Jeff Bezos said Blue Origin has sold nearly $100 million worth of tickets for future tourist trips to space

Jeff Bezos speaks with microphone about his space flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard during a press conference.
Jeff Bezos speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas.

  • Jeff Bezos said Blue Origin had sold nearly $100 million worth of tickets for future trips to space.
  • “The demand is very, very high,” Bezos said Tuesday, after he flew to the edge of space.
  • It’s not clear how much Blue Origin will charge for its tickets, which went on sale Tuesday.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos said Blue Origin had sold almost $100 million worth of tickets for future tourist trips to space.

The former Amazon boss on Tuesday became the second billionaire to reach the edge of space, traveling aboard a New Shepard rocket built by Blue Origin, the spaceflight company he founded in 2000.

Blue Origin officially opened ticket sales in the morning before Bezos’ flight, and in his post-flight press conference, Bezos said the company was “approaching $100 million in private sales already.”

It’s not clear if the company sold any private tickets before it officially opened sales on Tuesday. Insider contacted Blue Origin for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

“The demand is very, very high,” Bezos said. “So we’re going to keep after that, because we really do want to practice with this vehicle.

“We’re going to have to build more boosters to fly more frequently, and we’re going to be doing that and working on the operational things we need to do,” Bezos told reporters.

Bezos and Blue Origin didn’t disclose seat prices for the journey, which travels 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

A seat next to Bezos on New Shepard went for $28 million in the company’s auction in June. The winner pulled out due to “scheduling conflicts,” and Oliver Daeman, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands who also placed a bid, took the seat instead. He was Blue Origin’s first paying customer.

Virgin Galactic’s ticket to the edge of space costs $250,000, and includes a spacesuit. Company founder Richard Branson reached space before Bezos on July 11 for Virgin’s first crewed mission in its VSS Unity space plane.

Initially, Blue Origin wants to fly New Shepard between 25 and 100 times, Bezos said in the press briefing. Once the rocket can perform 100 flights, the company will increase its goal, he added.

Blue Origin wants to fly the New Shepard rocket twice more this year, Bezos told the media.

“We’re going to build a road to space so that their kids and our kids can build the future … We need to do that to solve the problems here on earth,” he said.

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Jeff Bezos went to space to realize how fragile Earth is. A 10-minute flight may not be long enough to experience this ‘overview effect.’

Jeff Bezos looks into distance in front of Blue Origin rocket
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin.

When NASA astronaut Alan Shepard saw Earth while walking on the moon in 1971, he cried. Other astronauts who’ve viewed our planet from space have described feelings of awe, unity with the rest of humanity, and an appreciation for the spinning orb that supports our species.

That same desire undergirded Jeff Bezos’s roughly 10-minute flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Bezos, the world’s richest man and founder of spaceflight company Blue Origin, accompanied three other passengers to the edge of space on Tuesday morning. The crew experienced weightlessness for just three minutes while in zero gravity.

“Every astronaut, everybody who’s been up into space, they say that it changes them,” Bezos said during a press conference following the launch. “And they’re kind of amazed and awestruck by the Earth and its beauty, but also by its fragility. And I can vouch for that.”

Experts call overwhelming feelings when seeing Earth from space “the overview effect,” according to David Yaden, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences research fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

blue origin new shepard crew capsule view from spaceship window in space
The view from space on a different New Shepard flight on April 14, 2021.

Bezos didn’t travel nearly as far as most astronauts, though: The billionaire rode a New Shepard rocket up to the Kármán line – an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where many experts say space begins.

But Yaden told Insider “there are no specific boundaries for how high one’s perspective must be in order to experience the overview effect.” (When space writer Frank White coined the term in 1978, he argued that even people in planes could experience it.)

Still, Yaden isn’t sure if a 10-minute flight is enough to profoundly change the billionaire’s perspective. Only time will tell if Bezos really experienced a cognitive shift after viewing Earth from above, he said.

“Most astronauts talk about the view and how it transformed their values,” Yaden said. “I think the test of whether Bezos’s flight was a glorified roller-coaster ride or whether it was more like true space flight will be determined from his actions going forward, especially regarding his commitment to scientific, environmental, and humanitarian causes.”

Was Bezos awed by the view or his place in the universe?

earthrise 1968
The Earth rises above the lunar horizon in this telephoto view taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 22, 1968.

In a 2016 paper, Yaden and his colleagues concluded that the feeling of awe was a key aspect of the overview effect.

That feeling, according to Yaden, is triggered by the sweeping scenery of Earth from space, but also by the realization that everything humans care about is contained in a tiny, fragile sphere.

