VAN HORN, Tex. (WOFL FOX 35) - It was an historic day for space exploration, all thanks to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his team of rocket scientists. In video provided by Blue Origin, the space company showed liftoff of the New Shephard reusable launch system into the skies over West Texas.
Anxious employees watched as the rocket disappeared, climbing to the edge of space at some 330,000 feet above the earth, where the space capsule and rocket separated. The space capsule touched down under parachutes, which is nothing new, but Blue Origin also brought it's booster rocket back to earth. Slowed by a perfectly timed retro burn, the autonomous flight system gently landed the rocket into the history books. Bezos described it as the greatest moment of his life.
"I saw that on my iPad, and I was just cheering," said former astronaut and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida. "I was thinking, as soon Bezos starts launching from the Cape, I want to volunteer!"
The billionaire Bezos announced in September that Blue Origin will build rockets and launch them into orbit from Cape Canaveral. He plans to send up satellites first, then people -- including space tourists and even himself. He predicts the first launch will occur by the end of the decade and said more details would be forthcoming next year.
The first-stage boosters will be reusable to save money. The crew capsules will fly themselves and not require pilots. The rocket system has garnered praise from many the industry, including competitor SpaceX, which has failed to accomplish a similar but more challenging goal with its Falcon 9 rocket, after flying real missions. Billionaire SpaceX owner Elon Musk initially tweeted "congrats" to rival Bezos, but then took issue with the Amazon founder's tweet declaring the Blue Origin rocket as "the rarest of beasts," noting SpaceX's test rocket Grasshopper did six smaller return flights, though none of those went into space.
Space Florida's Dale Ketcham says the billionaire space battle is a good thing for the industry and the nation. "Now, we are bringing a competition between very driven billionaire entrepreneurs that's bringing a whole new sense of competition to the American space program, and that's exciting to all of us," Ketcham said.
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 36 will serve as home base for Blue Origin's orbital program. It's been idle for the past decade, following a rich history of interplanetary flights for NASA.