Roles assumed by women have undergone a profound evolution. Transitioning from traditional nurturing responsibilities, they have emerged as indispensable contributors across diverse domains, including science and technology. Chandrayaan-3 hailed the women scientists who led India’s moon landing. This article serves as a tribute to the female engineers who orchestrated the expedition, making groundbreaking history. Groundbreaking Chandrayaan-3 mission ISRO, or the Indian Space Research Organisation, is India's national space agency. Chandrayaan-3 marks the third chapter in its lunar exploration saga through the Chandrayaan program. Its purpose is to explore the moon's surface, study lunar composition, and demonstrate soft landing capabilities. Embarking on a transformative lunar exploration journey, Chandrayaan-3 stands as a testament to India's space ambitions. Launched on July 14, 2023, from Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, this mission is an extension of ISRO's lunar program, aiming to explore the moon's mysteries with precision. Read more: 3 Bangladeshi women make it to list of top 100 Asian scientists The mission comprises the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover, symbolising technological innovation. The propulsion module facilitated the lunar orbit insertion, a crucial step, achieved on August 5, 2023. This propelled the spacecraft into an orbit around the moon, preparing for a historic lunar landing. Vikram, equipped with four landing legs and thrusters, carries both Pragyan and scientific instruments for lunar analysis. Pragyan, the six-wheeled rover, embarked on an odyssey across the lunar surface. Chandrayaan-3's triumphant lunar descent on August 23, 2023 showcased India's prowess in soft landings. With meticulous calculations, Vikram achieved a controlled touchdown, setting the stage for Pragyan's mission. Read more: New crew for the space station launches with 4 astronauts from 4 countries Pioneering Women Scientists behind Chandrayaan-3 Mission Within Chandrayaan-3's celestial voyage, a constellation of remarkable women scientists emerges. This assembly of 54 adept female engineers and scientists exemplifies the culmination of scientific excellence intertwined with relentless determination. Here are the nine leading women scientists who were part of India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission. Ritu Karidhal Srivastava This accomplished Indian scientist and aerospace engineer started on her ISRO journey in 1997. As the Deputy Operations Director of India's Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan), she played a pivotal role in orchestrating the spacecraft's autonomy system. It enables the spaceship to navigate space autonomously and respond to anomalies with precision. Fondly referred to as one of India's "Rocket Women," Ritu's contributions were undeniable in propelling India into the exclusive league of space explorers. Her expertise resonates in conceptualizing and executing the craft's onward autonomy system. It was a cornerstone of the mission's success. Read more: 10 Greatest Female Scientists of All Time Kalpana Kalahasti Kalpana, armed with an aeronautical engineering degree from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, entered ISRO in 2003 as a scientist. Her illustrious career includes diverse satellite projects, including communication and remote sensing satellites. This expertise has transformed India's capabilities in data collection and communication. The significant milestones of her career include Mars Orbiter Mission and Chandrayaan-2. Her ingenious design of propulsion systems and imaging equipment exemplified her engineering prowess. Notably, her integral role in the Chandrayaan-2 and Mangalyaan missions underscores her versatility and indelible contributions. Dr. V. R. Lalithambika Dr. V. R. Lalithambika, a stalwart since 1988, carved her niche in the realm of Advanced Launcher Technologies. Her journey with ISRO commenced at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), where she joined as a young engineer. Over the years, she led a team that designed rocket control and guidance systems, an integral aspect of mission success. Her expertise spans over a hundred space missions, reflecting her adeptness in engineering and leadership. Read more: Jute Sanitary Napkins: Bangladeshi scientist Farhana Sultana got awarded for eco-friendly innovation
SpaceX sends Saudi astronauts, including nation’s 1st woman in space, to International Space Station
Saudi Arabia's first astronauts in decades rocketed toward the International Space Station on a chartered multimillion-dollar flight Sunday. SpaceX launched the ticket-holding crew, led by a retired NASA astronaut now working for the company that arranged the trip from Kennedy Space Center. Also on board: a U.S. businessman who now owns a sports car racing team. The four should reach the space station in their capsule Monday morning; they'll spend just over a week there before returning home with a splashdown off the Florida coast. Sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the kingdom to go to space. She was joined by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force. Also Read: UAE spacecraft takes close-up photos of Mars' little moon They're the first from their country to ride a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985. In a quirk of timing, they'll be greeted at the station by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates. "Hello from outer space! It feels amazing to be viewing Earth from this capsule," Barnawi said after settling into orbit. Added al-Qarni: "As I look outside into space, I can't help but think this is just the beginning of a great journey for all of us." Rounding