“I have little doubt that Bezos experienced awe from perceptual vastness – it must be quite a view up there!” Yaden said. “But did he experience conceptual vastness from realizing that we are all in this world together and that Earth’s situation is fragile?”

Astronauts who conduct missions on the International Space Station, for example, report experiencing both. That’s because they are in space for much longer periods of time, and are contributing to science by performing experiments in space, Yaden said.

“I think listening to Bezos’s self-report is one way of assessing his experience, but assessing his actions going forward will be another, probably more important, way of determining whether he experienced the overview effect in the way that so many astronauts over the years have described,” Yaden said.

Bezos said traveling to space ‘reinforces my commitment to climate change’

Jeff Bezos laughs wearing a cowboy hat
Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas.

One of the tickets for Tuesday’s launch originally sold for $28 million. But Bezos said he wants to make the experience of viewing Earth from space accessible to more people.

Blue Origin plans to fly tourists into space regularly on New Shepard, but has yet to open ticket sales.

“This is the only good planet in this solar system,” Bezos said on Tuesday. “And we have to take care of it. And when you go into space and see how fragile it is, you’ll want to take care of it even more. And that’s what this is about.”

Traveling to space, he added, “reinforces my commitment to climate change, to the environment.”

new shepard launch
The New Shepard launch on July 20, 2021.

Yaden said feelings of intense awe generally result in positive mental health outcomes for people: “The sense of self can temporarily fade into feelings of connectedness with other people and the world.”

But he doesn’t think it’s a sufficient justification for flights like Bezos’s.

“I am all for space science and engineering, but given the pollution and expense of these commercial flights, it is hard to justify them on the basis if the overview effect,” he said.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story.

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Jeff Bezos’s guests describe a short, crowded spaceflight experience: ‘There was not quite enough room’

jeff bezos and three other passengers in jumpsuits float around spaceship cabin earth in background
A screengrab from video recorded inside the New Shepard capsule shows (left to right) Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk in microgravity.

Blue Origin rocketed its first passengers to the edge of space on Tuesday morning. Roughly 10 minutes later, the crew returned to the West Texas desert after spending just three minutes in zero gravity.

“I loved every minute of it,” Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator, said in a ceremony after the flight. “I just wish it had been longer.”

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, invited Funk and his brother, Mark, to accompany him on the flight. Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the Netherlands, joined them. His father had purchased the final seat on the flight after an auction winner backed out.

Back on land, the passengers beamed and gave hugs all around. They popped champagne at their landing site. But some of the guests’ reviews of the flight came with caveats.

“We went right on up and I saw darkness,” Funk, now the oldest person to ever travel to space, said. “I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough.”

Indeed, during the livestream Funk could be heard saying, “It’s dark up here.”

wally funk exits new shepard capsule after landing
Wally Funk emerges from the New Shepard capsule, July 20, 2021.

Once they unbuckled, the passengers could see Earth out the spaceship windows. But it wasn’t the blue marble one might witness from the moon, nor was it the same curving horizon that professional astronauts see from the International Space Station. (The station is about four times higher than the altitude Bezos and his companions reached on Tuesday.)

During the post-flight ceremony, Blue Origin shared the below video footage from inside the spaceship. In the background, you can clearly see clouds, the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and the blackness of space beyond it.

Watch live as Jeff Bezos launches to the edge of space on Blue Origin’s first passenger flight

Jeff Bezos is seen speaking beside a photo of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifting off.
Jeff Bezos is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket on July 20.

Jeff Bezos, the richest person on Earth, is about to fly to the edge of space.

The billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin is riding a New Shepard rocket up to the Kármán line – an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where many experts say space begins.

There, he’s expected to experience weightlessness and stunning views of Earth for about three minutes.

The rocket is scheduled to lift off from Blue Origin’s launch site in Texas at around 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. ET) on Tuesday. The company is broadcasting the spaceflight live, in the video embedded below, starting at 6:30 a.m. CT (7:30 a.m. ET).

Bezos won’t be flying solo. His brother, Mark, is set to join him, along with an 18-year-old Dutch high school graduate named Oliver Daemen.

Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator, is also going. She trained to go to space in the 1960s but was ultimately denied the opportunity because she was a woman.

New Shepard has flown successfully 15 times, but never with people on board. This is its first passenger flight.

Blue Origin said there won’t be any “public viewing areas” in the vicinity of the launch site.

“I am so excited. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like,” Bezos told NBC’s “Today” on Monday.

