In the new space race, billionaires launch themselves to the cosmos and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin can now officially join the party in the stars.
Blue Origin Touches the Stars
Today, there’s a new competitor in the human spaceflight business. Launching from Corn Ranch, TX, the launch took owner and former founder of Amazon just over the edge of space at the 100 kilometers height (62 miles) above the surfacr of the earth. Jeff Bezos isn’t flying alone, he is bringing along his brother (Mark Bezos) as well as Oliver Daemen, an 18-year old student from the Netherlands, and aviator Wally Funk.
The flight abord New Shepard, named after the Alan Shepard the first American to reach space, was its 16th. The prior 15 were successful missions including test landings and impaired vehicle test landings before taking humans on the rocket. It deploys a capsule with a human landing system, much like that of SpaceX, though unlike the lunar missions, the capsule is intended to land on dry ground and not splash down in the ocean.
Bezos and crew landed safely back on earth at 8:22AM Central time.
Blue Origin wanted its launch to be memorable. The launch date was not chosen at random, the Tuesday July 20 launch coincides with the day astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, what he described as a “seminal moment.”
However, it didn’t stop there. Wally Funk trained as an astronaut preparing for Mercury 13, but ultimately she was not selected. She will be the oldest visitor to space at 82, passing former astronaut and John Glenn at 77 who rode the Space Shuttle in 1998.
Oliver Daeman, the 18-year old physics student, pilot and son of a hedge fund manager will be the youngest person to ever reach space.
De 18-jarige Oliver Daemen uit Tilburg wordt de jongste astronaut ooit en de vierde Nederlander in de ruimte. Hij gaat mee met de ruimtereis van #BlueOrigin van #JeffBezos. Oliver is onderweg naar Texas, waar de lancering dinsdag plaatsvindt.https://t.co/hMsJWorRQK pic.twitter.com/5Xl3mqSAJt
— Bright (@Bright) July 15, 2021
Ever the history buff, Bezos has been buying space artifacts long before he started the company. Recently, he paid for the excavation of the Mercury 7 boosters to be recovered from the floor of the Atlantic ocean for his personal collection.
Bezos And The Billionaire Space Race
Blue Origin founder, Jeff Bezos, started his rocket company in the West Texas desert shortly after Musk began SpaceX and Tesla simultaneously. Richard Branson entered the fray as well and became the first of the three to reach suborbital space with Virgin Galactic less than two weeks ago. His trip was announced after Blue Origin but took place before todday’s launch in a showmanship only billionaires can truly appreciate.
Virgin Galactic is a different kind of competitor to Bezos and Musk. Bezos has set his sights on the moon with intentions to colonize both orbiting space stations and the lunar surface. He has stated in the past that humans should move heavy industry to the cosmos to rid the planet of pollution and leave light industry on the earth. Virgin Galactic is more interested in getting the well-to-do a reasonably-priced touch of space with five minutes of weightlessness for about $200,000. Those flights take off and land from New Mexico and seats are on sale now.
Musk’s SpaceX hasn’t been shy that Mars is the goal, but the moon will be a stopping off point which makes sense from a fuel and timeline perspective. It probably doesn’t hurt that NASA has awarded the aerospace company a hefty contract for its lunar landing program which will fund the Starship series of rockets ultimately used for the far longer journey to the red planet.
All three have enjoyed some level of success to this point, and while Musk hasn’t personally flown aboard his own rockets, he has successfully launched and returned astronauts to the space station in the only US-commercial trips.
Space Tourism, The Future Is Here… or Close
Since the 1950s, regular commercial flights to space have held the interest of the public. Before the last few weeks, however, space tourists were relegated to either science fiction or extremely expensive Russian vehicles. The future is here, or at least, close by. Blue Origin has said it will sell future trips on either New Shepard or New Glenn, SpaceX has already sold a trip around the moon slated for 2023, and Virgin Galactic has sold hundreds of seats to the stars as well.
Today’s flight saw a seat sold at auction to an undisclosed wealthy enthusiast though they ultimately could not make the flight due to scheduling conflicts.
Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) is one of the few space companies openly traded to the public. While its focus is on securing government contracts and private satellite launches, infrastructure for the burgeoning industry may be supported by the company. Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) is also publicly traded, though it’s down 40% since Branson’s launch after the company announced a new stock sale.
Neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin stock is publicly available on the open market.
After more than 20 years in development, Blue Origin has advanced the cause of Space Tourism. While trips to the cosmos are not yet sold on Google Flights (how have they not yet made an Easter Egg for this?) it feels we are all closer than ever to the stars.
What do you think? Did you watch the trip today? Would you take a trip on a commercial rocket if given the chance?