New York: Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos returned from a brief trip into space aboard his company Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket on Tuesday.
The launch came just nine days after rival Richard Branson launched into space, and marks another milestone in private space travel.
"A very happy group of people in this capsule," Bezos said after touching down. The crew gave each other high-fives and hugged friends and family.
Bezos went on a 11-minute trip to the edge of space, just beyond the Earth's limits, with a crew of four from a desert site in West Texas. The flight also coincided with the 52nd anniversary of the first Moon landing.
Their capsule landed in the Texan desert, after coming back down to Earth with the help of giant parachutes.
Just over a week ago, Branson launched his first successful suborbital flight from New Mexico through his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic. Bezos' Blue Origin is due to fly higher than Branson, with a distance of 62 miles compared to 53 miles for Virgin Galactic.
Tuesday's crew includes Bezos, along with his brother Mark, female aviation pioneer Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutchman and last-minute fill-in for the winner of a $28 million (€23.8 million) charity auction.
Funk, who is 82, and Daemen became the oldest and youngest people to reach space. Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s, but was not able to participate due to her gender.
"I am excited, but not anxious. We'll see how I feel when I'm strapped into my seat," Bezos said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Monday. "We're ready. The vehicle's ready. This team is amazing. I feel very good about it. And I think my fellow crewmates feel good about it, too."
Bezos, 57, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.
Today, the firm is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn, along with a Moon lander that it hopes to contract to NASA. New Shepard has flown 15 uncrewed flights to test it for safety mechanisms.
The rocket lifted off at 8.12 a.m. Central Time (1312 UTC), following a short delay, from a remote facility called Launch Site One, about 25 miles north of the nearest town, Van Horn.
New Shepard is 60 feet (18.3 meters) tall, and a fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combination that cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft. It is completely computer-flown, meaning that none of Blue Origin's staff astronauts or trained personnel were on board.
Blue Origin has not offered details on its longer-term pricing strategy or how quickly it will ramp up the frequency of its launches. The company says it plans to host two more flights this year, and "many more" next year.