The person who paid $US28 ($38) million for a seat to the edge of space with billionaire Amazon magnate Jeff Bezos on one of his Blue Origin rockets has decided they have better things to do.
On July 20, Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, and legendary aviator Wally Funk are all scheduled to go on the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket, where they will fly to approximately 100 km above the Earth’s surface, reaching the Kármán line, the boundary the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale recognises as the start of space.
For roughly three minutes, they will experience weightlessness, after which the crew capsule will plummet back to Earth and slow its descent with massive parachutes. While the rocket can hold up to six passengers, it will fly autonomously, eliminating the need for Blue Origin to have other personnel physically piloting the craft. A fourth seat was supposed to go to a mystery bidder who bid $US28 ($38) million for charity at auction in June 2021.
Unfortunately, that anonymous capitalist (or inheritance recipient) will now be backing out of the inaugural flight, with CNBC confirming that Blue Origin has explained the dropout is due to “scheduling conflicts.” In that person’s stead, the fourth passenger will be 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, a recent high school grade. Daemen, a physics student on a gap year before college who also holds a private pilot licence, is the son of Somerset Capital Partners CEO Joes Daemen, who paid an undisclosed sum to get a seat on the second crewed flight.
“We moved [Daemen] up when this seat on the first flight became available,” Blue Origin told CNBC.
While this is the first manned flight to space conducted by Blue Origin, the New Shepard rocket has successfully flown over a dozen times without incident. Daemen is 18, and Funk is 82, meaning the maiden crewed flight will set simultaneous records for the youngest and oldest persons to ever travel to space.
The unknown rich person too busy to fly with Bezos will instead fly “on a future New Shepard mission,” Blue Origin told CNBC, which does come with the convenient side effect of dodging any unforeseen dangers that could strike the first mission. (Virgin Group founder Richard Branson recently won the billionaire space race with the July 11 flight of the spaceplane VSS Unity, perhaps also taking away some of the allure.)
According to Business Insider, while it’s difficult to quantify the potential risks to the passengers and suborbital flights are generally safer, a report earlier this year found that around 1% of all U.S. human spaceflights have involved a fatal accident.
“That’s pretty high. It’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner,” former Federal Aviation Administration associate administrator and report co-author George Nield told Business Insider. “… [Bezos] obviously has made the decision that having millions of people living and working in space is something that he strongly believes in, and he wants to do his part to help make that happen in some small way.”