Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will be on board the Blue Origin when it is launched into space from west Texas today. The flight will have no engineers or test pilots on board and Bezos will have his brother, an 82-year-old aviator, and a teenager for company.
Created in 2000, Bezos said he financed the company by selling Amazon stock worth $1 billion each year. The space bug caught Bezos’ fancy when he watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon as a five-year-old in July 1969 and chose the anniversary of that moon landing for his own launch. Space history has always enamoured Bezos, who named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, his New Shepard rocket. The under-development New Glenn rocket has been named after John Glenn, the first American to enter orbit. Bezos, who recently quit as Amazon CEO, has donated $200 million to the Smithsonian Institution so that it can renovate the National Air and Space Museum and also launch an education centre.
Bezos said seeing the Earth from space changes one. It changes their relationship with the planet and humanity, adding that he had wanted this all his life.
Joining Bezos on board at his personal invitation will be his brother Mark, 50, an investor and volunteer firefighter. Bezos also invited Wally Funk, a pioneer for women in aviation. At 82, Funk will be the oldest person in space. She was a member of Mercury 13 — a group of 13 female pilots who undertook similar tests for NASA’s Mercury 7 in the 1960s. They were barred from taking the flight because of their gender. Eighteen-year-old Oliver Daemon, on the other hand, will become the youngest in space. Daemon’s father had bid for a seat on the capsule in June, but had to drop out after prices soared. Daemon’s seat was confirmed after the winner of the $28 million charity auction for a seat on the capsule had to drop out because of a scheduling conflict. The teenager will be Blue Origin’s first paying customer.
The New Shepard rocket will speed towards space at Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound. It will then separate from the capsule and return for an upright landing. The passengers will be weightless for three to four minutes, after which their capsule will parachute onto the desert.
Bezos left no stone unturned to make the launch go smoothly with Blue Origin completing 15 test flights since 2015. All the demo flights to space were successful except the first one, which saw the booster crash-landing. One of the rockets flew seven times and the other five. Blue Origin also aborted a couple of flights after lift-off just to test its emergency escape system.
The first flight is likely to lead to the company opening ticket sales. While there is no word on how much a seat will cost, the $28 million it landed at the charity auction can be a benchmark. Nineteen space advocacy and education groups will get $1 million each from that, while Blue Origin’s Club for the Future will use the remainder for its education efforts.
Bezos also has bigger plans for Blue Moon. While the New Shepard rocket will only take people to the edge of space on brief flights, the New Glenn rocket will be able to haul cargo and crew into orbit. Blue Origin has also targeted the moon. While the Blue Moon, the company’s proposed lunar lander, lost NASA’s commercial competition to develop technology to get astronauts to the moon to SpaceX’s Starship, Blue Moon is challenging the contract award.