American billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos and his three teammates embark on Sunday in accelerated training in preparation for the inaugural flight of his company Blue Origin to the edge of space scheduled for Tuesday.
Suborbital launch from a site in the high desert plains of west Texas marks a crucial test for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, an 18.3-meter-tall, fully self-contained rocket-capsule combo that is at the heart Bezos’ plans to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market.
The planned 11-minute trip from the company’s Launch Site One facility is expected to include the oldest person to ever be in space – Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneer aviator – and the youngest – Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student. . Bezos, founder and current executive chairman of Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), and his brother Mark Bezos will join them for the launch of Blue Origin.
The mission would represent the world’s first unmanned flight in space with a fully civilian crew. Blue Origin will have no astronauts or qualified personnel on board.
New Shepard is due to launch nine days after rival Richard Branson’s space travel company Virgin Galactic successfully completed a suborbital flight from New Mexico with the British billionaire inside its rocket plane.
Blue Origin’s training program, according to the company, includes safety briefings, a space flight simulation, a review of the rocket and its operations, and instruction on how to float around the cabin. of the machine after the capsule has lost terrestrial gravity.
The training “will help you feel comfortable and prepared for spaceflight and your responsibilities as an astronaut,” Blue Origin said in the document outlining the sessions.
New Shepard, which cannot be flown from inside the spacecraft, is named after Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space on a suborbital flight as part of the pioneer Mercury program. from NASA.
New Shepard, like the Virgin Galactic flight, will not orbit Earth but will take the crew approximately 100 km before the capsule parachutes back. Virgin Galactic’s flight reached 86 km above Earth.
Billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s space transport company, SpaceX, is pledging to go even higher in September, sending an all-civilian crew on a multi-day orbital flight aboard his Crew Dragon capsule.
Illustrating the tensions in the high-stakes “billionaire space race”, Blue Origin described Virgin Galactic as being below the 62 mile (100 km) mark – called the Kármán Line – set by an international aviation body as defining the border between the Earth’s atmosphere and space.
Both the US space agency NASA and the US Air Force define an astronaut as anyone who has flown more than 50 miles (80 km), as Branson did with his flight.