“People who say they go into space, that they come back changed. Astronauts always talk about that – whether it’s the thin limit of the Earth’s atmosphere or seeing how fragile the planet is, that it’s just one planet. So I can’t wait to see what it’s going to do to me.”

How Jeff Bezos and his companions aim to fly to the edge of space

blue origin new shepard
Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin employees celebrate the New Shepard rocket booster’s first landing.

If all goes according to plan, the New Shepard rocket will fire its engines to heave itself off the launchpad.

As Bezos and his guests scream through the atmosphere, the force of the climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity – which should feel three times stronger than normal – are expected to pin them to their seats.

new shepard space capsule interior blue origin 03
A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

After three minutes, the rocket booster should fall away from the capsule that holds the passengers. That capsule should continue arcing above the Earth, and Bezos and his companions should feel weightless.

They’re expected to have three minutes to unbuckle, float around the cabin, and savor the views of the planet curving below.

Then, gravity should pull the spaceship into a high-speed plunge back to Earth. Three parachutes should balloon into the air to break the spaceship’s fall, carrying the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert. A recovery crew should be waiting.

The entire flight should last 11 minutes.

Richard Branson launched to space first, but he didn’t pass the Kármán line

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane.

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic, flew aboard his company’s space plane on Sunday.

Though Branson insisted there’s no competition between him and Bezos, Virgin Galactic changed its launch schedule in a way that sent its billionaire to the edge of space before Bezos.

Blue Origin, for its part, maintains that Branson didn’t actually go to space because he only flew to about 55 miles above sea level.

“They’re not flying above the Kármán line and it’s a very different experience,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told The New York Times after Branson announced his flight.

virgin galactic space plane firing engines flying up
A still image from video shows Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane ascending to the edge of space with Richard Branson and his crew on board on July 11.

Blue Origin went after Virgin Galactic more directly on Twitter two days before Branson’s launch, sharing a graphic comparing the company’s space plane unfavorably to Blue Origin’s rocket.

“From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” Blue Origin tweeted.

“For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.”

The 4% the tweet refers to is the US. Both NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have awarded astronaut wings to pilots who flew past 50 miles.

Aylin Woodward contributed reporting.

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on July 16, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Jeff Bezos is risking his life to reach space. The rocket has flown 15 times, but he’ll have no pilot and possibly no spacesuit.

jeff bezos hands together praying gesture composite image with rocket launching
Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos is about to place his life in the hands of Blue Origin’s rocket engineers.

Bezos, who founded the company in 2000, will be the first passenger on its New Shepard rocket, along with his brother Mark Bezos, 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Dutch student Oliver Daemen. The group is set to strap into a capsule on the top of the five-story rocket on Tuesday. From that moment to touchdown, all their fates will rely on the rocket and its space capsule.

“Bezos is a risk-taker,” John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “He certainly understands that there are risks involved, and probably has a good handle on how risky it is.”

For the rest of us – who don’t have access to Blue Origin’s rocket design or risk calculations – it’s difficult to say just how much risk Bezos is taking. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. But a few key factors offer clues.

New Shepard has flown successfully before – 15 times – but never with humans onboard. The rocket has a good test-flight record, and it features an emergency system that can jettison the passenger capsule away from a failing rocket. Plus, the whole trip is only 11 minutes long.

At the same time, however, Bezos will fly with no pilot, and probably no spacesuit. And no matter how safe New Shepard is, spaceflight is always risky. About 1% of US human spaceflights have resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year.

“That’s pretty high. It’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner,” George Nield, a co-author of that report, told Insider. Nield formerly served as the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator and led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

“In order to learn how to do this safer, more reliably, and more cost effectively, many people believe we need to keep gaining experience by having more and more of these flights,” he added. “[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.”

Skimming the very edge of space lowers the risk

jeff bezos inside new shepard crew capsule
Jeff Bezos inside a New Shepard Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

If all goes according to plan on the day of Bezos’ flight, here’s what it’ll look like: The New Shepard rocket will fire its engines, spewing flame and smoke across the plains of West Texas. As it screams through the atmosphere, the force of the climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity – which will feel three times stronger than normal – will pin the Bezos brothers and their guests into their seats.

After three minutes, the rocket should separate from the capsule and fall back to Earth. The passengers will feel weightless as they clear the boundary of space.

blue origin new shepard crew capsule view from spaceship window in space
The view from space on New Shepard’s 15th flight, April 14, 2021.

Bezos and his companions will have just about three minutes in space. During that time, they can unbuckle and float around the cabin, drifting from one window to another to savor the views of Earth on one side of the spaceship and the blackness of space on the other.

