Jeff Bezos will fly on Blue Origin's first crewed launch this summer
Jeff Bezos will fly on his spaceflight company's first crewed launch this summer, taking his brother and an auction winner with him on a brief suborbital mission over the skies of Texas, the billionaire Amazon founder said Monday.
In a post on his Instagram page, Jeff Bezos said his brother, Mark, accepted an offer to join him on the first flight of New Shepard, a rocket and capsule developed by Blue Origin specifically for space tourism. If successful, the 11-minute mission on July 20 will propel Blue to become one of the few companies involved in human spaceflight.
"To see the Earth from space, it changes you," Bezos said in his post. "I want to go on this flight because it's a thing I've wanted to do all my life."
Bezos has publicly espoused spaceflight and its potential for changing life on Earth and beyond. His ultimate vision not only involves consistent spaceflight tourism, but also building infrastructure in space that will support humans and industry. It would involve taking some Earth-harming industries off-planet, too.
"I wasn't even expecting him to say he was going to be on the first flight," his brother, Mark Bezos, said in the video post. "And then when he asked me to go along, I was just awestruck.
The Bezos brothers will join the winner of an auction for the flight known as NS-16. As of early Monday, the auction's highest bid stood at $2.8 million for the New Shepard seat, all of which will be donated to Club for the Future. The Blue Origin-founded organization supports students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM.
"What a remarkable opportunity," Mark Bezos said. "Not only to have this adventure but be able to do it with my best friend."
Human spaceflight is an inherently risky venture. Modern rockets and crew capsules are highly complicated vehicles that use mixtures of potentially explosive liquid propellants to generate thrust, but in the event of a mishap, most have emergency abort systems to protect astronauts.
Blue Origin has so far launched New Shepard from its West Texas launch site 15 times since 2015, all without issues related to the crew capsule secured atop the rocket. The six-seat capsule designed primarily for space tourists flies vertically with the booster, separates at a set altitude, then deploys parachutes and fires retrorockets before touchdown near the original launch pad.
The booster, meanwhile, automatically returns to its launch site and lands vertically. The only other company consistently performing similar maneuvers is SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket, though its Crew Dragon capsule splashes down in the ocean.
New Shepard flies within the limits of a swath of land purchased by Bezos in 2006 specifically for testing flight hardware and, someday, consistent launches with tourists. Ticket prices are still being calculated, but many experts are expecting Blue Origin to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars per person for a New Shepard mission.
If all goes well on July 20, Blue Origin will join a select few companies that have flown humans. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, for example, last year became the first company to fly NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Other countries and their industrial bases, like Russia and China, are also capable of flying humans.
New Shepard is separate from New Glenn, a much larger rocket currently in development that will fly from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Slated to fly no earlier than 2022, New Glenn is designed to lift the infrastructure and people necessary to make real Bezos' visions of people living and working in orbit.
New Shepard and its capsule are built at Blue Origin's headquarters near Seattle, Washington. New Glenn, meanwhile, will be built in a massive new factory-campus near Kennedy Space Center.
Blue Origin’s rockets are named after famous astronauts – in this case, Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space, and John Glenn, the first to achieve orbit.