Blue Origins welcomes bids for one seat on its first passenger flight to space

Blue Origin, a rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, in July will launch one into space with passengers on board for the first time, the company said Wednesday.

One seat on the flight, which will carry six astronauts on a short jaunt to the edge of outer space, is up for auction.

The flight of New Shepard, a suborbital spacecraft, is scheduled for 20 July, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“We’ve spent years testing, so we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales for Blue Origin, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, started Blue Origin in 2000. Like other billionaires who have invested in spaceflight, he has stated broad goals for humanity’s expansion around the solar system, imagining millions of people eventually living and working in space.

One of Blue Origin's reusable rocket undergoing test. Image credit: Blue Origin

For now, most of Blue Origin’s business has stayed closer to Earth. It builds and sells rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. A rocket that would lift cargo to orbit is not expected to be ready for years, and the company recently lost a competition with SpaceX for a contract to build a moon lander for NASA’s astronauts. (It has protested the award). Customers have also paid to fly science experiments for NASA and private scientists during test flights of the New Shepard spacecraft.

It has been preparing for years for the start of its space-tourism program, which would offer suborbital trips to what is considered the boundary of outer space, 62 miles above Earth. A competitor, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plans to fly space tourists on suborbital jaunts. Virgin Galactic’s space plane, known as SpaceShipTwo, is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people to space on test flights, but no paying passengers yet.

Blue Origin’s tourist rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. It has undergone 15 test flights, none of which had passengers aboard. Ahead of the latest test, in April, a crew rehearsed boarding and exiting the capsule.

For July’s crewed launch, astronauts will arrive at the launch site in West Texas four days before their flight for safety training, Cornell said.

At about 47 miles, or 250,000 feet, the capsule carrying the passengers will separate from its booster. Soon after, the astronauts will get to unbuckle and experience weightlessness for about 3 minutes before returning to Earth, Cornell said. The vehicle is fully pressurized, so passengers won’t need to wear spacesuits or helmets.

A photo provided by Blue Origin shows Audrey Powers of Blue Origin simulating astronaut ingress on New Shepard in April 2021. Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, will launch a rocket into space with passengers on board for the first time in July, the company said on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. One seat on the flight is up for auction. (Blue Origin via The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY SPACE FLIGHT AUCTION BY MARIE FAZIO FOR MAY 5, 2021. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. --

Cornell declined to comment on the other passengers who would be aboard that flight. The bidding for the seat, which began Wednesday, will conclude with a live auction on 12 June.

According to the auction's terms of agreement, listed on Blue Origin’s website, the winning bidder must be 5 feet to 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weigh 110 to 223 pounds.

The astronaut must also be comfortable with walking 70 feet above ground level on the gangway, be able to climb the launch tower — equivalent to seven flights of stairs — in under 90 seconds and be able to fasten their own harness in under 15 seconds.

The astronaut must also be comfortable with lots of pressure pressing down on them for several minutes during both the ascent and descent.

Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, a science-and-technology education foundation affiliated with Blue Origin, Cornell said.

Cornell declined to comment on potential pricing for regular tickets and when they might go on sale for the general public. But she said there would be “a couple more crewed flights before the end of the year.”

She also declined to answer whether Bezos would be on the first flight and did not say if and when he would go to space.

Marie Fazio c.2021 The New York Times Company



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