UPDATED: July 20, 2021,10:10 AM IST
Decades after starting a company that sold books online from a small garage, Jeff Bezos, a pioneer, disruptor and, for some, a visionary, is set to take one of the biggest risks of his life — fly into space.
The July 20 launch of Blue Origin‘s, a company founded by Bezos over two decades ago, will propel the billionaire at par with rival Richard Branson, who recently flew to the edge of space in his own spacecraft. Jeff Bezos will be joined by his brother Mark, 82-year-old former pilot Wally Funk and an 18-year-old teen, who secured a seat after another billionaire bidder pulled out just a few days ago.
The maiden flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard aircraft will take its four passengers beyond the Karman Line, roughly 100 kilometres above Earth where they will be able to see the elegance of the blue planet before parachuting back to the surface.
JEFF BEZOS IN FINAL FLIGHT PREP
The first space tourists for Blue Origin are engaged in final preparations for the flight that will launch from a site in the high desert plains of West Texas. The four crewmates are undergoing safety briefings, a simulation of the spaceflight, a review of the rocket and its operations, and instruction on how to float around the craft’s cabin after the capsule escapes Earth’s gravity. “The training will help you feel comfortable and prepared for spaceflight and your responsibilities as an astronaut,” Blue Origin said in a statement.
The aircraft will liftoff at 6.30 PM (IST) and will last for just over 10 minutes. Flight Director Steve Lanius said, “We are not currently working any open issues and New Shepard is ready to fly.” Bezos and his crewmates had started the 14-hour program on Sunday and would be ready to “experience the flight of a lifetime”, Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, said. Cornell said Funk was keen to do a few somersaults during the flight.
UNPILOTED SPACECRAFT, AUTONOMOUS FLIGHT
The New Shepard spacecraft, named after Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space, is an autonomous aircraft that will be launched from the company’s Launch Site One facility. The maiden trip will represent the world’s first unpiloted flight to space with an all-civilian crew. There will be no trained astronauts navigating the spacecraft as it lifts off from Texas.
Designed to take off and land vertically like SpaceX Falcon-9 rockets, the spacecraft has a pressurised crew capsule for six passengers with the “largest windows” to offer a wholesome view of the planet from space, the company claims. New Shepard is a reusable suborbital rocket system designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line.
SETTING NEW RECORDS
As Bezos takes off in New Shepard on July 20, the maiden crewed flight will mark several records apart from being the first unpiloted launch. The passengers include the oldest person and the youngest to travel into space.
At 82 years, Wally Funk has always been a trailblazer and will mark the record for the oldest person in space. Funk had been sidestepped during her days as part of the Mercury 13 project, which was intended to train women for space. The project was shelved after Funk cleared all tests and requirements to become an astronaut. However, the lifelong dream will become reality on July 20.
Apart from having the oldest person, the crew includes an 18-year-old teen, Oliver Daemen, set to become the youngest person in space. 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.
MAINSTREAMING SPACE TOURISM
Nine days after Richard Branson flew with a crew to the edge of space, Bezos will join the club as tourists announcing the epoch of a new era of space tourism. Amazon is in tough competition with SpaceX and Virgin Galactic to pave the way for commercial space travel. While the race at the moment is being led by SpaceX with its multi-billion dollar contracts with Nasa to transport cargo and astronauts to the Space Station, Blue Origin’s and Virgin Galactic are not far behind.
A successful launch and landing of the New Shepard spacecraft will instil new confidence among people and companies that have so far depended on SpaceX for their space transportation services.
All eyes are now on the maiden launch and how Bezos, known for disrupting markets with his brilliant ideas, will shape the future of private space tourism.