Amazon.com and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his three crewmates are setting off on a mission 20 years in the making: flying into space.
On Tuesday, Bezos, his brother, Mark Bezos, veteran pilot Wally Funk and Dutch student Oliver Daemen are slated to blast off on a 10-minute suborbital flight aboard the New Shepard rocket in what the company hopes will be a giant leap forward for commercial space travel.
“It’s thrilling to get to this day, and I’m so proud of Team Blue,” Bob Smith, Blue Origin’s CEO, told Al Jazeera. “After 15 flights of New Shepard, we are ready to fly our first crew, including our first paying customer, Oliver Daemen.”
The flight is a huge milestone for Blue Origin, which was founded by Bezos in 2000, as Tuesday’s launch will mark the first time one of the company’s New Shepard spacecraft will carry people.
Following liftoff from its launch site in West Texas in the United States, the craft will climb to an altitude of 100km (62 miles) above the Earth, crossing the official boundary of space. Liftoff is set for 8am local time (13:00 GMT).
Bezos and the other passengers will experience about three minutes of weightlessness and stunning views through what the company boasts are the largest windows ever built on a space capsule.
After free-floating briefly, the crew will strap into their seats once more before plunging back into the lower atmosphere and parachuting down to land.
Bezos has been open about his fascination with space from a young age, saying that the Apollo moon landing changed his life and inspired him to pursue space travel.
In a tribute to that mission, Blue Origin’s first crewed mission is launching on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — July 20.
Bezos also named his New Shepard rocket after the first American to fly into space, Alan Shepard.
On the 60th anniversary of Shepard’s mission in May, Bezos announced that the final seat on Tuesday’s flight was up for grabs in an auction.
The winning bid came in at $28m, however, the anonymous winner chose to reschedule for a future flight.
Bezos subsequently selected Daemen, who was a runner-up in the auction, as the fourth crew member. The company has not disclosed the amount of his bid.
Bezos had previously announced he had tapped Funk for the flight. A trailblazing aviator, she trained as an astronaut in NASA’s Women in Space Program in the early 1960s.
Although she passed all of the tests that NASA’s original group of astronauts went through, she was denied the chance of becoming an astronaut due to her gender.
Now, Funk will achieve her dream and break US astronaut John Glenn’s record as the oldest person to fly to space. (Glenn was 77 in 1998 when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery.)
Fly me to the Karman line
According to company officials, the team successfully completed a “Flight Readiness Review” for the launch over the weekend and both the New Shepard rocket and capsule were found to be ready to fly. Weather officials also said that the forecast looks promising for Tuesday’s launch.
Steve Lanius, the lead flight director for Tuesday’s mission, said that each of the passengers also completed 14 hours of flight training prior to launch day.
“Our training programme is completely FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] compliant for crew and spaceflight participants,” Lanius told Al Jazeera. “It consists of 14 hours over a two-day span and consists of classroom instruction, demonstrations and practice in the training capsule.”
All participants were instructed in normal procedures, what to do in an emergency, and how to safely return to their seats while in zero gravity. The training culminates in five different training scenarios as well as a final exam, Lanius said, with participants receiving the green light for launch only after their final reports are reviewed.
The experience is sure to be a memorable one. Once the rocket reaches a certain altitude, it will separate from the spacecraft and return to Earth, where it will touch down on a designated landing pad at Blue Origin’s facilities.
Meanwhile, the New Shepard capsule will treat its passengers to breathtaking views of the Earth as they experience weightlessness and float about the cabin.
After about three minutes, the crew members will strap back into their seats and prepare for landing. They will be subjected to roughly 5Gs of force as the spacecraft travels through the atmosphere and lands in the desert under parachutes.
If all goes as planned, this flight will mark the first of many, as Blue Origin has at least two more crewed flights planned for this year.
Blue Origin also has not disclosed pricing for any of its upcoming flights, but according to Smith, the plan is to follow whatever price the market will bear, which could very well exceed $1m.
But, Smith said, “the early flights are going for a good price.”