For Blue originThis coming moment has been in preparation for over two decades.
The space company, founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, is set to begin its first crewed mission on Tuesday (July 20), which will send the billionaire and three other humans into suborbital space aboard a reusable capsule missile complex called New Shepard. The launch is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET (1 p.m. GMT) from the Blue Origin launch pad near Van Horn, Texas.
This flight marks a milestone for Blue Origin, which Bezos founded back in September 2000. It will mark the company’s formal entry into the suborbital space tourism business as New Shepard’s four passengers include its first paying client, an 18-year-old man. Dutchman by name Oliver Daman…
Tuesday will also be a very important day for Bezos himself, and not just for professional reasons. The richest man in the world has repeatedly said that space travel is a lifelong dream, which he inspired when he saw Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969 at the age of five. And his own flight is a kind of tribute to this grand mission, as it kicked off 52 years before the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps of humanity in a world beyond Earth.
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New Shepard takes off
Blue Origin went unnoticed for many years after its founding. The company really only became publicly known in 2010 when it won a development contract from the NASA Commercial Crew Program.
A year later, Blue Origin struck another similar deal, but ultimately NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing to transport the agency’s astronauts to and from the International Space Station. (SpaceX is in the middle of its third crewed mission to the orbital laboratory; Boeing prepares for key uncrewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner capsule to the station July 30th.)
In October 2012, the company made some more news about successful testing. New Shepard in West Texas. The crew capsule fired the emergency engine and flew off the rocket simulator, demonstrating technology that could help keep passengers safe in the event of an emergency during launch.
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Then, in April 2015, New Shepard took off in earnest for the first time. The capsule reached a maximum height of 58.1 miles (93.5 km) – higher than the 50 miles (80 km) line that NASA and the US military recognize boundary of space – and safely descended to Earth by parachute. The rocket did not go so well, crashing on an attempted landing.
Seven months later, the next iteration of New Shepard soared even higher, climbing about 62.5 miles (100.6 km) above the West Texas bushes. And this time, both the capsule and the rocket have landed – an important milestone that inspired some forward and backward competition between Bezos and the SpaceX chief Elon Musk… (Just weeks later, SpaceX managed to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 orbital rocket, and Musk’s company has repeated the feat dozens of times since then.)
In January 2016, the same New Shepard flew into suborbital space again, another landmark moment for reuse.
And the test flights continued. To date, four New Shepard ships have completed 15 suborbital missions, the last 14 of which have been fully successful. This success convinced Bezos and the rest of the Blue Origin team that New Shepard was ready to start moving people – and that Bezos should be one of the first to fly.
Billionaires take off
In early May, Blue Origin announced that the first New Shepard mission with a crew would begin on July 20 and that the company would auction one of the locations. (Another tribute to history, the announcement was made on May 5, the 60th anniversary of the first American manned space flight, a suborbital walk by a NASA astronaut and New Shepard’s namesake. Alan Shepard.)
A month later, Bezos announced that he and his brother Mark would be on the flight, a news that significantly influenced the auction, which was won by a still unnamed $ 28 million bidder. (This bidder later canceled the flight due to a scheduling conflict, according to Blue Origin; Damen took his or her place.)
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Then, on July 1st, Blue Origin announced this groundbreaking aviator. Wally Funk will also be in flight. The 82-year-old woman is one of the Mercury 13 women who underwent the same physiological screening tests that NASA performed on its astronauts in the early days of the space age. At the time, none of these women were seriously considered astronaut candidates; American manned space flight was only a man’s business until 1983, when Sally Ride launched into orbit aboard the Challenger spacecraft.
Funk will become the oldest person to ever reach space when New Shepard kicks off on July 20, breaking the record set by the 77-year-old at the time. John Glenn during a shuttle flight in October 1998. And Deeman will also set the record by becoming the youngest space pilot in history.
On the same day that Blue Origin announced the involvement of Funk, the company’s main competitor in the suborbital space tourism business, Virgin galactic, had the effect of an exploding bomb: she was planning to launch her first full-crew space flight on July 11, and billionaire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson would be on board.
This news – and the current flight that went well – stole some of Bezos’s thunder. But now it’s Blue Origin’s turn in the spotlight.
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If all goes according to plan on Tuesday, New Shepard could be fully commercialized in the coming weeks or months. Virgin Galactic plans to do the same in early 2022, after several more test flights, so the bona fide suborbital space tourism the industry may be about to finally take over. (Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004.)
But Blue Origin’s ambitions go far beyond suborbital space. The company is also developing a huge reusable rocket called New glenn to deliver people and payloads to low-earth orbit, and its debut flight is expected in 2022.
Blue Origin is also working on a moon landing device and is leading the National Team, a private consortium that has proposed a human landing system for use by NASA. Artemis program exploration of the moon. In April of this year, NASA selected SpaceX as the lander with the crew of Artemis, but the national team and another finalist who was not selected, Dynetics. filed protests with the US Government Audit Office, which is expected to make a decision on the matter in early August.
Blue Origin’s long-term goals are even more daring. The company is committed to helping humanity become a truly cosmic species and protecting our home planet in the process.
“Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the goal of creating a future in which millions of people live and work in space for the good of the Earth,” the company said in a statement. The vision statement reads, partially. “To save the Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that put pressure on Earth into space.”
Mike Wall is the author of “There“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the quest for alien life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.