When Blue Origin launches people into space for the first time, founder Jeff Bezos will be on board. No test pilots or flight engineers for Tuesday’s (Jul 20) debut flight from West Texas, just Bezos, his brother, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer and a teenage tourist.
The capsule is entirely automated, unlike Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket plane that required two pilots to get him to space and back a week ago.
Branson’s advice? “Just sit back, relax, look out of the window, just absorb the view outside,” he said on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Differences in quirks and rockets aside, the billionaire rivals are gearing up to launch just about anybody willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a brief up-and-down space hop.
A brief look at what awaits Bezos and his passengers:
BEZOS ON BOARD
Bezos created Blue Origin in 2000, a move that he said prompted his high school girlfriend to observe, “Jeff started Amazon just to get enough money to do Blue Origin — and I can’t prove her wrong.”
He has said he finances the rocket company by selling US$1 billion in Amazon stock a year. Bezos caught the space bug at 5 years old while watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing on Jul, 20, 1969.
He chose the 52nd anniversary for his own launch.
Enamored by space history, Bezos named his New Shepard rocket after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and his bigger, still-in-development New Glenn rocket after John Glenn, the first American in orbit.
The 57-year-old Bezos — who also owns The Washington Post — stepped down as Amazon’s CEO earlier this month and last week donated US$200 million to the Smithsonian Institution to renovate its National Air and Space Museum and launch an education center.
“To see the Earth from space, it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity,” he said. “It’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life.”
WHO ELSE IS FLYING
Bezos personally invited two of his fellow passengers — his 50-year-old brother Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter, and female aviation pioneer Wally Funk.
Joining them will be Oliver Daemen, a last-minute fill-in for the winner of a US$28 million charity auction who had a scheduling conflict.
At age 82, Funk will become the oldest person in space. She was among 13 female pilots — the so-called Mercury 13 — who took the same tests in the early 1960s as NASA’s Mercury 7 astronauts, but were barred because of their gender.
“Finally!" Funk exclaimed when offered a seat alongside Bezos.