On July 20, 9 a.m. EDT in West Texas, Jeff Bezos’ flight suit was nothing you would expect as he blasted off into space on an 11-minute supersonic ride with one of the oldest and youngest humans. The mission date marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first humans on the moon.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard Capsule, which takes its name from Alan Shepard (the first American in space in 1961), carried four passengers: Bezos and his brother (Mark Bezos); one of the “Mercury 13” women, 82-year-old Wally Funk; and the youngest person to be in space, Oliver Daemen.
Daemen’s father purchased the ticket for him, making him Blue Origin’s first paying customer. This is the first-ever flight for Bezos’ company’s suborbital space tourism rocket, which plans to take many other similar flights for ultra-wealthy space adventurers.
Bezos did not wear traditional astronaut gear or a spacesuit for the 62-mile flight on Tuesday. In his recent interview to NBC’s Today Show, he expressed that there is no need for a spacesuit for such a flight. Instead, the crew wore blue flight suits that may seem familiar to NASCAR aficionados. Jeff Bezos’ flight suit has a light sheen with a mission patch on the left featuring Blue Origin’s rocket thundering towards the sky.
Each crew member’s initials and surnames are added on the front right in white. The right sleeve has the country flag (the US flag for Bezos brothers and Wally Funk, and the Dutch flag for Daemen), while the left side has the company’s name, Blue Origin. Each flight suit has a belt around the waist and is outlined with black around the elbows, knees, and collar. Upon landing, Bezos walked out of the capsule wearing a cowboy hat.
Earlier, Richard Branson wore an Under Armour-made blue jumpsuit for his first Virgin Galactic flight, which, too, features a deep blue shade. Blue seems to be the color for space travel.
According to Brad Holschuh, the co-director at the Wearable Technology Lab and associate professor at the University of Minnesota: “When people think of NASA ‘spacesuits,’ there are two suits that might come to mind. The first is the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) which is the iconic white spacesuit that you see astronauts wearing when they are outside of their vehicle/habitat on spacewalks. The other is the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), a bright orange emergency suit, worn only to protect the astronaut in case of a loss of pressure in the vehicle during launch, and which would only be pressurized during such an emergency and whose only purpose is to keep the crew alive,” Holschuh told the outlet. “It is not meant for (or optimized for) spacewalking activities, and would not ever (normally) be worn outside of the vehicle.”
Since commercial space flights don’t require passengers to leave the space vehicle, there is no need for pressurized garments. Instead, passengers can wear light-weight suits like Jeff Bezos’ flight suit.
Blue Origin’s suborbital flight achieved a significant milestone: to go past the Kármán line, an internationally recognized boundary at around 62 miles above the earth. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight hit an altitude of 282,000 feet, which is 50 miles beyond NASA’s space-earth boundary but not close to the Kármán line.
Besides the altitude difference, Blue Origin’s New Shepard launched like a rocket and returned with parachutes supporting its descent. The Virgin Galactic’s space vehicle, on the other hand, was dropped into space via a special aircraft at around 50,000 feet before the accent engines came to life. The Galactic spacecraft returned with a space-shuttle-like runway landing.
Watch the New Shepard’s launch video below.