By Paul Rincon-Science editor, BBC News website
https://www.bbc.com-image copyright -Blue Origin
image caption From left: Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos, Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk
Billionaire Jeff Bezos blasted into space on Tuesday, in the first crewed flight of his rocket ship, New Shepard.
He was accompanied by Mark Bezos, his brother, Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneer of the space race, and an 18-year-old student.
They travelled in a capsule with the biggest windows flown in space, offering stunning views of the Earth.
All four passengers have now parachuted safely back to Earth after their 10-minute, 10-second trip.
New Shepard, built by Bezos’ company Blue Origin, is designed to serve the burgeoning market for space tourism among the super-wealthy.
On this flight was the oldest person who has been to space – Ms Funk – and the youngest, student Oliver Daemen.
The spacecraft lifted off at 14:12 BST (09:12 EDT) from a private launch site near Van Horn, Texas.
After the capsule touched down, Bezos said: “Astronaut Bezos [his callsign]: Best day ever!”
He later said: “My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded.”
Two minutes into the flight, the capsule separated from its rocket and continued upwards towards the Karman Line – the most widely recognised boundary of space, 100km up. The newly minted-astronauts shouted “wow!” and cheered.
At a post-flight briefing, video was shown of the occupants performing somersaults and tumbles during the four minutes of weightlessness. inside the capsule passengers experienced about four minutes of weightlessness. Stunning views of the Earth could be seen outside.
Jeff Bezos said he was surprised by the sensation of microgravity: “It felt so normal,” he explained.
Ms Funk added: “It was great, I loved it, I can hardly wait to go again.”
In the 1960s, Ms Funk was one member of a group of women called the Mercury 13. They underwent the same screening tests as male astronauts, but never got to fly into space.
Mr Bezos told CBS News on Monday: “Wally can outrun all of us. During the Mercury 13, she was better than all the men and I can guarantee that’s still true today.”
The capsule reached a maximum altitude of around 107km (351,210ft) before starting its descent, parachuting down to a soft touchdown in the desert.
On the way down, Jeff Bezos told mission control: “You have a very happy crew here up here, I want you to know.”
After landing, Mark said: “I am unbelievably good.” He revealed that the passengers had brought several items from aviation history with them on the flight, including a piece of canvas used on the Wright Flyer, which performed the first powered flight in 1903, and a medallion made from the first hot air balloon to soar into the air in 1783.
Jeff Bezos recently resigned as chief executive of Amazon, the e-commerce giant he founded, in order to concentrate on his other ventures, including Blue Origin.
His brother Mark, 53, is a senior vice president at Robin Hood, a New York-based charity.
The fourth passenger is the son of financier Joes Daemen, who founded Dutch private equity firm Somerset Capital Partners. Oliver had originally secured a seat on the second flight, but was drafted in to replaced the anonymous winner of a public auction.
This unnamed winner, who paid $28m (£20m) to join Bezos on New Shepard’s first crewed flight, had to pull out “due to scheduling conflicts”.
Bezos and Branson have been criticised on social media, with users arguing the money for space could be put to better use – such as tackling climate change or helping the world recover from the pandemic.
Sir Richard has addressed the criticism, saying: “I can understand it, but I think maybe they’re not fully educated to what space does for Earth.”
He explained that satellites were monitoring “the degradation of the rainforests, monitoring food distribution – even things like climate change,” adding: “We need more spaceships going up to space, we don’t need less.”