out the visiting crew: Knoxville, Tennessee's John Shoffner, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team that competes in Europe, and chaperone Peggy Whitson, the station's first female commander who holds the U.S. record for most accumulated time in space: 665 days and counting. Also Read: SpaceX takes second shot at launching biggest rocket "It was a phenomenal ride," Whitson said after reaching orbit. Her crewmates clapped their hands in joy. It's the second private flight to the space station organized by Houston-based Axiom Space. The first was last year by three businessmen, with another retired NASA astronaut. The company plans to start adding its own rooms to the station in another few years, eventually removing them to form a stand-alone outpost available for hire. Axiom won't say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia are paying for the planned 10-day mission. The company had previously cited a ticket price of $55 million each. NASA's latest price list shows per-person, per-day charges of $2,000 for food and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear. Need to get your stuff to the space station in advance? Figure roughly $10,000 per pound ($20,000 per kilogram), the same fee for trashing it afterward. Need your items back intact? Double the price. At least the email and video links are free. The guests will have access to most of the station as they conduct experiments, photograph Earth and chat with schoolchildren back home, demonstrating how kites fly in space when attached to a fan. After decades of shunning space tourism, NASA now embraces it with two private missions planned a year. The Russian Space Agency has been doing it, off and on, for decades. "Our job is to expand what we do in low-Earth orbit across the globe," said NASA's space station program manager Joel Montalbano. SpaceX's first-stage booster landed back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff — a special treat for the launch day crowd, which included about 60 Saudis. "It was a very, very exciting day," said Axiom's Matt Ondler.
Bangladesh and France have reasserted their will to build a "key partnership" in aviation, space and aerospace technology. The countries affirmed their commitment to extend cooperation in political relations, development cooperation, trade and investment, defence cooperation, cooperation in science and technology including ICT and agriculture, cultural cooperation; cooperation in archaeology, diplomatic training in France, an exchange programme between diplomatic training academies and consular cooperation. Bangladesh and France held the first bilateral political consultations Thursday in Dhaka. The Bangladesh delegation at the consultations was led by Kazi Russel Pervez, director general (West Europe and European Union) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The French delegation was headed by Bertrand Lortholary, director for Asian Affairs of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. Ambassador of France to Bangladesh Marie Masdupuy and representatives from different ministries of the Bangladesh government also joined the consultations. Both sides also shared their views on various regional and international issues, including the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, cybercrime, counter-terrorism and violent extremism. They had an extensive exchange of views on the war in Ukraine and reaffirmed their paramount attachments to the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, including territorial integrity and sovereignty. Both sides recognised the absolute priority of addressing climate change-related issues in their bilateral cooperation as well as in multilateral fora. They highlighted the importance of enhancing bilateral trade and exchanging business delegation. The Bangladesh side invited France to enhance investment in the country, particularly in food and agro-processing, advanced manufacturing, consumer electronics, automotive, leather, and pharmaceuticals. The two sides discussed the potential for deepening cooperation in research and development, especially in medical and environmental sciences. They also acknowledged the prospects for strengthening cooperation in aviation security and maritime domain awareness. The French side assured Bangladesh of appropriate consideration to support its bid for a GSP+ facility beyond 2029 under the EU's new GSP Regulation, in conjunction with EU institutions and member states. Both Bangladesh and France acknowledged the value of sustained and substantive cooperation in relevant regional and multilateral fora, including the UN, ASEAN Regional Forum, and IORA. The countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022, and the launching of the bilateral political consultations will serve as a hallmark of their friendship, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the state visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to France in November 2021 at the invitation of the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, both sides highlighted their shared will to develop and deepen all aspects of their partnership through regular political consultations for strategic guidance. Both sides agreed that the second bilateral political consultations would take place in Paris. Read more: France keen to work together with Bangladesh for economic, social benefits
