By David E. Hubler
AMU Edge Contributor
It’s being called the billionaires’ battle into space.
British billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson won the first round last week when he and his crew flew his Virgin Galactic spacecraft, the VSS Unity spaceplane, to the edge of space.
Next up is Amazon founder and Washington Post newspaper owner Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, who is expected to lift off Tuesday, July 20, at 9 a.m. EDT. He and three other space enthusiasts will be on board the New Shepard rocket and capsule developed by his Blue Origin company.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Bezos named his company Blue Origin because of his belief that this blue planet is just the starting point for humankind’s future.
Blue Origin Uses a Conventional Rocket and Space Capsule that Launches and Lands Vertically
“Blue Origin uses a conventional rocket and space capsule that launches and lands vertically, so it is quicker than Virgin Galactic’s vehicle to reach the edge of space, and the entire flight is 11 minutes” the Journal noted. “Virgin Galactic employs an aircraft to lift its six-seat space plane aloft, before releasing it, firing a rocket to take it higher. The space plane then glides back unpowered to the ground, with the whole trip taking about 90 minutes.”
Although the flight will come nine days after Branson’s historic first, Bezos has a couple of “firsts” of his own: In addition to coinciding with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, Blue Origin will carry the first teenager and the oldest person to venture into space.
When he returns to school this fall, Dutch student Oliver Daemon, 18, will have perhaps the greatest answer ever to the question, “What did you do this summer?”
As MarketWatch explained, “Originally, the anonymous winner of an online charity auction had landed a coveted spot alongside Bezos on the passenger manifest thanks to an astronomical $28 million bid. But Blue Origin revealed Thursday that this person has a “scheduling conflict” with Tuesday’s launch, and will join a future flight. So that opened the spot up to the young Daemen, who was the runner-up in the bidding war.
And Wally Funk, an 82-year-old woman who has spent six decades trying to reach space, will join Daemon, Bezos and Bezos’s brother Mark on the flight. As Bezos explained on Instagram. “In 1961, Wally Funk was at the top of her class as part of the ‘Mercury 13’ Woman in Space Program. Despite completing their training, the program was canceled, and none of the thirteen flew.
“It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest,” Bezos said in the surprise announcement.
Funk will break former astronaut John Glenn’s record. Four decades after Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, he flew as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discover at 77 years of age in 1998.
Branson’s and Bezos’ Flights Mark Key Moments for Their Space Tourism Businesses
While Branson’s and Bezos’ flights to space mark key moments for their space tourism businesses, the space industry is far from being able to offer its services to the rest of the public, The Verge pointed out. “To get there, they’ll have to clear several hurdles: Can these rockets reliably fly humans on multiple missions without a hitch? If there is a hitch, like a fatal accident, can the market survive a damaged reputation? And can someone buy a ticket to space just as they can book an expensive flight (instead of just the ultra-rich)?”
No doubt space enthusiasts — including students in AMU’s Space Studies program — are keeping an eye out for Elon Musk, the Tesla automaker and second wealthiest man on the planet.
According to Earthskye cites, Branson announced that Musk has reserved a seat to fly with Virgin Galactic. Tickets are rumored to go for $250,000. And Musk has reportedly put down a $10,000 deposit. But just when the third member of the billionaire’s triumvirate will venture into space remains unknown.