07 June 2021 News

Bezos to join auction winner on first crewed New Shepard flight

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos speaks in front of his company's New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Image: SpaceNews/Chuck Bigger)
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos speaks in front of his company's New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Image: SpaceNews/Chuck Bigger)

The winner of a live online auction who will secure a place on New Shepard’s first human flight slated to lift off next month, will be joined by Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark, the founder of Blue Origin announced today.

Currently the world’s richest man, Bezos revealed the decision via Instagram saying, “ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

The post includes a video in which Bezos asks his younger brother Mark to accompany him on the flight – an apparently unexpected request that was eagerly accepted.

“I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going to be on the first flight,” he said in the video. “And when he asked me to go along, I was just awe-struck,” said Mark Bezos.

The company had hinted during a recent test flight of the vehicle on 14 April that it was ready to start flying people on New Shepard following years of test flights without anyone on board.

This was later confirmed on 5 May by Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, who said reporters, “we have flown this vehicle 15 times and, after the last flight, we said, ‘it’s time. Let’s put people on board.’”

The company at the time did not disclose who would fly on the vehicle other than that it will make one seat available to the public via an auction.

Bidding is underway now – the current highest bid is reported to be $2.8 million – and concludes with a live online auction on 12 June. Interested bidders must register by 10 June say Blue origin.

The aerospace firm said the proceeds of the auction will go to an affiliated nonprofit organisation, the Club for the Future, that supports STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education activities.

More crewed flights before the end of the year are expected said Cornell back in May but she remained tight-lipped on how the company would sell tickets beyond this initial auction.

“We don’t have details on the prices for future seats, and we will announce the details of how those future seats will be sold in the future, after this auction.”

Blue Origin, which has been funded with billions of dollars from the Amazon founder, recently lost out to SpaceX over a NASA contract for the space agency’s Human Landing System (HLS).

Apparently rejected in favour of a lower bid submitted by Elon Musk’s aerospace firm, NASA has now halted progress on HLS development – the final mode of transportation that will take astronauts to the lunar surface – following protests submitted by Blue Origin and Dynetics, SpaceX’s other competitor.

“The Human Landing System program needs competition, not the delay of starting over,” Blue Origin said in a recent Tweet.

Blue Origin also lost out to SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin and Boeing joint venture, following the US Space Force’s decision to no longer work with the company on phase 2 of its National Security Space Launch project.

The company are however in the lead when it comes to ferrying passengers to the edge of space, as its main rival, Virgin Galactic, does not expect to fly private customers until 2022.

“When it comes to space tourism, no one has done it as carefully and rigorously as Blue Origin,” said Thomas Markusic, chief executive of Firefly Aerospace, and a former engineer at Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, in an interview with the Financial Times. “If Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin are out there, saying that they’re ready to go, I truly believe that they are ready to go.”

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