The Amazon founder, along with three crewmates, will leave behind the planet for a few minutes on a spaceship built by Blue Origin, the company he founded in 2000 when he was still merely a single-digit billionaire.
The suborbital launch from a site in the high desert plains of West Texas marks a crucial test for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, a 60-foot-tall (18.3 meters) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo that is central to plans by Bezos to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market.
When’s the lift off?
The planned 11-minute trip from the company’s Launch Site One facility is expected to lift off at 8am CDT (6.30pm IST) on Tuesday (July 20) if weather remains favourable.
Where to watch it?
People will be able to watch the entire thing – from the launch to the journey – on Blue Origin’s live steam which is expected to begin at 6.30am CDT (5pm IST). According to a CNN report, viewers can expect exterior shots of the rocket and capsule as it shoots up toward the cosmos.
File: Town of Van Horn awaits launch of Blue Origin’s inaugural sub-orbital flight (AP Photo)
Who’s on board besides Bezos?
Jeff Bezos has invited along his brother Mark, a financier who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.
The pair are best friends, and Jeff shared the moment he surprised his sibling, six years his junior, by asking him to join the mission in a video that went viral on Instagram last month.
At 82, barrier-breaking woman aviator Wally Funk is about to become the oldest ever astronaut, fulfilling a lifelong dream that was thwarted by the sexism of the early space era. She had an accomplished career in aviation, becoming the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, and serving as chief pilot in several flight schools.
The third crew member is Oliver Daemen. At 18, he is set to become the youngest astronaut. He holds a private pilot’s license and is a space enthusiast who will study physics in university this fall.
The Dutch teen is flying in place of the still anonymous winner of a $28 million public auction, who asked to pass this time because of “scheduling conflicts,” and will go on a later trip.
Daemen’s ticket was paid for by his father, the CEO of a private equity firm, CNBC reported.
What will be the flight like?
While Bezos won’t be the first boss to ride to space on his own rocket, he can lay claim to strapping in for his company’s first human launch.
He’s also aiming higher, with an anticipated altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers) versus Branson’s 53.5 miles (86 kilometers).
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket will accelerate toward space at three times the speed of sound, or Mach 3, before separating from the capsule and returning for an upright landing.
The passengers will experience three to four minutes of weightlessness, before their capsule parachutes onto the desert just 10 minutes after liftoff. That’s five minutes less than Alan Shepard’s 1961 Mercury flight.
Blue Origin, though, offers the biggest windows ever built for a spacecraft. Bezos purchased the desolate, parched land for launching and landing rockets. The closest town is Van Horn, population 1,832.
I’ll see your flight and I raise you …
Bezos’ space flight comes at a time when the so-called “billionaire space race” is actually forcing top businessmen to push the limits of human spaceflight.
Billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s space transportation company, SpaceX, is pledging to go even higher in September, sending an all-civilian crew for a several-day orbital flight aboard its Crew Dragon capsule.
Illustrating tensions in the high-stakes space race, Blue Origin has described Branson’s Virgin Galactic as falling short of the 62-mile-high-mark (100 km) – called the Kármán line – set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
The US space agency NASA and the US Air Force both define an astronaut as anyone who has flown higher than 50 miles (80 km), as Branson achieved with his flight.
It is also expected to open ticket sales soon after Bezos flies and has already lined up some of the other auction bidders.
The next flight would likely be at the end of September or early October, said Chief Executive Officer Bob Smith. Smith said the “willingness to pay continues to be quite high” for people interested in future flights.
The company hasn’t disclosed the cost of a ride but the fourth seat on the upcoming flight, which went for a whopping $28 million, may give you an idea.
Nineteen space advocacy and education groups are getting $1 million each as a result, with the rest to be used by Blue Origin’s Club for the Future for its own education effort.
While the diminutive New Shepard is meant to launch people on brief flights to the edge of space, the mega New Glenn will be capable of hauling cargo and eventually crew into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida, possibly beginning late next year.
Blue Origin also has its eyes on the moon. Its proposed lunar lander, Blue Moon, lost to SpaceX’s Starship in Nasa’s recent commercial competition to develop the technology for getting the next astronauts onto the moon. Blue Origin is challenging the contract award, as is, the other competitor.
(With inputs from agencies)