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Plenty of elbow room and the largest windows in space: A deeper look at Jeff Bezos' trip to space

The Blue Origin's 11-minute flight on July 20 will take billionaire Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and $28 million bidder to edge of outer space.

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When Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and three others blast off to the edge of space on July 20, they'll have lots more room and much bigger windows than the cramped modules of Apollo moon landing missions.

Aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket will be Bezos, his brother Mark, and two other occupants – longtime women-in-space advocate Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, the winner of a $28 million charity auction for the capsule’s fourth seat. For an 11-minute flight, that's more than $2.5 million per minute.

The crew covers two age-related records: both the oldest (Funk, 82) and youngest (Daemen, 18) to fly to space.

The four will travel past the Kármán line, the 62-mile-high boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space in a flight that will last about 11 minutes. The July 20 launch date was chosen in honor of the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000 and owns the company, announced his flight June 7 on Instagram. He'll step down as Amazon CEO on July 5 and become executive board chairman.

His rocket will launch from the Blue Origin site in Van Horn, Texas, with the crew capsule separating from the rocket three minutes after liftoff. The capsule reaches apogee – the flight point farthest from Earth – in about the fourth minute.

The capsule then descends and lands by parachute near the launch site as the rocket lands itself at the site. The craft operates autonomously and doesn't have a pilot.

The occupants will watch their progress from six windows, about 4 feet high, one for each occupant, according to a GeekWire appraisal of a capsule mock-up. Blue Origin says they're the largest windows in space and comprise one-third of the cabin's surface area.

The Apollo command module, in comparison, had five windows, the largest at 33 inches square.

In addition to bigger windows, the New Shepard capsule has more space, even for 6 occupants, its total capacity.

After separating from the rocket, capsule occupants get to unbuckle themselves and experience weightlessness for about three minutes during the flight. The capsule is fitted with handrails to allow movement.

The rocket is designed to reach about of 62 miles above Earth, but it doesn’t fly fast enough to orbit the planet.

How fit must you be to fly?

NASA astronaut candidates endure rigorous physical testing before being accepted. New Shepard's occupants face "a much more relaxed standard," says spaceflightnow.com. The qualifications are:

You could have gone, too – for a price

The winning bidder will pay $28 million dollars – plus an additional 6 percent buyer's commission, which will brings the total cost to $29.7 million.

The proceeds go to the Club for the Future, a company-sponsored foundation that promotes science, technology, engineering and math.

The high bid was $4.8 million as of June 11, Blue Origin said, with the winning bid placed Saturday during a live online auction. Nearly 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to bid.

Is the flight part of a commercial space race?

Blue Origin is one of several private companies developing rockets for space travel. Competitors include SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, and Virgin Galactic, a Richard Branson company.

Blue Origin and SpaceX are competing for NASA funding for space missions.

SpaceX has delivered supplies to the International Space Station and plans flights that will take private citizens into orbit. Its SpaceX Dragon is a reusable cargo spacecraft. 

Virgin Galactic achieved its third manned flight when its VSS Unity rose to an altitude of more than 55 miles on May 22 after being launched from a plane.

Who was Alan Shepard?

The New Shepard rocket is named after Alan Shepard, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and the first American in space. His solo suborbital flight, on May 5, 1961, reached an altitude of 116 miles and lasted about 15.5 minutes.

Shepard also commanded the Apollo 14 mission that landed on the moon on Feb. 5, 1971. He was the astronaut who used a makeshift club to hit two golf balls on the moon.

Alan Shepard died July 21, 1998.

SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Blue Origin; NASA; spaceflightnow.com; phys.org; astronomy.com

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