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Bezos Is Back On Earth — But The Space Tourism Industry Is Just Launching Off

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The world's richest man briefly left planet Earth today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUTOMATED VOICE: Two, one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET LIFTING OFF)

KELLY: Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos lifting off there from West Texas aboard a rocket he developed with his space company, Blue Origin. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has more on his trip and where space tourism goes from here.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: The flight was really just to the edge of space, but it was good enough to get a great view and experience a few minutes of weightlessness...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Woo (ph).

BRUMFIEL: ...Before returning to Earth. Riding along with Bezos was his brother, Mark, a Dutch teenager named Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk, a female 82-year-old aviator and former air safety inspector. The group traveled nearly 70 miles up, then landed gently under parachutes. In a post-landing press conference, Bezos had some people to credit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF BEZOS: I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.

(LAUGHTER)

BRUMFIEL: Eventually, his space company, Blue Origin, hopes others will pay for the 10 minutes or so the rocket spends off the ground. Laura Forczyk is owner of Astralytical, a space consulting firm. She says many people are interested.

LAURA FORCZYK: So far, we have seen quite a bit of demand for these flights.

BRUMFIEL: Tickets seem to be selling for seats on Bezos's rocket and the space plane of fellow billionaire Richard Branson, which went up earlier this month. Forczyk says what remains to be seen is whether there will be sustained demand.

FORCZYK: We don't know how many times these customers are going to fly, whether it's a once in a lifetime opportunity or whether they'll be repeat.

BRUMFIEL: Today, Bezos said tickets were going fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEZOS: We're approaching $100 million in private sales already.

BRUMFIEL: And he does seem to have at least one repeat customer on his hands - Wally Funk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALLY FUNK: We had a great time. It was wonderful.

BEZOS: That's true.

FUNK: I want to go again, fast.

BRUMFIEL: Funk was part of the Mercury 13, a group of women who underwent testing to be astronauts in the 1960s but never got the chance to fly. In the years that followed, she says she applied several more times to NASA, but they turned her down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FUNK: I've been waiting a long time to finally get it up there.

BRUMFIEL: Her brief jaunt today into the final frontier makes her the oldest person to ever fly into space.

Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "I'M WITH POLLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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