- Jeff Bezos and three other passengers will blast off to the edge of space on July 20.
- The launch is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET and will stream live – you can watch it on Insider’s website.
- Bezos will fly 62 miles (100km) above Earth and will have three minutes to float around in zero gravity.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The Amazon billionaire, who founded Blue Origin over two decades ago, will embark on the rocket company’s first human spaceflight. Joined by his brother and two other passengers, Bezos will launch from a remote area of West Texas to just past the boundary separating Earth and space.
If all goes well, Bezos will be one step closer in his quest to commercialize space travel, a goal shared by rivals Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
As Bezos likely makes last-minute preparations for his groundbreaking flight, here’s everything you need to know about the voyage.
Why is this flight such a big deal?
Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 – since then, the New Shepard rocket, which will be carrying Bezos and company to space, has flown successfully 15 times.
But Tuesday’s trip will be the first time Blue Origin has ever ferried human passengers to space, which means Bezos – and his crew – will be something of a guinea pig.
Bezos, the founder and executive chairman of Amazon, is the richest person in the world with a net worth of $US206 ($AU279) billion.
Who else will be on the flight?
Bezos’ crew includes three other passengers: Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen.
Mark, who is Bezos’ younger brother, is a former marketing executive and volunteer firefighter. He’s been involved in the Bezos Family Foundation for over 20 years, and was also an early investor in Amazon, likely making him a millionaire several times over.
Funk is an 82-year-old aviator who, in 1961, joined an all-woman space mission dubbed “Mercury 13.” But the program was ultimately scrapped – seemingly for sexist reasons – and Funk never made it to space. Funk later embarked on a long career in flight and says she has taught over 3,000 people to fly.
Daemen is an 18-year-old from the Netherlands who will be Blue Origin’s first paying customer. After the anonymous bidder who paid $US28 ($AU38) million for the seat in an auction last month had “scheduling conflicts,” Blue Origin offered the seat to Daemen, whose father paid for the spot, according to CNBC.
Daemen graduated from high school in 2020, took a gap year to obtain his pilot license, and will attend college for physics and innovation management this fall.
Daemen will be the youngest person ever to go to space, while Funk will be the oldest.
What will happen once the rocket lifts off?
Once New Shepard lifts off on Tuesday, it will hurtle upwards toward the Kármán line, which is about 62 miles (100km) above Earth and is considered the boundary of space.
The force of the trek skyward, combined with Earth’s gravitational pull, will pin the passengers to their seats – then, after about three minutes, the rocket will separate from the passenger-carrying capsule, the capsule will clear the Kármán line, and the passengers will feel weightless.
The crew will have about three minutes to float around the cabin and peer out the windows at Earth, or into the depths of space. Then, Bezos and company will buckle themselves back in for the plunge to the ground. Parachutes will open – likely causing the crew to feel an abrupt jerk – in order to help slow their descent into the Texas desert.
Is the trip risky?
As Insider reported, New Shepard has a good test-flight record, and at 11 minutes long, the trip will be a short one, lessening the risk: The rocket will be traveling slower because it’s not attempting to reach orbit, and it will be easier to control because its engines are smaller.
Bezos and his crew are flying without a pilot, since Blue Origin uses a fully automated launch system. It’s not necessarily riskier, so long as the passengers have undergone the proper training for how to handle emergencies.
The crew also might be skipping pressurized spacesuits and helmets, which could save their lives in the event of a cabin leak. But the suits also have downsides: Many first-time fliers throw up during a rocket’s launch or landing, and if they weren’t adequately trained to operate their suit, they could choke on their own vomit.
Either way, spaceflight is always a risky proposition: Roughly 1% of human spaceflights in the US have resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis by the Center for Space Policy and Strategy.
That’s “about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner,” George Nield, the co-author of the report and former Federal Aviation Administration associate administrator, recently told Insider.
What happens if the rocket fails?
The New Shepard rocket comes with an emergency escape system that will detach the capsule carrying the crew and parachute it safely back to Earth, Insider reports.
Blue Origin has tested the system three times in the past, including on a flight to space.
How do you watch the launch?
The broadcast of the event will begin at 6:30 a.m. CT/7:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Blue Origin says that it’s targeting 9 a.m. ET for liftoff.
You can watch a stream of the event live on Insider’s website.