Someone with deep pockets just shelled out $US28 ($36) million to fly to space with Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know who the mystery bidder is, although Blue Origin promises we’ll find out in a few weeks.
Last month, Blue Origin announced that it would auction off a seat on its first crewed flight, which will include Bezos, the company’s founder, as well as his brother Mark Bezos. The online auction had three phases, and the process concluded with a live auction on Saturday. Blue Origin said that the $US28 ($36) million winning bid amount will be donated to its foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to promote STEM careers among future generations and “help invent the future of life in space.”
About 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to bid on the open seat, the company said in a news announcement.
Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales, announced the winning bid from the live auction. Cornell thanked the winner and said that $US28 ($36) million would help the foundation inspire a lot of kids.
“The whole Blue Origin team cannot wait to meet our first customer. They’re going to join Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark on this historic human flight on New Shepard in just five weeks. July 20th is going to be an experience of a lifetime,” Cornell said. “To say that we are humbled is an incredible understatement.”
The identity of the person who placed the winning bid isn’t the only thing shrouded in mystery at this time. Blue Origin’s inaugural crew will include four passengers — although the capsule can hold up to six, it has no pilots — and the company hasn’t announced who the fourth passenger will be yet. On Saturday, Blue Origin stated that the name of the fourth and final crew member would be announced in the upcoming weeks.
The New Shepard flight will not go into Earth orbit, but rather the region slightly beyond the Kármán Line, a boundary at an altitude exceeding 62 miles (100 kilometers) that technically qualifies as suborbital space. The crew will spend about 11 minutes in space, allowing passengers to experience a few moments of weightlessness, before coming back to Earth.
Bezos’ Blue Origin is not the only company eyeing space tourism. Fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk are also in the race. Musk, who leads SpaceX, plans to launch an all-civilian crew to space via the company’s Dragon spacecraft later this year. Branson, meanwhile, is expected to fly into space on the VSS Unity in one of Virgin Galactic’s test flights sometime this year as well. Virgin Galactic intends to begin commercial service in early 2022.