As gravity begins to pull the spaceship back to Earth, Bezos and his co-passengers will strap in for a high-speed plunge. They will likely feel a significant jerk as three parachutes balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall.

The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin's Launch Site One in Texas on January 14.
The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

The parachutes should carry the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert, where a recovery crew will be waiting.

This type of flight is referred to as suborbital, since the capsule won’t enter orbit around Earth. Blue Origin designed and built New Shepard specifically to carry high-paying customers to the edge of space. The rocket is too small, and its engines don’t have enough thrust, to push itself into orbit.

But keeping the flight short and suborbital comes with pluses: There’s less chance that something will go wrong, and the vehicle is easier to control because its engines are smaller and the rocket is traveling slower than would be needed to reach orbit.

If Bezos’ flight goes well, the new launch system could look more attractive to future space tourists.

New Shepard is thoroughly tested and has an emergency-escape system

Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.
Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

The most nail-biting parts of this spaceflight will probably be when the engines burn for liftoff, when the rocket separates from the capsule, and when the parachutes deploy.

“You have a high-performance piece of machinery in the rocket engine that could break, come apart, do bad things,” Logsdon said.

New Shepard has executed all these maneuvers many times before – just not with people on board. It’s flown 15 times since 2015, with three successful tests of its emergency-escape system, which would jettison the capsule away from a failing rocket.

If a parachute fails to deploy, the capsule is designed to give more thrust to its downward-facing engines to help it land safely. If two chutes fail, a crushable “bumper” section on the bottom of the capsule should absorb the impact of landing.

“The capsule is the most highly redundant and safe spaceflight system, we think, that has ever been designed or flown,” Gary Lai, senior director of New Shepard’s design, said in a Blue Origin video about safety, posted online in April. “In most cases, you have a backup to the backup system.”

Logsdon described the New Shepard testing process as “very thorough” and “slow-paced.” He pointed out that the Space Shuttle’s very first flight had humans on board.

“Compared to the Space Shuttle Program, this is a far less risky undertaking,” Logsdon said.

Flying without spacesuits could add risk, but it may be safer if someone vomits

Ever since the Challenger disaster in 1986 – when the Space Shuttle broke apart during launch, killing all seven crew members – all NASA astronauts have worn pressurized spacesuits for launch and landing.

new shepard space capsule interior blue origin 03
A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

Spacesuits would not have saved those aboard Challenger, but they could save lives if a space capsule experiences a cabin leak yet remains intact.

Blue Origin’s website, however, indicates that New Shepard passengers will wear only a jumpsuit – not a pressurized spacesuit and helmet. According to CNN, there are oxygen masks in the capsule, much like on an airplane, in case the cabin becomes depressurized. The company hasn’t specified what Bezos or his companions will wear, however.

Both Nield and Logsdon said the chance of a cabin leak is very small. So the decision to wear a spacesuit or not depends mostly on the design of the capsule. If it has especially thick skin and strong windows, and if its systems can accommodate hiccups and technical errors without endangering the passengers, then flying without a spacesuit could be safe.

When it comes to flying tourists, it may even be better to skip the spacesuit, since first-time fliers often throw up during launch or landing.

“Especially if you are not a trained and experienced astronaut, wearing a spacesuit could be riskier if you got sick,” Nield said.

If you weren’t sufficiently trained to operate the spacesuit, you could choke on your own vomit.

A fully automated flight with no pilots isn’t necessarily a safety issue

blue origin new shepard crew capsule interior mockup
An interior view of Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

New Shepard conducts its flights autonomously.

“Its design does not allow anybody to do much flying,” Logsdon said.

That’s not necessarily more risky than a rocket that requires a pilot, as long as the passengers are properly trained on what to do in an emergency.

Still, this fully automated launch system is relatively new, and lots of things can go wrong during early flights. Rocket failures can often be traced back to small errors across all kinds of hardware and software. It is rocket science, after all.

“Until we get lots of experience, like we’ve had with millions of airplane flights over the years, then there’s going to be some learning involved. And we’re going to get some surprises along the way. And there’s going to be some more accidents or incidents in future years,” Nield said. “With cars and boats and planes and trains, people die every year. And spaceflight is not going to be any different when it comes to that.”

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on June 13, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch live as Jeff Bezos launches into space on Blue Origin’s first passenger flight

Jeff Bezos is seen speaking beside a photo of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifting off.
Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos, the richest person on Earth, is about to fly to the edge of space.

The billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin is preparing to ride a New Shepard rocket up to the Kármán line – an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where many experts say space begins. There, he’ll experience weightlessness and stunning views of Earth for about three minutes.

