WASHINGTON: A mystery bidder paid $28 million at auction for a seat alongside Jeff Bezos on board the first crewed spaceflight of Blue Origin next month.
The Amazon founder revealed this week that both he and his brother Mark would take seats onboard the company’s New Shepard launch vehicle on July 20 to fly to the edge of space and back.
The Bezos brothers will be joined by the winner of the charity auction, whose identity remains unknown, and by a fourth unnamed space tourist.
“The name of the auction winner will be released in the weeks following the auction’s conclusion,” tweeted Blue Origin following the sale. “Then, the fourth and final crew member will be announced — stay tuned.”
The successful bidder beat out some 20 rivals in an auction launched on May 19 and wrapped up with a 10-minute live cast frenzy. The proceeds, aside from a six percent auctioneer’s commission, will go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Taking off from a desert in western Texas, the New Shepard trip will last 10 minutes, four of which passengers will spend above the Karman line that marks the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
After lift-off, the capsule separates from its booster, then spends four minutes at an altitude exceeding 60 miles during which time those on board experience weightlessness and can observe the curvature of Earth.
The booster lands autonomously on a pad two miles from the launch site, and the capsule floats back to the surface with three large parachutes that slow it down to about a mile per hour when it lands.
Bezos, who announced earlier this year he is stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive to spend more time on other projects including Blue Origin, has said it was a lifelong dream to fly into space.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard has successfully carried out more than a dozen uncrewed test runs from its facility in Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains. The reusable suborbital rocket system was named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space 60 years ago.
Blue Origin’s maiden crewed flight comes amid fierce competition in the field of private space exploration with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic founded by British billionaire Richard Branson.
SpaceX has already begun to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and is a competitor for government space contracts. Virgin Galactic hopes to begin regular commercial suborbital flights in early 2022, with eventual plans for 400 trips a year.