NASA video shows the cramped quarters where SpaceX’s 4 civilian passengers will live for 3 days

Inspiration4 passengers sit inside crew dragon spaceship seats wearing white spacesuits
The Inspiration4 crew sits inside a model Crew Dragon spaceship. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux.

SpaceX just launched four people, none of whom are professional astronauts, into Earth’s orbit.

Now that crew is set to circle the planet for three days aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship. The inside of the capsule will probably get cramped. With four seats, control displays, and storage, the four passengers will have about enough space to move around as they would inside a walk-in closet.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and called the mission Inspiration4. He gave the other three seats to Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin; and Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions.

In training for their mission, the Inspiration4 crew spent 30 hours inside the capsule together for a simulation at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. During that time, they were cramped in a very small space. Gravity holding them down only made it smaller.

“We’re literally sleeping right next to each other,” Proctor told Axios reporter Miriam Kramer. “You’re doing so many mental tasks and physical exertion that, even though it was not comfortable, I still fell asleep.”

Now that they’re in orbit, and they’re all floating in microgravity, they can take advantage of the vertical space inside the capsule too. But even then, it will be cramped. Just watch these four astronauts giving a tour of Crew Dragon, high above Earth, in November:

Those astronauts were only inside the spaceship for about one day. Their Crew Dragon docked with the International Space Station, where the astronauts lived and worked for six months before climbing back aboard the spaceship and returning to Earth.

But unlike those astronauts, the Inspiration4 crew will have a glass dome at the nose of their spaceship. Because they don’t need to dock to the space station, SpaceX replaced that docking port with this cupola. The passengers can stick their heads into the dome and get the full experience of drifting through space.

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass dome “cupola” at its nose.

Incidentally, that’s also where the spaceship’s toilet is.

“When people do inevitably have to use the bathroom, they’re going to have one hell of a view,” Isaacman told Insider in June.

This Crew Dragon will feel roomy compared to what SpaceX has in store. In the future, the company plans to launch as many as seven people aboard the spaceship.

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Boeing’s spaceship launch for NASA is seriously delayed as ‘disappointing’ technical issues send it back to the factory

rocket with starliner spaceship atop next to launch tower against blue skies
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft onboard is readied at the launchpad, July 29, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Boeing designed its Starliner spaceship to fly NASA astronauts. But nobody is getting aboard anytime soon.

The capsule was supposed to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the International Space Station (ISS) to show the space agency that it’s ready to carry people. That was scheduled for August 3, but Boeing had to scrub the launch when it discovered that 13 valves on the spaceship’s propulsion system weren’t opening as they were supposed to.

Boeing engineers then spent 10 days working on the spaceship at NASA’s hangar in Cape Canaveral, Florida, but four of the valves still won’t open and they aren’t sure why. On Friday, the company announced that it will move Starliner back to its nearby factory for further troubleshooting, delaying the launch indefinitely.

technicians roll boeing starliner spaceship down hallway
Boeing carries out launch preparations with the Starliner spacecraft at its factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, November 2, 2019.

“This is obviously a disappointing day,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press conference on Friday. “But I want to emphasize that this is another example of why these demo missions are so very important to us. We use these demo missions to make sure we have the system wrung out, before we put our crews on these vehicles.”

The uncrewed, automated flight is a critical part of NASA’s certification process, and the last step before flying astronauts. Boeing has attempted this part of the process once before, in December 2019, but a software error caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel too soon after launch. That meant it didn’t have enough propellant to reach the ISS and return home, so Boeing commanded the spaceship to parachute back down to Earth.

It took 18 months to investigate and fix that error and prepare for another attempt. But given the current issues, Starliner will not have another opportunity to launch to the ISS until later this fall. That’s because NASA’s Lucy mission, which is traveling to a group of Jupiter-trailing asteroids, lifts off in October or early November.

“Although we will not be launching in August, it’s not for a lack of trying,” John Vollmer, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for Starliner, said in the press conference. “This will ultimately give us a much safer vehicle in the long run.”