The Blue Origin launch system has flown successfully 15 times, but never with people on board. This will be its first passenger flight. The rocket is scheduled to lift off from Blue Origin’s launch site in Texas at around 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. ET) on Tuesday.

“To see the Earth from space, it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity,” Bezos said in an Instagram video announcing the launch. “I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”

Bezos won’t be flying solo. His brother Mark is set to join him, along with Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator who trained to go to space in the 1960s but was ultimately denied the opportunity because she was a woman. An as-yet-unidentified multimillionaire won an auction for the fourth seat, with the proceeds going to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.

Watch Jeff Bezos and his companions fly to the edge of space

blue origin new shepard
Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin employees celebrate the New Shepard rocket booster’s first landing.

According to Blue Origin, there won’t be any “public viewing areas” in the vicinity of the launch site, but the company will stream the spaceflight live on its website.

The broadcast is set to start at 6:30 a.m. CT (7:30 a.m. ET), about 90 minutes before liftoff. We will embed that video feed here once it’s available.

new shepard space capsule interior blue origin 03
A rendering of the final design for Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule.

If all goes according to plan, the New Shepard rocket will fire its engines to heave itself off the launchpad. As Bezos and his guests scream through the atmosphere, the force of the climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity – which will feel three times stronger than normal – will pin them to their seats.

After three minutes, the rocket booster should fall away from the capsule that holds the passengers. That capsule should continue arcing above the Earth, and Bezos and his companions will feel weightless.

They’ll have three minutes to unbuckle, float around the cabin, and savor the views of the planet curving below. Then gravity will pull the spaceship into a high-speed plunge back to Earth. Three parachutes should balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall, carrying the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert. A recovery crew will be waiting.

The entire flight should last 11 minutes.

Richard Branson launched to space first, but he didn’t pass the Kármán line

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane.

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic, flew aboard his company’s space plane on Sunday. Though Branson insists there’s no competition between him and Bezos, Virgin Galactic changed its launch schedule in a way that sent Branson to the edge of space before Bezos.

Blue Origin, for its part, maintains that Branson didn’t actually go to space because he only flew to about 55 miles above sea level.

“They’re not flying above the Kármán line and it’s a very different experience,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told The New York Times after Branson announced his flight.

virgin galactic space plane firing engines flying up
A still image from video shows Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane ascending to the edge of space with Richard Branson and his crew onboard, July 11, 2021.

Blue Origin went after Virgin Galactic more directly on Twitter two days before Branson’s launch, sharing a graphic comparing the company’s space plane unfavorably to Blue Origin’s rocket.

“From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” Blue Origin’s tweet said. “For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.”

The 4% the tweet refers to is the US. Both NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have awarded astronaut wings to pilots who flew past 50 miles.

Aylin Woodward contributed reporting.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Catch up on billionaire Richard Branson’s trip to space with these photos of what it’s like to fly with Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in flight
  • Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson flew to the edge of space on Sunday.
  • He joined a crew of three Virgin employees for the fourth flight of SpaceShipTwo above 50 miles.
  • Branson’s role was “mission specialist,” testing the passenger experience for future customers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, joined a crew of three employees and two pilots for the fourth high-altitude test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo space plane on Sunday.

He and three other Virgin Galactic employees served as a “mission specialist,” testing the passenger experience for future customers: Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, its lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research.

The company plans to start commercial tourist flights to the edge of space in 2022 and has already sold roughly 600 tickets worth about $250,000 each, plus another 1,000 on a waiting list for when sales reopen.

Here are 27 photos that capture what it was like.

Virgin Galactic flights depart from the company’s spaceport near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

A Virgin Galactic aircraft outside the spaceport

The luxurious, retro-futuristic departure lounge is the hub of Spaceport America.

The lounge at the Virgin Galactic spaceport

Branson chose to arrive for his flight by bicycle.

Richard Branson arrives by bicycle to Spaceport America

Branson posed with crew members Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla, and pilots Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and his crew at the spaceport

A star-themed walkway leads out to the tarmac.

A walkway at the Virgin Galactic spaceport

The team traveled in Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity.

The Virgin Galactic aircraft against a partly cloudy sky

Branson and the crew posed in front of the company’s SpaceShipTwo space plane.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and the astronauts before flight

Inside the cabin are six seats, each next to a 17-inch window.

The cabin of a Virgin Galactic spacecraft

Detailing on the headrests shows the evolution of flight.

Detailing on a seat in the Virgin Galactic spacecraft

Branson could be seen waving through the window of the spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson seen through the window of the spacecraft

VSS Unity took off with its carrier jet, VMS Eve, named for Branson’s mother.

Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity takes off with carrier jet

The VSS Unity spacecraft detached from the VMS Eve mothership…

The Virgin Galactic spacecraft detaching from the aircraft

… and fired its engines.

The rocket firing on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft

VSS Unity then began its ascent…

VSS Unity begins its ascent to the edge of space

… while VMS Eve turned away and VSS Unity continued its rise on its own.

Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity begins ascent

Once VSS Unity reached the apogee at around 300,000 feet, the engines cut out…

A Virgin Galactic spacecraft above the earth

… and the booms moved into position.

The Virgin Galactic spacecraft above earth

Branson took advantage of the zero G environment.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in flight

The floating experience lasted only a few minutes…

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in flight

… but the views were out of this world.

A Virgin Galactic astronaut looks out the window toward earth

There was still enough time for a few acrobatics…

A Virgin Galactic astronaut in flight

… and inversions…

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in flight

… and one last look before bucking back in.

A Virgin Galactic astronaut looks out the window toward earth

The VSS Unity craft returned to base…

VSS Unity lands after reaching the edge of space above Spaceport America

… and was towed back to the spaceport.

VSS Unity is towed after reaching the edge of space

Branson popped champagne after being declared an astronaut by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield following his flight…

Richard Branson sprays the crew with champagne after completing their flight

… and he got the wings to show it.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson wears his astronaut's wings
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Richard Branson and 3 crewmates flipped in zero-gravity and walked on the ceiling when Virgin Galactic’s plane reached the edge of space – take a look

Richard Branson and his crewmates flying in zero gravity in Virgin Galactic's spacecraft
Richard Branson floated in zero gravity in Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft.

  • Richard Branson became the first billionaire to reach the edge of space on Sunday.
  • Virgin Galactic’s space plane launched with Branson, three crew members, and two pilots.
  • They spent five minutes floating in zero gravity before the space plane descended back to Earth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Virgin Galactic blasted six people to the edge of space on Sunday.

The four crew members, including Richard Branson, being photographed after their trip to the edge of space
Virgin Galactic’s four crew members, including founder Richard Branson (far right), after their journey to the edge of space.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and five other people flew to the edge of space on Sunday morning, taking the company one step closer to launching tourists into space in 2022.

Branson was the mission specialist on the flight, which also took Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor, Colin Bennett, lead operations engineer, and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research, to the edge of space.

All four were standing in as passengers to test the spaceflight.

Two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, flew the space plane, called VVS Unity.

 

Richard Branson made a speech before he took off his seatbelt.

Richard Branson sat in Virgin Galactic's spaceship when it reached the edge of space
Richard Branson made a speech when VVS Unity reached the edge of space

“To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars,” Branson said in a speech when VVS Unity reached zero gravity.

“Now, I’m an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults, looking down to our beautiful, beautiful Earth,” he said.

“To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do,” he added. Branson then unfastened his seatbelt to join the other crew members floating around the spacecraft.

Branson and the crew unstrapped themselves from their seats when the space plane reached 55 miles above sea level.

Richard Branson and his crewmates flying in zero gravity in Virgin Galactic's spacecraft
Richard Branson floated in zero gravity in Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic‘s VSS Unity shut off its engines when it reached the edge of space, and drifted above the Earth.

At this point, the crew members experienced zero gravity. As soon as they unfastened their seatbelts, they began floating around the space plane. 

 

The crew members flipped upside down, walked on the ceiling, and did forward rolls in the spacecraft.

Richard Branson and his crewmates flying in zero gravity in Virgin Galactic's spacecraft
Richard Branson and his crewmates flying in zero gravity in Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft

Branson and the crew spent about five minutes floating around VVS Unity. They walked upside down and spun around with each other in zero gravity.

The space plane has 17 windows for the crew members to look out of and see the Earth below.

Richard Branson and other Virgin Galactic crew members float around in zero gravity in space plane
Richard Branson and other Virgin Galactic crew members float around in zero gravity

The crew members could see the curvature of the Earth below them as they floated around the spacecraft.

 

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A startup offering to take tourists to space in a ship lifted by an enormous balloon is selling tickets for $125,000 a ride

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

  • Space Perspective is building a balloon that will shuttle tourists to the “edge of space.”
  • Tickets for the luxury six-hour round trip journey start at $125,000.
  • The Spaceship Neptune will bring tourists above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Forget airplanes, cruises, and hotels. Space Perspective wants to take you on a $125,000 luxury trip to the “edge of space,” according to the company.

