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Blue Origin successfully launches first flight with people on board

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VAN HORN, Texas - A small, west Texas town nestled between the rugged and dusty terrain of Sierra Blanca and the even smaller community of Valentine captured the attention of a global audience Tuesday, July 20.

The date may sound familiar as it marks the 52-year anniversary of Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 moon landing. It was during this expedition that Armstrong made history as the first person to step on the lunar surface.

Just over five decades later, another event tied to space travel earned the world's attention. Roughly 30 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, in Van Horn, Texas a company called Blue Origin launched its first crewed flight into space.

Founded by Jeff Bezos, the billionaire who created Amazon, Blue Origin's team of scientists and engineers created a capsule designed for space tourism. The rocket is called New Shepard and it successfully brought a crew of four into space at approximately 8 a.m. (CST).

Watch the launch in the video player below.

The four passengers who were aboard New Shepard included company founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk, and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen. The latter two passengers made history as the oldest and youngest individuals to ever travel to space, respectively. 

According to BBC News, before the launch, Funk said she was looking forward to doing a few somersaults in zero gravity.

Bezos also expressed enthusiasm about the trip, saying, "I'm excited. People keep asking me if I'm nervous. I'm not really nervous, I'm curious. I want to know what we're going to learn."

While traveling to space piques the curiosity and imaginations of many, some question the ethics of funneling money that could be used to fight poverty and other terrestrial struggles into space travel.

When this question was posed to Bezos during a news conference the day before lift off, he acknowledged the validity of the moral dilemma while maintaining his support of space exploration.

According to CNN, Bezos said, "Well, I say they're largely right. We have to do both. You know, we have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We've always done that as a species, as a civilization. We have to do both." 

He added that his company's mission is about "building a road to space for the next generations to do amazing things there, and those amazing things will solve problems here on Earth." 

Blue Origin's live stream of the historic launch began at 6:30 a.m. (CST), with liftoff at 8 a.m., and a landing back on Earth 11 minutes later.

The trip was swift, but its effects are expected to be widespread. 

From allaying the trepidation of potential investors to triggering the imaginations of dreamers and competitors, the launch expands the realm of space travel possibilities.

Not to be forgotten is the effect on the location where the launch took place.

According to local news outlet News West 9, Bezos actually scoped out the area in the early 2000s and bought more than 150,000 acres in an area about 25 miles north of Van Horn.

Wide open skies, spacious land, with a population below 2,600, it seemed like the perfect location for his plans.

Not only did Bezos reportedly view the area as a potential home, but he also believed it could be used as a place to design rocket engines and test them in flight. 

After obtaining approval from the FAA and navigating some pushback from the residents of Van horn and Culberson County, a spaceport was built on the ranch: Corn Ranch Spaceport. This became the location of Blue Origin’s testing facility and launch site one. 

While the billionaire's successful implementation of his vision brought much attention to the region, something that any number of communities would welcome for the economic benefits, local officials note that there is a downside to so much attention.

As the town struggles to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials indicate that lack of staffing at local businesses may create problems as crowds of visitors and media representatives make their way to Van Horn.

On top of this, according to News West 9, Rebecca Brewster, the current mayor of Van Horn, said there was hardly any input from the town’s residents on whether they liked the idea of a launch site in their backyards. 

Though some citizens in Van Horn and in the global community take issue with Blue Origin's first manned launch into space, the flight was a historical moment that most of the world was eager to watch. 

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