Jeff Bezos blasted into space aboard a Blue Origin rocket on Tuesday, in a historic flight for the space tourism industry he helped to create.
The billionaire Amazon founder and his brother were on board the first human flight of the company’s New Shepard rocket — the first flight into space to take place without a pilot or crew.
Mr Bezos, dressed in a blue flight suit and cowboy hat, waved to a cheering crowd at the company's west Texas launch facility before boarding the rocket.
The gleaming white rocket took off shortly after 1pm GMT, reaching a speed of more than three times the speed of sound as it climbed to an altitude of more than 107 kilometres.
After it separated from the main booster, which landed autonomously back at the launch pad, the four crew members experienced several minutes of weightlessness before the capsule touched down gently under parachutes.
"That was incredible," Mr Bezos said as the crew members discussed the flight after landing.
Video footage showed the billionaire with a beaming smile, waving to the support crew from the window of the capsule.
Mr Bezos may have been beaten into space by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, who flew to the edge of space on board his own rocket plane earlier this month, but Blue Origin still managed to make history on Tuesday’s flight.
Also on board was Dutch student Oliver Daemen, 18, who became the youngest person ever to fly to space after being picked for the last remaining seat.
Mr Daemen received the lucky slot after the winner of a $28 million auction stepped aside because of a scheduling conflict.
The son of a hedge fund manager, Mr Daemen was Blue Origin’s first paying customer.
Blue Origin did not disclose the price of his ticket, but company chief executive Bob Smith said: “This marks the beginning of commercial operations for New Shepard, and Oliver represents a new generation of people who will help us build a road to space.”
Blue Origin also helped aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, become the oldest person to go to space.
Ms Funk, who was part of a trailblazing, privately-backed effort to put a woman in space in the 1960s but never got to go, had been personally asked to join the flight by Mr Bezos.
"Today is just the first of many flights to come on New Shepard," Blue Origin's sales director Ariane Cornell said on the live-stream, adding that ticket sales were now open.
Mr Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, years before his fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Mr Branson founded their rival space companies, has long dreamt of going to space.
The launch is the culmination of more than two decades of rocket science, much of which was done in secret.
The New Shepard rocket is designed to take its passengers on an 11-minute, suborbital flight past the Karman line – an internationally recognised boundary for space that is 100 kilometres above the Earth.
Unlike Virgin Galactic’s space plane, which was dropped from a larger carrier aircraft before igniting its rocket engine and climbing to the edge of space, Blue Origin’s rocket takes off from a launch pad like a conventional rocket launch.
Mr Bezos and Blue Origin believe that its space tourism experience is better than the ones offered by its competitors.
The company was criticised after it published a cynical Twitter post comparing the two rockets in the build-up to Mr Branson’s flight.
Proving the safety of space tourism is a vital early step on the way to creating an industry that Swiss investment bank UBS estimates will be worth $3 billion a year by 2030.
"One of the main goals of the New Shepard mission is to demonstrate that going to suborbital space is perfectly safe for the average person," said Teal Group space industry analyst Marco Caceres.
Mr Musk's SpaceX is planning an even more ambitious mission in September, using its Crew Dragon capsule to send an all-civilian crew on an orbital flight around the Earth in a mission lasting several days.