Billionaires' race to get to space first is closing down. In early June, Jeff Bezos said he will be on board the first crewed flight of New Shepard, the suborbital rocket ship made by his space company, Blue Origin. Blue Origin said Bezos' younger brother, Mark Bezos, will also join the flight. “Ever since I was five years old, I have dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos wrote on an Instagram post. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”
New Shepard, designed to send passengers to the same heights as VSS Unity for a few minutes of weightlessness before it begins its descent. That rocket launches vertically from the company’s remote spaceport in Van Horn, Texas. New Shepard has flown 15 times without crews on board, with the most recent uncrewed flight serving as an astronaut training rehearsal.
On Jul. 1, Blue Origin announced the fourth crew member for its first crewed New Shepard flight Wally Funk, a legendary aviator who also holds a ticket for Virgin’s VSS Unity. Bezos, his brother Mark, and the winning bidder of a US$28 million auction for a New Shepard seat will also be on board for that July 20th mission. Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin hasn’t announced the ticket price for future New Shepard flights just yet.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Virgin Galactic approval to fly space customers last week as a tweak to the company’s commercial space transportation operator license, marking the first time the FAA licensed a spaceline to fly customers. Blue Origin doesn’t have the same FAA approval to fly customers ahead of its July 20th flight with Bezos yet, but is getting close to securing it, a person familiar with the process told The Verge.
In 2004 Branson formed Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company that was working toward offering commercial suborbital passenger flights. “I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After 17 years of research, engineering and innovation, the new commercial space industry is poised to open the universe to humankind and change the world for good”, said Richard Branson in a blog post. “It is one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it is another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality.”