Leaking propellant may have corroded the valves that are stuck

two engineers wearing harnesses with bungee lines work on starliner spaceship atop rocket
Boeing engineers continue work on the Starliner propulsion system valves at vertical integration facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Starliner was sitting secured to the top of an Atlas V rocket, ready to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, when electrical storms prompted Boeing engineers to investigate the spaceship’s health. That’s when they discovered that 13 of the 24 valves on the propulsion system’s oxidizer tank were not opening, but it wasn’t because of the storms.

Even if Boeing hadn’t noticed this ahead of time, Starliner wouldn’t have been able to launch without opening those valves, Vollmer said. Having an issue with 13 of them is “significant,” he added.

“These are the kinds of things you want to find on the ground,” Lueders said.

She added that it “would not have been good” if the valves had operated normally during launch and then not opened once Starliner reached the ISS.

These are the same valves that Starliner used during its 2019 flight, when they performed as expected.

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

Boeing is not sure what caused the new issue. But Vollmer said the most likely explanation has to do with nitrogen tetroxide: the substance inside the oxidizer tank, which mixes with the rocket’s fuel to ignite and propel it forward. It might have escaped the tank and started seeping through the valve’s seals. Once nitrogen tetroxide interacts with moisture from the air, it creates nitric acid, which could then corrode the valves.

That’s a “common phenomenon” with these types of valves, according to Steve Stich, who manages the NASA program that funded Starliner’s development.

“It’s a problem we had to deal with in the Space Shuttle Program,” Stich said in the press conference. “It’s pretty standard across the industry to deal with the oxidizer vapor on these cells.”

It’s not yet clear whether Boeing will need to replace the valves or redesign part of its spaceship.

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Watch Boeing launch its spaceship on a do-over flight to prove it can transport astronauts for NASA

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp illustration rendering launch orbit landing 4
A computer rendering of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

Boeing’s Starliner spaceship will attempt to redeem itself this week, after botching its last major test flight.

The company’s eventual goal is to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the way SpaceX already does. Both companies developed their launch systems through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to private companies in order to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

But before carrying people, the Starliner has to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the ISS as part of NASA’s certification process. Boeing first attempted this flight in December 2019, but it turned out that one of the spaceship’s clocks was set 11 hours ahead of schedule. The clock prompted the spaceship’s engines to fire too vigorously, too early – a move meant to come at a later stage of the mission.

That caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel, forcing Boeing to skip docking with the space station in order to save the Starliner from total failure.

Now, the company is confident that it has fixed the problems with its spaceship, so it’s time for the do-over.

“Now’s the right time. This team is ready to go, this vehicle is ready to go,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press briefing last week.

Watch Starliner launch live

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp orbital flight test oft launch pad cape canaveral launch 6NHQ201912200021_orig
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41 on December 20, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, is set to launch on Tuesday at 1:20 p.m. ET. Starliner will blast off atop an Atlas V rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA plans to broadcast the whole thing, below, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

If all goes according to plan, the Atlas V booster should fall away after about four minutes. That leaves the rocket’s upper stage to give Starliner one final push into Earth’s orbit before it, too, separates from the capsule. Starliner should orbit Earth alone overnight, slowly lining itself up to meet the ISS the next day.

“That’s the part of this flight that, to me, is so critical: docking with station and then also, on the back end as well, going through that whole undock sequence,” Steve Stich, who manages NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a briefing.

If the spaceship successfully latches onto a port on the ISS, astronauts on the station will then open its hatch and unload its cargo – science equipment and supplies. After that, the Starliner is scheduled to stay docked to the ISS to test out its systems and its endurance in space, until it returns to Earth a few days later.

The launch was originally set for Friday afternoon, but had to be delayed after a mishap on the ISS. Russia’s new module, Nauka, fired its engines unexpectedly after docking to the station on Thursday, which rotated the ISS 45 degrees. Flight controllers regained control about an hour later.

