The countdown has begun. Blue Origin’s first human space flight is on schedule to launch Tuesday morning, bringing a Gilligan’s Island-like crew of assorted characters up into space.
Most famous is billionaire Jeff Bezos, former Amazon CEO and founder of Blue Origin. Taking Bezos and three other members of the civilian crew to space is the New Shephard, a reusable suborbital rocket system. New Shephard is designed so every person on board is a passenger: There are no pilots.
So far, Bezos is “not really nervous” and is most excited to feel the “rumble of the engine and that acceleration.” We’ll see how it all actually goes down when New Shephard takes off. Here’s everything you need to know about the impending flight, from how to watch the launch and what time it starts to who’s onboard and why it matters.
How and when to watch the Bezos launch
The show starts at:
- 4:30 a.m. Pacific time.
- 6:30 a.m. Central time.
- 7:30 a.m. Eastern time.
But if you only care about the launch itself, liftoff is targeted for:
- 6 a.m. Pacific time.
- 8 a.m. Central time.
- 9 a.m. Eastern time.
Approximately two hours after the launch, a press conference is expected to broadcast from BlueOrigin.com. While viewers can expect to see New Shepard soar, interior shots won’t be released until after the flight. That means no close-ups of Bezos as he realizes Earth is just one small part of a cosmic whole and renounces his personal wealth (hey, we can hope).
There are no onsite launch viewing opportunities — the Texas Department of Transportation is keeping space fans away by closing a section of state highway 54.
How long will the Bezos space trip last?
The whole ride will take approximately 10 to 11 minutes. Here’s the order of operations after the crew enters the capsule:
- The hatch will closes
- The capsule and rocket booster separate
- The capsule will make it to about 65 miles altitude — three miles past the internationally recognized boundary of space known as the Karman line
- Everyone on board will experience about three minutes of weightlessness
- The rocket booster lands
- Crew capsule lands
It will essentially look like this:
Blue Origin crew: Who are they?
Four people are heading up on the autonomous rocket-and-capsule:
- Jeff Bezos: CEO, entrepreneur; born in 1964 — you know him as Jeffrey Bezos. The man hates unions and loves space. He founded Blue Origin in 2000, and experts say his plan for space-wide domination has “taken longer than he thought.”
- Mark Bezos: Also bald, the younger Bezos is a volunteer firefighter, philanthropist, and best friend to Jeff.
- Wally Funk: A “Mercury 13” aviator, Funk has been ready to go to space since the 1960s. She was picked to join the mission by Bezos and will be the uncontested first woman to fly on a Blue Origin vehicle.
- Oliver Daeman: This 18-year-old’s dad paid an unknown, but definitely back-breaking, price to send him up, making Daeman the youngest person to go to space yet. Daeman is going in the place of the original, anonymous bid winner, who spent a cool $28 million and realized they were actually too busy to go.
Why is the Bezos flight important?
On the technical side, the Bezos-Blue Origin flight is cool because:
- It’s the first Blue Origin flight with a crew onboard
- It’s the very first unpiloted, suborbital flight with a civilian crew
Culturally, it’s a milestone for the new space race between billionaires and their commercial flight companies. Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson beat Bezos to the punch by taking his own spacecraft up last week, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will eventually go via a Virgin Galactic ship.
While national space agencies, like NASA or the ESA, will continue to train individuals to go to space, private space companies also signal a change in who gets to go the final frontier. The FAA guidelines for training private astronauts are sparse. It’s increasingly less about having the “right stuff” to go to space and more about the right bank account.
“What we’re looking at now is basically a paradigm shift in space training,” Glenn King, the director of spaceflight training at the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center, told MIT Technology Review. “The private sector is looking at basically everybody in the general public that has a desire and the finances to fly to space to have the opportunity to go.”
What comes next — Two more New Shepard flights are expected this year. SpaceNews reports the next one should launch in either late September or early October. Exact flight schedules have not been released.
Who will be on onboard that flight is still unreported: While we know at least one very rich person has bought a ticket, and Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, says there is “a robust pipeline of customers that are interested,” general details are murky.
Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, is planning on conducting two more test flights before officially opening for business. These are expected to take place over the summer. Eventually, the Branson-led company wants to reach 400 commercial flights a year.