Two NASA spacecraft at Mars — one on the surface and the other in orbit — have recorded the biggest meteor strikes and impact craters yet. The high-speed barrages last year sent seismic waves rippling thousands of miles across Mars, the first ever detected near the surface of another planet, and carved out craters nearly 500 feet (150 meters) across, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. The larger of the two strikes churned out boulder-size slabs of ice, which may help researchers look for ways future astronauts can tap into Mars’ natural resources. The Insight lander measured the seismic shocks, while the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided stunning pictures of the resulting craters. Imaging the craters “would have been huge already,” but matching it to the seismic ripples was a bonus, said co-author Liliya Posiolova of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. “We were so lucky.” Mars’ atmosphere is thin unlike on Earth, where the thick atmosphere prevents most space rocks from reaching the ground, instead breaking and incinerating them. A separate study last month linked a recent series of smaller Martian meteoroid impacts with smaller craters closer to InSight, using data from the same lander and orbiter. Read: NASA says spacecraft succeeded in changing asteroid’s orbit The impact observations come as InSight nears the end of its mission because of dwindling power, its solar panels blanketed by dust storms. InSight landed on the equatorial plains of Mars in 2018 and has since recorded more than 1,300 marsquakes. “It’s going to be heartbreaking when we finally lose communication with InSight,” said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lander’s chief scientist who took part in the studies. “But the data it has sent us will certainly keep us busy for years to come.” Banerdt estimated the lander had between four to eight more weeks before power runs out. The incoming space rocks were between 16 feet and 40 feet (5 meters and 12 meters) in diameter, said Posiolova. The impacts registered about magnitude 4. The larger of the two struck last December some 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from InSight, creating a crater roughly 70 feet (21 meters) deep. The orbiter’s cameras showed debris hurled up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the impact, as well as white patches of ice around the crater, the most frozen water observed at such low latitudes, Posiolova said. Posiolova spotted the crater earlier this year after taking extra pictures of the region from orbit. The crater was missing from earlier photos, and after poring through the archives, she pinpointed the impact to late December. She remembered a large seismic event recorded by InSight around that time and with help from that team, matched the fresh hole to what was undoubtedly a meteoroid strike. The blast wave was clearly visible. Scientists also learned the lander and orbiter teamed up for an earlier meteoroid strike, more than double the distance of the December one and slightly smaller. “Everybody was just shocked and amazed. Another one? Yep,” she recalled. Read: NASA’s new telescope shows star death, dancing galaxies The seismic readings from the two impacts indicate a denser Martian crust beyond InSight’s location. “We still have a long way to go to understanding the interior structure and dynamics of Mars, which remain largely enigmatic,” said Doyeon Kim of ETH Zurich’s Institute of Geophysics in Switzerland, who was part of the research. Outside scientists said future landers from Europe and China will carry even more advanced seismometers. Future missions will “paint a clearer picture” of how Mars evolved, Yingjie Yang and Xiaofei Chen from China’s Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen wrote in an accompanying editorial.
China on Sunday launched a new three-person mission to complete assembly work on its permanent orbiting space station. The Shenzhou 14 crew will spend six months on the Tiangong station, during which they will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to join the main Tianhe living space that was launched in April 2021. Their spaceship blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert at 10:44 a.m. (0244 GMT) atop the crewed space flight program’s workhorse Long March 2F rocket. Fifteen minutes later, it reached low Earth orbit and opened its solar panels, drawing applause from ground controllers in Jiuquan and Beijing. The launch was broadcast live on state television, indicating a rising level of confidence in the capabilities of the space program, which has been promoted as a sign of China's technological progress and global influence. Commander Chen Dong and fellow astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe will assemble the three-module structure joining the existing Tianhe with Wentian and Mengtian, due to arrive in July and October. Another cargo craft, the Tianzhou-3, remains docked with the station. READ: Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown The arrival of the new modules will “provide more stability, more powerful functions, more complete equipment,” said Chen, 43, who was a member of the Shenzhou 11 mission in 2016, at a press conference Saturday. Liu, 43, is also a space veteran and was China’s first female astronaut to reach space aboard the Shenzhou 9 mission in 2012. Cai, 46, is making his first space trip. China’s space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making it only the third country to do so on its own after the former Soviet Union and the U.S. It has landed robot rovers on the moon and placed one on Mars last year. China has also returned lunar samples and officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon. China’s space program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, prompting the U.S. to exclude it from the International Space Station. Chen, Liu and Cai will be joined at the end of their mission for three to five days by the crew of the upcoming Shenzhou 15, marking the first time the station will have had six people aboard.