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

Space Perspective isn’t the only group working to shuttle humans above Earth: several companies are already looking to enter the emerging “space tourism” marketplace, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Source: Space Perspective

But don’t picture your typical NASA rocket ship.

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

Space Perspective sets itself apart from other companies with its balloon design, named Spaceship Neptune. And technically, the Spaceship Neptune will still stay inside the confines of our atmosphere (but more on that in a bit).

This balloon – which is as big as a football stadium – will then shuttle Spaceship Neptune passengers up 100,000 feet.

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

The balloon will accompany a pressurized and spacious cabin with reclining seats, creating a comfortable traveling experience for its passengers, according to the company.

Spaceship Neptune’s cabin will be built to accommodate up to eight passengers, not including the pilot, on a six-hour-long trip.

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

The journey starts at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center before sunrise so passengers can view the rising sun from above Earth, Nikki Ekstein reported for Bloomberg.

The journey will begin with a two-hour climb above 99% of the atmosphere.

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

Along this six-hour journey, passengers will have access to breakfast, drinks, a bathroom, livestream-capable WiFi, and anti-glare windows for photography, according to Bloomberg and Space Perspective.

From there, passengers will get two hours to take in the view – which includes a glimpse of Earth’s curvature – before beginning the two-hour descent back down to Earth’s water, where a ship will await to bring passengers back to shore, according to a diagram on Space Perspective’s website.

A Space Perspective balloon.
A Space Perspective balloon.

There will also be research equipment aboard the Spaceship Neptune.

Source: Space Perspective

Wannabe space tourists who want a break from Earth’s land can now reserve their chance to visit the edge of our planet in late 2024.

A view of Earth at sunrise from the Neptune One test flight
Images from Neptune One’s test flight on June 18, 2021.

Space Perspective previously offered private presale tickets, but they all sold out, according to the Bloomberg report.

Plus, you’ll be working with experienced hands.

Spaceship Neptune.
Spaceship Neptune.

The co-founders and CEOs of Space Perspective, Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, have worked on many space-related projects. This includes serving as “human spaceflight” technical advisors to Elon Musk, according to a press release.

Looking for proof of concept? The company’s Neptune One, an unmanned test vehicle, successfully launched from the Space Coast Spaceport, next to NASA’s Space Center, on June 18.

A view of Earth at sunrise from the Neptune One test flight
Images from Neptune One’s test flight on June 18, 2021.

The Neptune One also shuttled an art installation onboard, because why not.

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Jeff Bezos is trusting Blue Origin’s new rocket with his life. It’s flown 15 times, but he’ll have no pilot and possibly no spacesuit.

Jeff Bezos is seen speaking beside a photo of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifting off.
Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and two unnamed people – at least one of whom is a multimillionaire – are about to place their lives in the hands of Blue Origin’s rocket engineers.

Bezos, who founded the company in 2000, announced on Monday that he and his brother would be the first passengers on its New Shepherd rocket, along with the highest bidder for the third seat. The as yet unnamed winner of that auction bid $28 million on Saturday to go on the trip. (The money will go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.) A fourth person will join them as well.

The group will strap into a capsule on the top of the five-story rocket as early as July 20.

“Bezos is a risk-taker,” John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “He certainly understands that there are risks involved, and probably has a good handle on how risky it is.”

For the rest of us – who don’t have access to Blue Origin’s rocket design or risk calculations – it’s difficult to say just how much risk Bezos is taking. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. But a few key factors offer clues.

New Shepard has flown successfully before – 15 times – but never with humans onboard. The rocket has a good test-flight record, and it features an emergency system that can jettison the passenger capsule away from a failing rocket. Plus, the whole trip is only 11 minutes long.

At the same time, however, Bezos will fly with no pilot, and probably no spacesuit. And no matter how safe New Shepard is, spaceflight is always risky. About 1% of US human spaceflights have resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year.

“That’s pretty high. It’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner,” George Nield, a co-author of that report, told Insider. Nield formerly served as the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator and led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

“In order to learn how to do this safer, more reliably, and more cost effectively, many people believe we need to keep gaining experience by having more and more of these flights,” he added. “[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.”

Skimming the very edge of space lowers the risk

jeff bezos inside new shepard crew capsule
Jeff Bezos inside a New Shepard Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

If all goes according to plan on the day of Bezos’ flight, here’s what it’ll look like: The New Shepard rocket will fire its engines, spewing flame and smoke across the plains of West Texas. As it screams through the atmosphere, the force of the climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity – which will feel three times stronger than normal – will pin the Bezos brothers and their guests into their seats.

After three minutes, the rocket should separate from the capsule and fall back to Earth. The passengers will feel weightless as they clear the boundary of space.