“We wanted to make sure we had some breathing room to fully assess the situation on station before adding another vehicle,” Lueders said in a briefing on Thursday.

Boeing’s investigation into the failed flight revealed further problems

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

During Boeing’s test flight in 2019, the early engine fire prompted the company’s engineers to quickly review the spacecraft’s software while Starliner was orbiting Earth. In doing so, they discovered and patched another issue – not the clock error – that could have been catastrophic.

As Starliner prepares to fall back to Earth, it’s supposed to shed its service module – a cylinder containing the spaceship’s main engines. That part is meant to fall away from the crew module, which holds the astronauts.

But this second software error could have led the service module to bounce back and crash into the crew module. That could have sent the astronauts’ capsule tumbling or significantly damaged its protective heat shield, making it unsafe to plow through the atmosphere.

The discovery of this issue prompted a NASA investigation into Boeing’s coding and overall safety culture. NASA administrators at the time said the software issue was likely a symptom of larger problems at the company. But now, Stich said, “Boeing has an excellent safety culture.”

Boeing has fixed both issues and changed some of the spaceship’s communications software.

“There’s always a little bit of that trepidation in you,” Stich said. “This is spaceflight. The Atlas is a great vehicle. Starliner is a great vehicle. But we know how hard it is, and it’s a test flight as well. And I fully expect we’ll learn something on this test flight.”

Why NASA needs Boeing

Assuming Starliner can make it to the ISS and back without major issues, its next step will be to do that again with astronauts onboard – a crewed test flight. If everything goes smoothly, that flight could launch by the end of this year, Stich said.

boeing starliner space capsule lowered on cables to rocket
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stacked atop an Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021.

NASA is relying on both Boeing and SpaceX to replace the government-developed Space Shuttle, which stopped flying in 2011. After that, NASA relied solely on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS. Then SpaceX’s Crew Dragon passed the agency’s tests, flying its first astronauts to the ISS last year. SpaceX has flown two full crews since then.

NASA hopes to add Starliner to its fleet soon so that the agency is no longer reliant on just one launch system.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on July 28, 2021.

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Boeing will once again try to fly its spaceship to the space station for NASA on Friday, after failing its first attempt

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp illustration rendering launch orbit landing 4
A computer rendering of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

On Friday, Boeing’s Starliner spaceship will attempt to redeem itself after botching its last major test flight.

The company’s eventual goal is to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the way SpaceX already does. Both companies developed their launch systems through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to private companies in order to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

But before carrying people, the Starliner has to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the ISS as part of NASA’s certification process. Boeing first attempted this flight in December 2019, but it turned out that one of the spaceship’s clocks was set 11 hours ahead of schedule. That prompted the spaceship to fire its engines too vigorously, too early – a move meant to come at a later stage of the mission. That caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel, forcing Boeing to skip docking with the space station in order to save the Starliner from total failure.

Now, the company is confident that it has fixed the problems with its spaceship, so it’s time for the do-over.

“Now’s the right time. This team is ready to go, this vehicle is ready to go,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Boeing must show NASA its spaceship can reach the space station

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp orbital flight test oft launch pad cape canaveral launch 6NHQ201912200021_orig
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41 on December 20, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Starliner is set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket at 2:53 p.m. ET on Friday – assuming thunderstorms don’t force a delay. The mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, will send the rocket and capsule roaring into the skies above NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If all goes according to plan, the Atlas V booster should fall away after about four minutes. That would leave the rocket’s upper stage to give Starliner one final push into Earth’s orbit before it, too, separates from the capsule. Starliner should orbit Earth alone overnight, slowly lining itself up to meet the ISS the next day.

“That’s the part of this flight that, to me, is so critical: docking with station and then also, on the back end as well, going through that whole undock sequence,” Steve Stich, who manages NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a briefing on Tuesday.

