Blue Origin rocketed its first passengers to the edge of space on Tuesday morning. Roughly 10 minutes later, the crew returned to the West Texas desert after spending just three minutes in zero gravity.
“I loved every minute of it,” Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator, said in a ceremony after the flight. “I just wish it had been longer.”
The billionaire Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, invited Funk and his brother Mark to accompany him on the flight. Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high-school graduate from the Netherlands, joined them. His father had purchased the final seat on the flight after an auction winner backed out.
Back on land, the passengers were beaming and gave hugs all around. They popped champagne at their landing site. But one of the guests’ reviews of the flight came with caveats.
“We went right on up and I saw darkness,” Funk, now the oldest person to travel to space, said. “I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough.”
Indeed, during the livestream Funk could be heard saying, “It’s dark up here.”
Once they unbuckled, the passengers could see Earth out the spaceship windows. But it wasn’t the blue marble one might witness from the moon, nor was it the same curving horizon that professional astronauts see from the International Space Station. (The station is about four times higher than the altitude Bezos and his companions reached on Tuesday.)
During the post-flight ceremony, Blue Origin shared the footage below from inside the spaceship. In the background, you can clearly see clouds, the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and the blackness of space beyond it.
On previous flights — parabolic plane flights that simulate the microgravity of space — Funk “could do a lot more rolls and twists and so forth,” she said. “But there was not quite enough room for all four of us to do all those things ,” she said.
The capsule is designed to carry six passengers, and this flight had only four. In the video, the crew can be seen bumping into each other and holding handrails in order to spin and somersault.
“It felt way cooler than it looked,” Daemen said after watching the video footage.
“Everyone on the ground was way more emotional than we were,” he added. “We were just having fun.”
The crew played catch with orange ping-pong balls, and Bezos threw a Skittle into Daemen’s mouth.
“This is different, isn’t it?” Funk said as they floated through the capsule and peered out the windows.
Funk had dreamed of visiting space for decades.
She joined an all-woman space mission dubbed Mercury 13 in 1961, but the program was ultimately scrapped — seemingly for sexist reasons. She later embarked on a long career in aviation. In a Blue Origin video announcing her flight, Funk said she had taught over 3,000 people to fly. But she never made it to space until Tuesday.
Despite the brevity and crowding, the flight was “great,” she said.
“I loved it,” Funk said. “I can hardly wait to go again.”
Funk is signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic’s space plane, which makes a similar trip that offers roughly five minutes in microgravity. It’s not clear when she’ll make that trip.
Avery Hartmans contributed reporting.