(NEW YORK) — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is set to blast to the edge of space and spend a few minutes outside Earth’s atmosphere Tuesday on the first crewed flight from his firm Blue Origin.
The milestone launch in the modern commercial space race comes on the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing in 1969, though the space-faring landscape has evolved by giant leaps since then as billionaires emerge as key players driving the new race to the cosmos.
Bezos, who holds the title of the richest man in the world per Bloomberg data, has said the spaceflight will fulfill a lifelong dream.
He has also expressed hope that Blue Origin will make space more accessible to all, though bidding for a seat on the first flight reached a whopping $28 million. The anonymous bidder who paid $28 million, however, won’t make it on Tuesday due to “scheduling conflicts.” Blue Origin has not disclosed how much the teen who replaced the initial bidder paid for his seat.
The Amazon founder will be accompanied on the historic journey by his brother, Mark Bezos, as well as the oldest and youngest people ever to go to space, Wally Funk, 82-years-old, and Oliver Daemon, 18. Funk is a trailblazing female pilot who trained to be an astronaut during the original U.S.-Soviet space race era but was told they were only sending men to space at the time. Daemon is a Dutch student set to begin classes at Utrecht University this fall, and is the first paying customer for Blue Origin after the initial auction winner backed out.
What is happening and how to watch
Liftoff of the inaugural Blue Origin flight is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET from a rural complex just north of Van Horn, Texas. In total, the flight will be 11 minutes, with approximately three minutes spent above the so-called Karman line that is defined by some as the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. After re-entry, the astronauts are set to descend back to Earth in their capsule with a parachute-landing in the west Texas desert.
ABC News will carry live coverage of the event, which will also be streamed on Blue Origin’s website. The live broadcast will begin at 7:30 a.m. ET. Unlike most spaceflights, there are no on-site public viewing areas in the vicinity of the launch site. The newly-minted astronauts are set to have a press conference shortly after landing back on earth.
There is no pilot aboard the fully-autonomous capsule. While Blue Origin’s New Shepard has flown 15 test flights, Tuesday’s will be the first with humans on board.
The definition of “space” has emerged as a heated debate point in the new space race, as Sir Richard Branson took heat for not passing the Karman line (roughly 62 miles above earth) during his Virgin Galactic spaceflight earlier this month. Neither Blue Origin nor Virgin Galactic’s flights will reach Earth’s orbit, however, the way Elon Musk’s SpaceX missions have. Musk, also a billionaire player in the new space race, on Twitter has called out this “big difference.”
While the modern space race has become the arena of the ultra-wealthy at a time when a global pandemic on earth has exacerbated inequities, some argue the rise of private sector involvement has saved NASA money and accelerated technological advances — which in the long-term has the potential to open up space tourism to all who have been curious about the cosmos.
Still, the billionaire daredevils using themselves as guinea pigs for their private space tourism firms have not had the same support astronauts garnered during the original U.S.-Soviet space race. Animosity was exacerbated by reports that Bezos and Musk have avoided income taxes. A Change.org petition calling for Bezos to stay in space has garnered headlines and more than 160,000 signatures.
In an interview with ABC News’ “Good Morning America” just one day ahead of the spaceflight, Bezos said he is curious how briefly leaving Earth will “change” him.
“I don’t know what it’s going to mean for me,” Bezos said. “I don’t know, I’m very curious about what tomorrow is actually going to bring. Everybody who’s been to space says it changes them in some way. And I’m just really excited to figure out how it’s going to change me.”
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.