By Matt Grossman
Jeff Bezos plans to travel to space next month as part of the
first crew carried by Blue Origin, the Amazon.com Inc. founder's
Mr. Bezos said in an Instagram post Monday that he will be one
of the inaugural passengers on Blue Origin's New Shepard
spacecraft, during its first crewed flight scheduled for launch
from West Texas on July 20. Mr. Bezos, 57 years old, said that his
brother, Mark Bezos, will also be on board.
Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.
are competing in the emerging market for suborbital travel. After
years of delays, the two companies are promising passengers a short
joy ride for prices expected to be less than $500,000, based on
prior comments from Virgin executives. Mr. Branson plans to join
Virgin Galactic's third crewed test flight later this year.
Blue Origin's New Shepard has made 15 uncrewed test flights,
which the company said demonstrates the mission's safety. Most
commercial aircraft don't carry passengers before undergoing an
intensive series of hundreds of piloted flights.
"I want to go on this flight because it's a thing I've wanted to
do all my life," Mr. Bezos said in a video posted to Instagram.
"It's an adventure. It's a big deal for me."
Mr. Bezos is stepping down as Amazon's chief executive July 5
after leading the company for more than two decades, and has
invested heavily in Blue Origin, contributing as much as roughly $1
billion a year.
The passenger list for Blue Origin's July flight is set to
include the winner of a charity auction that attracted nearly 6,000
participants. The highest bid on Monday climbed $400,000 to $3.2
million, Blue Origin said, with the winner decided in a live
auction slated for June 12.
Mark Bezos is a co-founder of HighPost Capital LLC and is on the
leadership council for Robin Hood, a New York City-based nonprofit
organization that invests in antipoverty programs. He has also
served as a volunteer firefighter.
The New Shepard capsule has room for six people and is fully
autonomous. A rocket propels the craft briefly above the Karman
Line -- an imaginary boundary about 62 miles above sea level that
is considered the beginning of space -- before the capsule returns
to the ground beneath a parachute around 10 minutes after
Mr. Bezos and his brother can expect to travel at three times
the speed of sound and experience three times the force of gravity
during their planned trip, less than on some large roller coasters.
Prospective astronauts will have three days of training before
flying, Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin's sales director, said last
Passengers have to be able to dress in a one-piece flight suit,
and must be able to climb the New Shepard's launch tower -- about
seven stories up -- in under 90 seconds, Blue Origin said. The
winning bidder will have to waive his or her right to sue Blue
Origin and must sign a consent form about the flight's risks that
is required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA, which regulates space launches because they travel
through public airspace, has seen traffic grow quickly as
commercial spaceflight expands.
"This year, we're expecting a licensed launch or re-entry on
average about once a week," FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in
For their space-tourism efforts, Blue Origin and other companies
including Virgin Galactic are targeting suborbital commercial space
flight, where crew members are weightless for minutes and don't
have to endure the rigors of specialized training for longer
periods in space and re-entry.
Virgin Galactic went public in a 2019 merger with a blank-check
company. Its spacecraft, which shoots into the lower portions of
space after being dropped by a highflying airplane, has carried
professional pilots on test flights. Mr. Branson plans to be one of
the first space tourists the company will carry, CEO Michael
Colglazier said last month, with commercial flights planned next
year. Its shares gained 8% on Monday.
SpaceX, the rocket company led by Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, has
plans this year to carry paying passengers higher than Blue Origin
or Virgin Galactic, taking them into orbit. Passengers with all
three companies would join the fewer than 600 people who have ever
traveled in space, according to Blue Origin's tally.
As suborbital spaceflight promises to ease passenger
requirements, Mr. Bezos's trip would make him one of a small number
of amateurs who have flown in space. As space-shuttle missions of
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration became more
routine in the 1980s, the agency added nonprofessionals to some
crews. Congressmen Jake Garn and Bill Nelson were among the
participants on shuttle missions. Mr. Nelson was sworn in last
month as NASA administrator.
In 1986, NASA broadened access to space flight by including a
high-school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, as a crew member on a
flight of the Challenger space shuttle. The spacecraft exploded
seconds after it was launched because of an engineering defect,
killing all on board.
Other nonprofessionals have visited orbital space on Russia's
Soyuz spacecraft. The first person to fund such a trip himself,
Dennis Tito, paid for a multiday flight to the International Space
Station in 2001. Space Adventures Inc., the Virginia-based company
that organized Mr. Tito's trip, has since sent six other civilians
into space on Soyuz rockets, with another planned for later this
Russian space agency Roscosmos said last month that it
separately plans to send a film director and an actress to the
space station this year to film scenes for a movie.
SpaceX also wants to launch nonprofessionals into orbit in 2021.
The company has already sent experienced crew to the space station
aboard its Dragon capsule. It intends to send four passengers on a
multiday trip into orbit in September using the capsule.
Mr. Musk has previously said he started SpaceX so he could
travel to Mars, but hasn't detailed when he would take his first
trip to space.
"I would like to die on Mars -- just not on impact," Mr. Musk
said in 2013 at the South by Southwest festival.
Doug Cameron contributed to this article.
Write to Matt Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 07, 2021 16:26 ET (20:26 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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