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Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin: A journey to space takes flight

Amazon's founder and Richard Branson battled it out in a billionaires' race to space. Here's how Bezos' rocket-powered ride shaped up.

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Amanda Kooser
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Jeff Bezos loves space

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos built a retail empire on Earth, but his heart and mind have long trended toward the stars. On July 20, he reached suborbital space on the first crewed flight of the New Shepard spacecraft from his Blue Origin venture.

Bezos was locked in a billionaires' race to space with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson. Branson edged out his Blue Origin rival with a trip to suborbital space on July 11. 

This is a look at Blue Origin's gear and test flights as Bezos finally became not just a wealthy person, but a wealthy astronaut.

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New Shepard rocket launch

Billionaire Jeff Bezos headed to space on the NS-16 mission in a crew capsule escorted off the ground by a New Shepard rocket. The rocket system -- named for Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space -- had already completed a series of test launches. The July launch was the first with humans on board. This view is from an earlier uncrewed test launch.

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NS-16 crew

Meet the crew of NS-16, the first crewed flight for Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin: (L-R) Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk. The 18-year-old Daemen became the youngest person to visit space, while 82-year-old Funk became the oldest.

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4 of 19 CNET screenshot/Blue Origin

NS-16 returns to Earth

The NS-16 crewed flight went off as planned, with a gentle parachute landing back on Earth. The crew emerged from the capsule looking pretty thrilled with the ride.

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Testing the flight experience

One of the Blue Origin crew capsule's first occupants was a human-like dummy named Mannequin Skywalker. The mannequin took a ride with New Shepard in April. The test flight set the stage for Bezos and crew to take to the skies with the July 20 launch.

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Mannequin Skywalker

Mannequin Skywalker would have enjoyed the views if it was alive.

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Jeff Bezos for scale

Bezos, famous for his Amazon-fueled billions, inspects a booster on the landing pad after a test flight. The New Shepard rocket boosters are reusable.

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Booster landing

As with SpaceX, Blue Origin has developed a reusable rocket booster to help keep costs down for launches. The system is designed to deliver payloads to space and send space tourists off on an 11-minute ride of a lifetime. 

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Booster comes back

This is the view from above as a New Shepard rocket booster comes back down for a landing after doing its job.

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Parachuting down

A New Shepard unmanned crew capsule descends from the skies during a test. The parachutes are designed to give it a gentle landing back on Earth.

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Blue Origin space colony

Bezos won't be content with just trucking around in suborbital space. He has a grand vision for an eventual space colony, complete with off-world habitats designed as parks. 

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Blue Origin moon lander

Will Bezos want to go to the moon one day? The Blue Origin Integrated Lander Vehicle was one of three moon landers in development for NASA. NASA selected a SpaceX moon lander for its Artemis program, but Blue Origin could potentially compete for future NASA contracts.

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A New Shepard first

Long before humans can get on board a new spacecraft, there need to be a lot of tests. New Shepard blasted off on its maiden flight from Blue Origin's launch site in west Texas in 2015. It has since completed a series of uncrewed flights and safety tests, and has now proven it can carry passengers to suborbital space.

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14 of 19 Blue Origin screen capture by CNET

Wally Funk

Bezos wasn't traveling alone when he got off this rock on July 20. The crew included his brother Mark and 82-year-old pilot and aeronautics pioneer Wally Funk, who had never flown to space. This screenshot comes from when Bezos told Funk about the plans to visit suborbital space.

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Wally Funk

Blue Origin released this vintage photo when it announced Funk would travel with Bezos to space. Funk and the Bezos brothers were originally supposed to be joined by the winner of an auction for a seat on New Shepard. The high bid came in at $28 million (£19.8 million, AU $36.3 million), but the winner had a scheduling conflict, so 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands went instead.

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Take a Shepard seat

The New Shepard capsule features a stylish interior design with comfortable seats aimed at making the trip to space a cozy experience.

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Crew capsule interior

The Blue Origin New Shepard crew capsule holds up to six passengers and has large windows to give wide views of Earth during flight.

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New Glenn

While New Shepard is handling suborbital flights, Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket will aim to go higher, sending payloads and eventually people into orbit. This is an illustration of what it might look like. Will Bezos be on board one day? It could happen. 

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Blue Moon

in 2019, Bezos showed off what Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander would look like. The lander is designed to touch down on the moon's surface, delivering cargo or astronauts. The lander's future is uncertain at this time as NASA moves forward with its Artemis program to return humans to the moon.

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