He told his family and a few friends. He dropped hints to a couple of colleagues. So hardly anyone knew that the airline pilot could have — should have — been on board when SpaceX launched its first tourists into orbit last year. Meet Kyle Hippchen, the real winner of a first-of-its-kind sweepstakes, who gave his seat to his college roommate. Though Hippchen’s secret is finally out, that doesn’t make it any easier knowing he missed his chance to orbit Earth because he exceeded the weight limit. He still hasn’t watched the Netflix series on the three-day flight purchased by a tech entrepreneur for himself and three guests last September. “It hurts too much,” he said. “I’m insanely disappointed. But it is what it is.” Hippchen, 43, a Florida-based captain for Delta’s regional carrier Endeavor Air, recently shared his story with The Associated Press during his first visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since his lost rocket ride. Also read: New space telescope reaches final stop million miles out He opened up about his out-of-the-blue, dream-come-true windfall, the letdown when he realized he topped SpaceX’s weight restrictions of 250 pounds (113 kilograms) and his offer to the one person he knew would treasure the flight as much as himself. Four months later, he figures probably fewer than 50 people know he was the actual winner. “It was their show, and I didn’t want to be distracting too much from what they were doing,” said Hippchen, who watched the launch from a VIP balcony. His seat went to Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington. The pair roomed together starting in the late 1990s while attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. They’d pile into cars with other student space geeks and make the hourlong drive south for NASA’s shuttles launches. They also belonged to a space advocacy group, going to Washington to push commercial space travel. Despite living on opposite coasts, Hippchen and Sembroski continued to swap space news and champion the cause. Neither could resist when Shift4 Payments founder and CEO Jared Isaacman raffled off a seat on the flight he purchased from SpaceX’s Elon Musk. The beneficiary was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Hippchen snapped up $600 worth of entries. Sembroski, about to start a new job at Lockheed Martin, shelled out $50. With 72,000 entries in the random drawing last February, neither figured he’d win and didn’t bother telling the other. By early March, Hippchen started receiving vague emails seeking details about himself. That’s when he read the contest’s small print: The winner had to be under 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds (2 meters and 113 kilograms). Hippchen was 5-foot-10 and 330 pounds (1.8 meters and 150 kilograms). He told organizers he was pulling out, figuring he was only one of many finalists. In the flurry of emails and calls that followed, Hippchen was stunned to learn he’d won. With a September launch planned, the timeline was tight. Still new at flying people, SpaceX needed to start measuring its first private passengers for their custom-fitted flight suits and capsule seats. As an aerospace engineer and pilot, Hippchen knew the weight limit was a safety issue involving the seats, and could not be exceeded. Also read: Japanese space tourists safely return to Earth “I was trying to figure how I could drop 80 pounds in six months, which, I mean, it’s possible, but it’s not the most healthy thing in the world to do,” Hippchen said. Isaacman, the spaceflight’s sponsor, allowed Hippchen to pick a stand-in. “Kyle’s willingness to gift his seat to Chris was an incredible act of generosity,” he said in an email this week. Isaacman introduced his passengers at the end of March: a St. Jude physician assistant who beat cancer there as a child; a community college educator who was Shift4 Payments’ winning business client; and Sembroski. Hippchen joined them in April to watch SpaceX launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the company’s last crew flight before their own. In gratitude, Sembroski offered to take personal items into space for Hippchen. He gathered his high school and college rings, airline captain epaulets, a great-uncle’s World War I Purple Heart and odds and ends from his best friends from high school, warning, “Don’t ask any details.” By launch day on Sept. 15, word had gotten around. As friends and families gathered for the liftoff, Hippchen said the conversation went like this: “My name’s Kyle. Are you The Kyle? Yeah, I’m The Kyle.” Before climbing into SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Sembroski followed tradition and used the phone atop the launch tower to make his one allotted call. He called Hippchen and thanked him one more time. “I’m forever grateful,” Sembroski said. And while Hippchen didn’t get to see Earth from orbit, he did get to experience about 10 minutes of weightlessness. During Sembroski’s flight, he joined friends and family of the crew on a special zero-gravity plane. “It was a blast.”
