science

Jeff Bezos to go into space on first crewed flight of New Shepard rocket


Jeff Bezos will no longer be the richest person on Earth on 20 July because the Amazon founder will be blasting off into space on the first crewed flight of his New Shepard rocket ship.

Joining Bezos on the flight will be his younger brother, Mark, a former advertising executive and volunteer firefighter. The third member of the crew is being decided by a charity auction, with the seat currently priced at $2.8m (£2m) five days ahead of the deadline for bids.

“You see the Earth from space, it changes you,” Jeff Bezos said in a video announcing his plan. “It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It’s one Earth. I want to go on this flight because it’s the thing I’ve wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”

“I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going on the first flight,” Mark Bezos added. “And then when he asked me to go along, I was just awestruck. What a remarkable opportunity, not only to have this adventure, but to be able to do it with my best friend.”

The flight will take just minutes from start to finish, with three minutes of weightlessness as the crewed capsule brushes over an altitude of 100km, known as the Kármán line, the formal beginning for space. The booster rocket will land autonomously seven minutes after liftoff, and the crew capsule will float to earth on parachutes three minutes after that, with a planned touchdown in the West Texas desert.

Blue Origin, the spaceflight company Bezos founded in 2000, began testing its New Shepard vehicle in 2015. The system is named after Alan Shepard, the second person, and first American, in space, and the flight is timed to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

With massive windows to give an unparalleled view of Earth and comfortable seating for up to six people, New Shepard is explicitly designed to serve the space tourism market, and after Bezos’s inaugural flight, seats on future trips will be made available to the general public for an undisclosed price.

The system, comprising a single-stage rocket and crewed capsule, has carried out more than a dozen successful uncrewed tests so far, with the most recent April test flight a full dress rehearsal for next month’s launch.

Despite being first to be formally founded, Blue Origin has long sat in the shadow of Elon Musk’s spaceflight company, SpaceX. Both businesses have focused their research efforts on reducing the cost of launches, with their approaches converging on the idea of reusable booster rockets. But where Blue Origin decided to serve the space tourism market first, SpaceX began by offering cargo services to Nasa and other organisations that needed to place satellites in orbit.

Musk’s company made its own first crewed launch in May 2020, sending two Nasa astronauts to orbit on the International Space Station (ISS). That flight, the first crewed launch from American soil since the final space shuttle mission returned in 2011, was also the first private flight to bring astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX has announced plans to bring space tourists into orbit “between late 2021 and mid-2022” in partnership with a company called Space Adventures. A seat on one of those flights is expected to cost slightly less than $50m (£35m).





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