Another week, another billionaire with a rocket company going to space.
Last week, it was Richard Branson earning his astronaut wings riding a space plane from Virgin Galactic, a company he founded 14 years ago, to an altitude of more than 50 miles above the skies of New Mexico.
On Tuesday, it will be Jeff Bezos, the richest human being in the universe, who will strap into a capsule built by his rocket company, Blue Origin, and blast off even higher, to more than 62 miles above West Texas.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
Blue Origin is aiming for the rocket to take off at 9 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, July 20. The company will begin coverage of the launch at 7:30 a.m. on its YouTube channel. The date coincides with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
What is the New Shepard rocket and what will it do?
New Shepard, the Blue Origin spacecraft, is named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space. It consists of a booster and a capsule on top, where the passengers will be.
Unlike Virgin Galactic’s space plane, New Shepard is more of a traditional rocket, taking off vertically. Once the booster has used up its propellant — liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen — the capsule detaches from the booster.
Both pieces continue to coast upward, above the 62-mile boundary often considered to be the beginning of outer space. During this part of the trajectory, the passengers will unbuckle and float around the capsule, experiencing about four minutes of free fall and seeing views of Earth and the blackness of space from the capsule’s large windows.
The booster lands first and vertically, similar to the touchdowns of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets. The capsule lands minutes after the booster, descending under a parachute and cushioned by the firing of a last-second jet of air. The whole flight should last about 10 minutes.
Is New Shepard safe?
Blue Origin has launched New Shepard 15 times — all without anyone onboard — and the capsule landed safely every time. (On the first launch, the booster crashed; on the next 14 launches, the booster landed intact.)
During one flight in 2016, Blue Origin performed an in-flight test of the rocket’s escape system where thrusters whisked away the capsule from a malfunctioning booster.
A solid-fuel rocket at the bottom of the crew capsule fired for 1.8 seconds, exerting 70,000 pounds of force to quickly separate the capsule and steer it out of the way of the booster. Its parachutes deployed, and the capsule landed softly.
Not only did the capsule survive, the booster was able to right itself, continue to space, and then, firing its engine again, land a couple of miles north of the launchpad in West Texas, a bit charred but intact.
Who else is aboard the flight?
Mr. Bezos is bringing along his younger brother. Mark Bezos, 50, has lived a more private life. He is a co-founder and general partner at HighPost Capital, a private equity firm. Mark Bezos previously worked as head of communications at the Robin Hood Foundation, a charity that aids anti-poverty efforts in New York City.
Blue Origin auctioned off one of the seats, with the proceeds going to Club for the Future, a space-focused charity founded by Mr. Bezos. The winning bidder paid $28 million — and we still do not know who that was.
Last week, the company announced that the auction winner had decided to wait until a subsequent flight “due to scheduling conflicts.”
Instead, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands who was one of the runners-up in the auction, and who had purchased a ticket on the second New Shepard flight, was bumped up.
The fourth passenger is Mary Wallace Funk — she goes by Wally — a pilot who in the 1960s was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous criteria that NASA used for selecting astronauts.