Japan’s space agency plans to bring soil samples back from the Mars region ahead of the U.S. and Chinese missions now operating on Mars, in hopes of finding clues to the planet’s origin and traces of possible life. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch an explorer in 2024 to land on the Martian moon Phobos to collect 10 grams (0.35 ounce) of soil and bring it back to Earth in 2029. The rapid return trip would put Japan ahead of the United States and China in bringing back samples from the Martian region despite starting later, project manager Yasuhiro Kawakatsu said in an online news conference Thursday. Also read: Want to pretend to live on Mars? For a whole year? Apply now NASA’s Perseverance rover is operating in a Mars crater where it is to collect 31 samples that are to be returned to Earth with help from the European Space Agency as early as 2031. China landed a spacecraft on Mars in May and plans to bring back samples around 2030. JAXA scientists believe about 0.1% of the surface soil on Phobos came from Mars, and 10 grams could contain about 30 granules, depending on the consistency of the soil, Kawakatsu said. Tomohiro Usui, professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said soil on Phobos is likely to be a mixture of material from the moon itself and material from Mars that was spread by sandstorms. Collecting samples from multiple locations on Phobos could provide a greater chance of obtaining possible traces of life from Mars than obtaining soil from a single location on Mars, he said. Any life forms that might have come from Mars will have died because of harsh solar and cosmic radiation on Phobos, JAXA scientists said. The NASA and the European Space Agency missions focus on potential life forms and evolution of the area of the Jezero crater, believed to be an ancient lake. Also read: China’s Mars rover touches ground on red planet By studying Phobos soil samples including material from Mars, scientists hope to learn about the evolution of the Martian biosphere, Usui said. He said Japanese research on Phobos and NASA’s samples from specific locations in the Martian crater can complement each other and could lead to answers to questions such as how Martian life, if present, emerged and evolved in time and place. Last December, a JAXA probe, Hayabusa2, brought back more than 5 grams (0.19 ounce) of soil from the asteroid Ryugu, more than 300 million kilometers (190 million miles) from Earth, in the world’s first successful return of an asteroid sample.
The ticket window is open again for space flights at Virgin Galactic, with prices starting at $450,000 a seat. The space-tourism company said Thursday it is making progress toward beginning revenue flights next year. It will sell single seats, package deals and entire flights. Virgin Galactic announced the offerings as it reported Thursday that it lost $94 million in the second quarter on soaring costs for overhead and sales. The company posted revenue of $571,000, barely enough to cover one seat on a future flight. Also read: Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson flying own rocket to space The company’s most noteworthy recent achievement came last month, after the quarter ended, when founder Richard Branson and five crewmates soared to 53.5 miles (86 kilometers) above the New Mexico desert. CEO Michael Colglazier said the company resumed sales on Thursday to take advantage of a surge in consumer interest after the flight by Branson, who beat rival billionaire Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin ship into space by nine days. The company based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, won regulatory approval in June to fly people into space. Virgin Galactic said “early hand-raisers” will get first priority to book seats, and another list will be created for new customers. The company’s next spaceflight is scheduled for late September in New Mexico with the Italian air force. Also read: Blue Origin’s Bezos reaches space on 1st passenger flight Virgin Galactic said it ended the quarter with cash and equivalents totaling $552 million. The results were released after the stock market closed. The company’s shares were up nearly 5% in after-hours trading.
A newly arrived Russian science lab briefly knocked the International Space Station out of position Thursday when it accidentally fired its thrusters. For 47 minutes, the space station lost control of its orientation when the firing occurred a few hours after docking, pushing the orbiting complex from its normal configuration. The station’s position is key for getting power from solar panels and or communications. Communications with ground controllers also blipped out twice for a few minutes. Flight controllers regained control using thrusters on other Russian components at the station to right the ship, and it is now stable and safe, NASA said. Also read: 18-year-old joining Blue Origin’s 1st passenger spaceflight “We haven’t noticed any damage,” space station program manager Joel Montalbano said in a late afternoon press conference. “There was no immediate danger at anytime to the crew.” Montalbano said the crew didn’t really feel any movement or any shaking. NASA said the station moved 45 degrees out of attitude, about one-eighth of a complete circle. The complex was never spinning, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said. NASA’s human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders called it “a pretty exciting hour.” The incident caused NASA to postpone a repeat test flight for Boeing’s crew capsule that had been set for Friday afternoon from Florida. It will be Boeing’s second attempt to reach the 250-mile-high station before putting astronauts on board; software problems botched the first test. Russia’s long-delayed 22-ton (20-metric-ton) lab called Nauka arrived earlier Thursday, eight days after it launched from the Russian launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Also read: No ET, no answers: Intel report is inconclusive about UFOs The launch of Nauka, which will provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew, had been repeatedly delayed because of technical problems. It was initially scheduled to go up in 2007. In 2013, experts found contamination in its fuel system, resulting in a long and costly replacement. Other Nauka systems also underwent modernization or repairs. Stretching 43 feet (13 meters) long, Nauka became the first new compartment for the Russian segment of the outpost since 2010. On Monday, one of the older Russian units, the Pirs spacewalking compartment, undocked from the station to free up room for the new lab. Nauka will require many maneuvers, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in early September, to prepare it for operation. The space station is currently operated by NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. In 1998, Russia launched the station’s first compartment, Zarya, which was followed in 2000 by another big piece, Zvezda, and three smaller modules in the following years. The last of them, Rassvet, arrived at the station in 2010. Russian space officials downplayed the incident with Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, tweeting: “All in order at the ISS. The crew is resting, which is what I advise you to do as well.”
