Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said on Monday he would fly on the first human spaceflight of his company's New Shepard spacecraft. This mission will launch from Blue Origin's spaceport in West Texas on July 20, which is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969.
With this timeline, Bezos seemed almost certain to beat his suborbital space tourism rival, Sir Richard Branson, into space. Setting aside whether Branson's VSS Unity vehicle reaches space—its maximum altitude is just below the Kármán line, or 100 km—this is nonetheless a meaningful milestone.
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Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin has sold the spare seat of the company's 20 July New Shepard space rocket blast-off for $28m, the company announced on Saturday.
With 20 active bidders starting at $4.8m during the 10-minute auction, bids escalated in the final three minutes of the sale. Initially, some 7,600 people registered to bid from 159 countries, the company said. The winner, whose identity has not been announced, will join the Amazon founder Bezos and his brother Mark on the flight.
The 11-minute, automated flight – the company's 16th but first carrying humans – will lift off from Van Horn, Texas. The capsule will carry as many as six passengers, though the company has not yet revealed who else will be onboard.
[...] The company has said the auction price will be donated to Blue Origin's foundation, Club for the Future, whose stated mission "is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in Stem (science, technology, engineering, and math) and to help invent the future of life in space".
An 82-year-old woman who has spent six decades trying to reach space will join Jeff Bezos on the first human flight by his space company later this month. Wally Funk, who underwent training in the 1960s, will become the oldest person to ever fly to space. Mr Bezos has invited Ms Funk as an "honoured guest" and shared video on Instagram of him telling her the news. She will join the Amazon founder, his brother Mark and a mystery person who paid $28m (£20m) at auction for a seat.
[...] Funk volunteered in 1961 for the Women in Space programme where she underwent rigorous physical and mental testing in the hope of becoming an astronaut. But the scheme was later abruptly cancelled and she and the other women - collectively known as the Mercury 13 - never made it to space with Nasa.
On Thursday afternoon, Virgin Galactic said its founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, will attempt to go to space on July 11.
Dubbed the "Unity 22" mission, this flight on the VSS Unity spacecraft will carry a full crew of two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and four mission specialists, including Branson. "Building on the success of the company's most recent spaceflight in May, Unity 22 will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives," the company said in a statement.
The timing of this flight is significant, because a July 11 mission would allow Branson to beat Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to space. Bezos has said he will fly on the first human flight of the New Shepard spacecraft, developed and tested by his Blue Origin rocket company. That mission is set for July 20.
Thursday had been a great day for Bezos and Blue Origin, as the company received plaudits from across the space industry for inviting Wally Funk to join Bezos on the New Shepard flight. Funk, 82, was member of the privately funded "Mercury 13" program for women who ultimately were not selected to go into space in the 1960s. She is seen as someone who really, really deserves to go to space.
But Virgin Galactic's announcement will upstage this moment for Bezos, as it furthers the "battle of the billionaires" to see who will go into space first.