VAN HORN, TEXAS – Blue Origin will attempt an historic first human spaceflight today July 20, 2021, after competitor Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic was launched on its first fully crewed spaceflight on July 11, 2021. Blue Origin will launch Amazon billionaire founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos and a crew of 3 to kick-start a program for space tourists – those who’ve always dreamt of flying in space. Blue Origin will fly its 16th New Shepard flight to space with Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, but also the youngest and oldest astronauts on board. Broadcast starts at T-90 minutes to launch and liftoff is set for 9:00 AM EDT (13:00 GMT).
The webcast will begin at 7:30 AM EDT (1130 GMT). Watch the live stream here:
The flight and its crew
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and capsule will take off for an 11-minute journey up to an altitude of approximately 328,000 feet (100.000 km), space.com reports. The New Shepard will be launched and will land just outside Van Horn, Texas at Blue Origin’s ‘Launch Site One’ and will carry the spacecraft on a suborbital path before separating. After the 3-minute free flight in space, the crew will subsequently descend in their capsule under parachutes for a ground landing.
The crew of Blue Origin’s first human flight mission are Oliver Daemen (18), Wally Funk (82), Jeff Bezos (57) and his brother Mark Bezos (53).
The crew member who has been waiting the longest for the flight opportunity is Wally Funk, a 82 years old aviator. Funk wa sthe first female flight instructor at a US military base, the first female air safety investigator for the NTSB, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the first female inspector for the FAA, as well as one of the Mercury 13. The Mercury 13 were 13 American women who – as part of a privately funded program – successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests as NASA’s ‘Project Mercury’ astronauts.
Funk tried to join NASA’s astronaut corps 6 decades ago, but was excluded due to her gender and lack of military experience. This was during an era when American women were excluded from military pilots. It would take until 1983, before the first American woman – Sally Ride – would reach orbit.
In a CBS interview on July 19, Funk was asked about her wait since she was a “twentysomething”. Funk joked that she still feels 24 years old. The 82-year-old said she plans to do “somersaults and tumble and do anything that I’ve learned to do” during her 19,600 hours of flight experience on-Earth.
The youngest crew member – Oliver Daemen – is an 18-year-old physics student from Tilburg, The Netherlands. Daemen will be the youngest person in space when he launches on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft today. His father, Jos Daemen – Somerset Capital Partners CEO – bankrolled the trip for an undisclosed amount. Oliver Daemen is working on his pilot’s license and has been interested in space since age 4.
Daemen became the last crew member at the last minute after an auction winner – who successfully bid $28 million for a seat on the first flight – could not make opportunity due to a scheduling conflict. Oliver moved up a flight as the runner-up bidder, after initially being scheduled on the second crew.
“While it’s been hard to sleep lately because of the anticipation, the excitement just overtakes the nervousness. I can’t wait to go up to space,” Daemen said to NBC about his feelings before the flight.
Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 to chase down his childhood dream for spaceflight – he decided at a young age to become a rich entrepreneur to fund his way into becoming an astronaut, and succeeded to fulfill his dream after he became very rich after founding e-commerce giant Amazon in 1995.
“People say they go into space and that they come back changed – astronauts always talk about that,” Bezos told NBC Today earlier. “I can’t wait to see what it’s going to do to me,” Bezos added.
Referring to the “overview effect” that some astronauts say they experience when they look at Earth from above, Bezos said he is anticipating seeing “the thin limit of the Earth’s atmosphere, and seeing how fragile the planet is, that it’s just one planet.”
His brother and best friend Mark Bezos – a venture capitalist and volunteer firefighter – told CBS that he is still in disbelief that he gets to experience such a rare opportunity that “your big brother loves.”
“I fell in love with space, the promise of it, the adventure of it. I’m just so excited to be able to be there, and represent my mom and dad and our sister Christina, and supporting Jeff. Realizing this lifelong dream, it’s a real honor,” he added.
Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeffrey Preston Bezos was born on January 12, 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the son of Theodore Jørgensen. His great-grandfather John Jørgensen – born January 8, 1872 on the small island of Samsø, Denmark – immigrated around 1900 to Chicago. Bezos is a business magnate, media proprietor, investor and known worldwide as the founder and executive chairman of Amazon, having previously served as chairman, president and CEO of the company. Bezos is the richest person in the world, according to both Forbes and Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index with a net worth of more than $200 billion as of June 2021.
Born in Albuquerque and raised in Houston and later Miami, Bezos graduated from Princeton University in 1986. He holds a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. He worked on Wall Street in a variety of related fields from 1986 to early 1994. Bezos founded Amazon in late 1994, on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Seattle. The company began as an online bookstore and has since expanded to a wide variety of other e-commerce products and services, including video and audio streaming, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. It is currently the world’s largest online sales company, the largest Internet company by revenue, and the world’s largest provider of virtual assistants and cloud infrastructure services through its Amazon Web Services branch.
Bezos founded the aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company Blue Origin in 2000. Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle reached space in 2015, and afterwards successfully landed back on Earth. The company has upcoming plans to begin commercial suborbital human spaceflight. He also purchased the major American newspaper The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million, and manages many other investments through his venture capital firm, Bezos Expeditions.
The first centibillionaire on the Forbes wealth index, Bezos was named the “richest man in modern history” after his net worth increased to $150 billion in July 2018. In August 2020, according to Forbes, he had a net worth exceeding $200 billion. In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bezos’s wealth grew by approximately $24 billion. On February 2, 2021, Bezos announced that he would step down as the CEO of Amazon sometime in the third quarter of 2021 and transition into the role of executive chairman, officially stepping down on July 5, 2021. Andy Jassy, the chief of Amazon’s cloud computing division, has become the new CEO of Amazon.
Blue Origin’s Launch Site One
Jeff Bezos’ flight to the edge of space with his 3 passengers has put a tiny West Texas town in the national spotlight. Van Horn – population about 2000 – is the closest town to the launch site.
“Van Horn being put on the map, it’s exciting for some and there’s some that are going to benefit economically from it,” Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carillo said to houstonpublicmedia.
Most people on I-10 drive past Van Horn on the way to somewhere else. But a crowd is expected in town for Tuesday’s launch. Van Horn is about 20 miles from Bezos company Blue Origin’s launch site in a remote area of West Texas.
Bezos’ company has been quietly operating here since 2000 and only recently put up a gleaming sign at the entrance of the launch site ahead of the first flight with people on board.
“I don’t think people realized what they were doing out there, north of here,” Carillo said.
Van Horn is a historic ranching town, about 120 miles east of El Paso. North of this region there’s oil and gas, traditional foundations of the Texas economy. But the region is now part of a modern-day private space race.
Head image: YouTube / Blue Origin
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