The view from space on New Shepard's 15th flight, April 14, 2021.
The view from space on New Shepard’s 15th flight, April 14, 2021.

Bezos and his companions will have just three minutes in space. During that time, they can unbuckle and float around the cabin, drifting from one window to another to savor the views of Earth on one side of the spaceship and the blackness of space on the other.

As gravity takes hold again and the spaceship begins to fall back to Earth, Bezos and his co-passengers will strap in for a high-speed plunge. They will likely feel a significant jerk as three parachutes balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall.

The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin's Launch Site One in Texas on January 14.
The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

The parachutes should carry the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert, where a recovery crew will be waiting.

This type of flight is referred to as suborbital, since the capsule won’t enter orbit around Earth. Blue Origin designed and built New Shepard specifically to carry high-paying customers to the edge of space. The rocket is too small, and its engines don’t have enough thrust, to push itself into orbit.

But keeping the flight short and suborbital comes with pluses: There’s less chance that something will go wrong, and the vehicle is easier to control because its engines are smaller and the rocket is traveling slower than would be needed to reach orbit.

If Bezos’ flight goes well, the new launch system could look more attractive to future space tourists.

New Shepard is thoroughly tested and has an emergency-escape system

Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.
Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

The most nail-biting parts of this spaceflight will probably be when the engines burn for liftoff, when the rocket separates from the capsule, and when the parachutes deploy.

“You have a high-performance piece of machinery in the rocket engine that could break, come apart, do bad things,” Logsdon said.

New Shepard has executed all these maneuvers many times before – just not with people on board. It’s flown 15 times since 2015, with three successful tests of its emergency-escape system, which would jettison the capsule away from a failing rocket.

If a parachute fails to deploy, the capsule is designed to give more thrust to its downward-facing engines to help it land safely. If two chutes fail, a crushable “bumper” section on the bottom of the capsule should absorb the impact of landing.

“The capsule is the most highly redundant and safe spaceflight system, we think, that has ever been designed or flown,” Gary Lai, senior director of New Shepard’s design, said in a Blue Origin video about safety, posted online in April. “In most cases, you have a backup to the backup system.”

Logsdon described the New Shepard testing process as “very thorough” and “slow-paced.” He pointed out that the Space Shuttle’s very first flight had humans on board.

“Compared to the Space Shuttle Program, this is a far less risky undertaking,” Logsdon said.

Flying without spacesuits could add risk, but it may be safer if someone vomits

Ever since the Challenger disaster in 1986 – when the Space Shuttle broke apart during launch, killing all seven crew members – all NASA astronauts have worn pressurized spacesuits for launch and landing.

new shepard space capsule interior blue origin 03
A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

Spacesuits would not have saved those aboard Challenger, but they could save lives if a space capsule experiences a cabin leak yet remains intact.

Blue Origin’s website, however, indicates that New Shepard passengers will wear only a jumpsuit – not a pressurized spacesuit and helmet. According to CNN, there are oxygen masks in the capsule, much like on an airplane, in case the cabin becomes depressurized. The company hasn’t specified what Bezos or his companions will wear, however.

Both Nield and Logsdon said the chance of a cabin leak is very small. So the decision to wear a spacesuit or not depends mostly on the design of the capsule. If it has especially thick skin and strong windows, and if its systems can accommodate hiccups and technical errors without endangering the passengers, then flying without a spacesuit could be safe.

When it comes to flying tourists, it may even be better to skip the spacesuit, since first-time fliers often throw up during launch or landing.

“Especially if you are not a trained and experienced astronaut, wearing a spacesuit could be riskier if you got sick,” Nield said.

If you weren’t sufficiently trained to operate the spacesuit, you could choke on your own vomit.

A fully automated flight with no pilots isn’t necessarily a safety issue

blue origin new shepard crew capsule interior mockup
An interior view of Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

New Shepard conducts its flights autonomously.

“Its design does not allow anybody to do much flying,” Logsdon said.

That’s not necessarily more risky than a rocket that requires a pilot, as long as the passengers are properly trained on what to do in an emergency.

Still, this fully automated launch system is relatively new, and lots of things can go wrong during early flights. Rocket failures can often be traced back to small errors across all kinds of hardware and software. It is rocket science, after all.

“Until we get lots of experience, like we’ve had with millions of airplane flights over the years, then there’s going to be some learning involved. And we’re going to get some surprises along the way. And there’s going to be some more accidents or incidents in future years,” Nield said. “With cars and boats and planes and trains, people die every year. And spaceflight is not going to be any different when it comes to that.”

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