Jeff Bezos’s private spaceflight company Blue Origin is finally ready to put a person in space, and it wants to do it soon — within the next calendar year, to be exact.
“We’re trying to get to our first human flights within the next year. That’s a laser focus for the team right now,” Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s business development manager, said during the New Space Age Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management on Saturday.
Blue Origin and its major rival, Elon Musk SpaceX, have both been ramping up their plans for crewed missions to space. SpaceX has announced plans for a crewed mission sometime in 2017, and it’s also trying to send two private citizens to the moon sometime in 2018. Blue Origin has taken a slightly different approach to the private spaceflight game (Bezos is quick to note that it’s not a zero-sum game), focusing first on short range reusable rockets that can carry payloads or crews to suborbital space. Bezos sees Blue Origin’s New Shepherd rocket as the first reusable vehicle for space tourism, which he says is great practice for longer term spaceflight projects, like delivering packages to the moon or just colonizing it all together. The New Shepherd and space tourism program are all building towards a grander vision of life in space built, for Bezos, on the back of the enormous New Glenn rocket.
But before the New Glenn starts sending Amazon Prime Deals to the moon, Bezos has to nail the process of sending up New Shepherd rockets and bringing them back down, without losing the rocket or killing any of the people inside its capsule payload. The company has been testing its crew escape system to that effect — but if the company’s plans go well, the crew won’t need to escape. They’ll have done something only 536 other people in the history of the human race have done — gone to space.