculation about whether Bezos had to quit because taking a supersonic jaunt to the edge of space is too dangerous for the head honcho at one of the world's largest dot-com companies.

But Bezos told CNN Business' Rachel Crane in an interview that wasn't the case:

"I could have done this flight as CEO of Amazon and it would have been fine. First of all, we really believe this flight is safe. I had friends say to me ‘how ‘bout the second flight or the third flight? Why do you have to go on the first flight?’ And the point is, we know the vehicle is safe. If it’s not safe for me, then it’s not safe for anyone."