The answer isn’t what you might expect. Space travel is, historically, fraught with danger. Though the risks are not necessarily astronomical for Bezos’ jaunt to the cosmos, as his space company Blue Origin has spent the better part of the last decade running the suborbital New Shepard rocket he’ll be riding on through a series of successful test flights. (Also, being in space is Bezos’ lifelong dream.)
Here’s what Bezos’ flight will look like and the extent to which people are taking their lives in their hands when they go to outer space these days.
What the flight looks like
When most people think about spaceflight, they think about an astronaut circling the Earth, floating in space, for at least a few days.
That is not what the Bezos brothers and their fellow passengers will be doing .
They’ll be going up and coming right back down, and they’ll be doing it in less time — about 11 minutes — than it takes most people to get to work.
Suborbital flights differ greatly from orbital flights of the type most of us think of when we think of spaceflight. Blue Origin’s New Shepard flights will be brief, up-and-down trips, though they will go more than 62 miles above Earth, which is widely considered to be the edge of outer space.
Suborbital flights require far less power and speed. That means less time the rocket is required to burn, lower temperatures scorching the outside of the spacecraft, less force and compression ripping at the spacecraft, and generally fewer opportunities for something to go very wrong.
The New Shepard capsule then deploys a large plume of parachutes to slow its descent to less than 20 miles per hour before it hits the ground.
How big are the risks?
Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, which is fully autonomous and does not require a pilot, has never had an explosive mishap in 15 test flights. And the nature of Bezos’ flight means it comes with some inherently lower risks than more ambitious space travel attempts. But that doesn’t mean the risk is zero, either.
But even still, there is no way to absolutely guarantee safety should New Shepard malfunction.
Even though suborbital flights are less risky than orbital missions, they can still be deadly.
One of Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space planes, for example, broke apart in 2014 when one of the vehicle’s copilots prematurely deployed the feathering system designed to keep the craft stable as it made its descent. The added drag on the plane ripped it to pieces, killing one of the pilots.
Blue Origin has not encountered similar tragic accidents during its testing phase, though — as an old industry adage goes — space is hard.
But, Bezos has indicated, the risk is worth it.