Blue Origin’s first crewed space flight has been scheduled for 20 July, and one seat is up for grabs. That ticket will be auctioned off via an online bidding system, with the winner joining a trained astronaut crew aboard the New Shepard rocket. Blue Origin says it will donate the amount of the winning bid to its Club for the Future foundation.
New Shepard flew for the first time in 2015 and has since gone through 15 test flights, but none of them had any crew members aboard. Company representatives referred to the most recent test flight on 14 April as an “astronaut rehearsal”, but the only passenger on that flight was a test dummy.
While the rocket does go to space – defined as 100 kilometres above sea level – it doesn’t fly all the way to orbit, and its flights are relatively short. Similar to previous tests, during the planned flight the rocket will accelerate into space for about 3 minutes, taking it about 100 kilometres up, and then the crew capsule that sits on top of it will detach.
The capsule will spend about 3 minutes floating in microgravity, where the crew will be allowed to unbuckle their seatbelts and float around, before coming back down. During the descent, parachutes will slow the capsule to about 26 kilometres per hour, small thrusters will slow it a bit more as it reaches the ground, and it will land 10 minutes after launch.
Blue Origin does have some requirements for anyone who wants to buy a ride to space: there are height and weight limits, physical health and fitness requirements to ensure that the passenger won’t become injured or ill during the flight, and the passenger must be able to understand English so they can communicate with mission control.
According to the terms and conditions, the passenger must also be able to “fasten and unfasten his/her own seat harness in under fifteen (15) seconds, which is about as difficult as fastening the seatbelt in an unfamiliar car in the dark”. Whoever wins the seat will undergo training before the flight.
After this first auction, which will run from 5 May to 12 June, Blue Origin has stated that it intends to sell seats on future New Shepard flights as well. The ticket prices aren’t yet public, but they will reportedly cost between $200,000 and $300,000. Those prices are far less expensive than previous space tourism flights, which took passengers on longer and more involved flights to the International Space Station and cost millions of dollars.
“It’s one of those things where we can hope that eventually – maybe not in our lifetimes, but someday – this will make space accessible to the average person,” says space analyst Laura Forczyk. Flights aboard New Shepard could also be used for scientific research and to train astronauts for missions in low gravity.
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