Bezos announced on Monday that he and his brother, Mark, will be part of the first civilian crew to fly to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which is expected to launch on July 20.
That means the richest man on Earth will soon become the richest man in space — if his space-shipping company delivers on its promise.
Bezos revealed his master plan in an awkwardly acted Instagram video early Monday, in which he pretends to surprise his brother with an invite to space.
“I invited my brother to come on this first flight because we’re closest friends,” Bezos says in the video.
“I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going to be on the first flight, and then when he asked me to go along I was just awestruck,” Mark says in the video. “What a remarkable opportunity not only to have this adventure but to be able to do it with my best friend.”
The third seat on the flight is being auctioned off on Blue Origin’s website, with the proceeds slated to go to Blue Origin’s charitable foundation. The highest bid was at US$2.8 million on Monday morning and the live auction is slated to close on June 12.
The entire mission will play out over about 10 minutes, beginning with a rocket launch that will carry the crew capsule 100 kilometres up past the Karman Line — the official beginning of space. The capsule will fly just past that line before falling back to Earth and deploying its parachutes for a gentle landing in the Texas desert. Meanwhile, the New Shepard’s autonomous rocket capsule will make its own landing on a separate launch pad.
Bezos’ Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are competing to launch a new era of space tourism, beginning with a few proof-of-concept trips involving rich investors.
SpaceX has the most robust mission schedule, with plans to launch a four-person, all-citizen crew into low Earth orbit in September, followed by a tourist trip up to the International Space Station (ISS) early next year and a voyage around the moon in 2023. Unlike Bezos, Musk has not committed to joining any of those missions himself.
SpaceX has grabbed most of the NASA contracts and headlines — both good and bad — in recent years, amid several major steps forward and a few explosive setbacks.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard has been quietly building up to its own space tourism mission, with 14 straight successful launches since 2015. Nearly all of those launches were performed without a crew onboard, save for the last one in April, which served as a dress rehearsal for the Bezos mission in July.
“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Bezos says in his video. “It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”
Bezos is the wealthiest man on the planet, with an estimated net worth of US$186.2 billion.
He stepped down from his role as Amazon’s CEO earlier this year, although he still owns a large stake in the company.