WASHINGTON: Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is set to join the astronaut club on the first crewed launch by Blue Origin, another key moment in a big month for space tourism industry.
The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final frontier, narrowly besting the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.
Blue Origin’s sights are, however, set higher: both literally in terms of the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft will ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, but also in its future ambitions.
Bezos founded Blue Origin back 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 company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA under the Artemis program.
New Shepard will blast off at 8:00 am Central Time (1300 GMT) on July 20 from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 25 miles north of the nearest town, Van Horn.
Joining Bezos on the fully autonomous flight will be barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 is set to be the oldest ever astronaut, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, the company’s first paying customer, who will become the youngest astronaut.
Rounding out the four-member crew is Jeff Bezos’ 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 asked his younger sibling to join him in a viral video on Instagram last month.
Notably absent is the mysterious winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight, and has asked to remain anonymous, the company said.
Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin hasn’t officially started selling tickets — Daemen won his spot through the auction process. The company wants two more flights this year and then “many more” in 2022.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX will enter the fray in September with an all-civilian orbital expedition on its Crew Dragon, and is tying up with another company, Axiom, for visits to the International Space Station.
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