On July 20th, Blue Origin’s New Shepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. The passenger flight will fly people to the edge of space for the first time this summer, and that one of the seats will go to the winner of an online auction. Founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, the space company previously built and sold rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. Going ahead from that, the company has already had 15 successful consecutive missions to space and back above the Kármán Line through a meticulous and incremental flight program to test its multiple redundant safety systems. Now, it’s time for astronauts to climb on board!
The passenger flight takes a lot of cues from the past and aims to create a brighter future in life in space. The New Shepard takes its name from Alan Shepard, who made history by becoming the first American to fly to space, commemorating the historic flight. The flight is scheduled on the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s spaceflight. It also coincides with the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.
Fewer than 600 astronauts have been to space above the Kármán Line to see the borderless Earth and the thin limb of our atmosphere and believe to be a life-altering experience. The New Shepard will follow a similar suborbital flight trajectory like Alan Shepard’s mission in 1961. The flight will launch from a 60-foot-high rocket in the West Texas desert and allow tourists to experience a glimpse of space, reaching an altitude of over 340,000 feet. Instead of reaching orbit, the passenger flight would fly to an altitude of about 65 miles, just past what’s known as the Kármán line, or the edge of space, before the spacecraft falls back to Earth. The booster would detach for a while, and the passengers can unbuckle and experience the weightless environment of space.
Crew members would be able to gaze out of “the largest windows that have ever flown in space,” Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales, said in a media briefing. “Perfect from which to gaze out to see the beautiful stars and the colors of Earth popping back at you.”
If Blue Origin can fly people successfully, the company would be joining other human spaceflight companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has now flown three human spaceflight missions to the International Space Station for NASA and has two flights of private citizens scheduled, including one later this year in which two seats were also raffled off to members of the public.
According to the terms of agreement for the auction listed on Blue Origin’s website, the winning bidder must have a height and weight from five feet tall and 110 pounds to six feet-four and 223 pounds. The astronaut must also be comfortable with walking at heights above 70 feet above ground level on the gangway, be able to climb the launch tower — equivalent to seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds, and be able to fasten his or her harness in less than 15 seconds. The astronaut must also be comfortable with lots of pressure pressing down on him or her for several minutes during both the ascent and descent.
Here are the three phases of the auction:
- May 5-19: Sealed online bidding – you can bid any amount you want on the auction website (no bids are visible)
- May 19th: Unsealed online bidding – bidding becomes visible, and participants must exceed the highest bid to continue in the auction
- June 12th: Live auction – the bidding concludes with a live online auction
Six thousand people from 143 countries have already put forward bids. The company has yet to release any ticket prices or specifics related to its full capacity space tourism plans. But, Virgin Galactic – Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company – has sold tickets for about $250,000 to about 600 passengers. The highest bid currently is at $2.8 million for the 10-minute space ride. The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space. The best part? Jeff Bezos and his brother would be accompanying the winning bidder in the New Shepard!