Jeff Bezos blasted into space Tuesday on his rocket company’s first flight with people on board, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft. The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas — the youngest and oldest to ever fly in space. Named after America’s first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket soared from remote West Texas on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date chosen by Bezos for its historical significance. He held fast to it, even as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson pushed up his own flight from New Mexico in the race for space tourist dollars and beat him to space by nine days. Unlike Branson’s piloted rocket plane, Bezos’ capsule was completely automated and required no official staff on board for the anticipated 10-minute, up-and-down flight. Blue Origin was shooting for an altitude of roughly 66 miles (106 kilometers), more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) higher than Branson’s July 11 ride. The 60-foot (18-meter) booster accelerated to Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound to get the capsule high enough, before separating and aiming for a vertical landing. The passengers were expected to get three to four minutes of weightlessness to float around the spacious white capsule. Then the window-filled capsule was going to head to a parachute touchdown on the desert floor, with Bezos and his guests briefly experiencing nearly six times the force of gravity, or 6 G’s, on the way back. Read: Bezos' Blue Origin gets OK to send him, 3 others to space Sharing Bezos’ dream-come-true adventure was Wally Funk, from the Dallas area, one of 13 female pilots who went through the same tests as NASA’s all-male astronaut corps in the early 1960s but never made it into space. Joining them on the ultimate joyride was the company’s first paying customer, Oliver Daemen, a last-minute fill-in for the mystery winner of a $28 million auction who opted for a later flight. The Dutch teen’s father took part in the auction, and agreed on a lower undisclosed price last week when Blue Origin offered his son the vacated seat. Blue Origin — founded by Bezos in 2000 in Kent, Washington, near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters — has yet to open ticket sales to the public or reveal the price. For now, it’s booking auction bidders. Two more passenger flights are planned by year’s end, said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith. The recycled rocket and capsule that carried up Tuesday’s passengers were used on the last two space demos, according to company officials. Virgin Galactic already has more than 600 reservations at $250,000 apiece. Founded by Branson in 2004, the company has sent crew into space four times and plans two more test flights from New Mexico before launching customers next year. Blue Origin’s approach was slower and more deliberate. After 15 successful unoccupied test flights to space since 2015, Bezos finally declared it was time to put people on board. The Federal Aviation Administration agreed last week, approving the commercial space license. Bezos, 57, who also owns The Washington Post, claimed the first seat. The next went to his 50-year-old brother, Mark Bezos, an investor and volunteer firefighter, then Funk and Daemen. They spent two days together in training. University of Chicago space historian Jordan Bimm said the passenger makeup is truly remarkable. Imagine if the head of NASA decided he wanted to launch in 1961 instead of Alan Shepard on the first U.S. spaceflight, he said in an email. Read: Richard Branson announces trip to space, ahead of Jeff Bezos “That would have been unthinkable!” Bimm said. “”It shows just how much the idea of who and what space is for has changed in the last 60 years.” Bezos stepped down earlier this month as Amazon’s CEO and just last week donated $200 million to renovate the National Air and Space Museum. Most of the $28 million from the auction has been distributed to space advocacy and education groups, with the rest benefiting Blue Origin’s Club for the Future, its own education effort. Fewer than 600 people have reached the edge of space or beyond. Until Tuesday, the youngest was 25-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov and the oldest at 77 was Mercury-turned-shuttle astronaut John Glenn. Both Bezos and Branson want to drastically increase those overall numbers, as does SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who’s skipping brief space hops and sending his private clients straight to orbit for tens of millions apiece, with the first flight coming up in September. Despite appearances, Bezos and Branson insist they weren’t trying to outdo each other by strapping in themselves. Bezos noted this week that only one person can lay claim to being first in space: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who rocketed into orbit on April 12, 1961. “This isn’t a competition, this is about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things in space,” he said on NBC’s ”Today.” Blue Origin is working on a massive rocket, New Glenn, to put payloads and people into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company also wants to put astronauts back on the moon with its proposed lunar lander Blue Moon; it’s challenging NASA’s sole contract award to SpaceX.