If the spaceship successfully latches onto a port on the ISS, astronauts on the station will then open its hatch and unload its cargo – science equipment and supplies. After that, the Starliner is scheduled to stay docked to the ISS to test out its systems and its endurance in space, until it returns to Earth on August 5.

Boeing’s investigation into the failed flight revealed further problems

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

During Boeing’s test flight in 2019, the early engine fire prompted the company’s engineers to quickly review the spacecraft’s software while Starliner was orbiting Earth. In doing so, they discovered and patched another issue – not the clock error – that could have been catastrophic.

As Starliner prepares to fall back to Earth, it’s supposed to shed its service module – a cylinder containing the spaceship’s main engines. That part is supposed to fall away from the crew module, which holds the astronauts.

But this second software error could have caused the service module to bounce back and crash into the crew module. That could have sent the astronauts’ capsule tumbling or significantly damaged its protective heat shield, making it unsafe to plow through the atmosphere.

The discovery of this issue prompted a NASA investigation into Boeing’s coding and overall safety culture. NASA administrators at the time said the software issue was likely a symptom of larger problems at the company. But now, Stich said, “Boeing has an excellent safety culture.”

As a result of NASA’s investigations, Boeing fixed both issues and changed some of the spaceship’s communications software.

“There’s always a little bit of that trepidation in you,” Stich said. “This is spaceflight. The Atlas is a great vehicle. Starliner is a great vehicle. But we know how hard it is, and it’s a test flight as well. And I fully expect we’ll learn something on this test flight.”

Why NASA needs Boeing

Assuming Starliner can make it to the ISS and back without major issues, its next step will be to do it again with astronauts onboard – a crewed test flight. If everything goes smoothly, that flight could launch by the end of this year, Stich said.

boeing starliner space capsule lowered on cables to rocket
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stacked atop an Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021.

NASA is relying on both Boeing and SpaceX to replace the government-developed Space Shuttle, which stopped flying in 2011.

After the Space Shuttles were retired, NASA relied solely on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS. Then SpaceX’s Crew Dragon passed the agency’s tests, flying its first astronauts to the ISS last year. SpaceX has flown two full crews since then. NASA hopes to add Starliner to its fleet soon so that the agency is no longer reliant on just one launch system.

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Warren Buffett won’t be following Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson into space – he ruled out a rocket trip 25 years ago

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett.

  • Warren Buffett won’t be following Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson into space.
  • The investor once said he admired space explorers but had no desire to board a rocket himself.
  • Buffett joked he would charge less to insure Elon Musk’s Mars mission if Musk was on board.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin’s Richard Branson blasted themselves into space this month, while SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s grand vision is colonizing Mars. Warren Buffett doesn’t share his fellow billionaires’ passion for interstellar travel – he ruled out leaving Earth 25 years ago.

Buffett – who made his fortune investing in staid companies like Coca-Cola and Gillette – takes the same approach to fast-changing businesses and industries as he does to extraterrestrial voyages, he said in his 1996 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

“As investors, our reaction to a fermenting industry is much like our attitude toward space exploration: We applaud the endeavor but prefer to skip the ride,” Buffett said.

The 90-year-old investor clearly has zero interest in planning a trip to space. However, he found it a useful analogy to underscore the problem of a ballooning global population on a planet with limited resources during Berkshire’s shareholder meeting in 2002.

“If you were going to go on a spaceship for a hundred years and you knew in the back of the spaceship there were a lot of provisions, but you didn’t know exactly how much – in terms of filling the front of the spaceship with a given number of people, you would probably err on the low side,” Buffett said.

The Berkshire chief argued that if the exact amount of provisions and the precise timing of the spaceship’s return were unclear, it would make sense to be conservative with passenger numbers and reduce the risk of mass starvation.

“We are in a vehicle called Earth,” Buffett continued. “We don’t know its carrying capacity. We have learned that it’s a lot larger than might have been thought by Malthus or somebody a few hundred years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s infinite at all.”

Buffett returned to the subject of space at Berkshire’s annual meeting this year. When an audience member asked if Berkshire would insure Musk’s mission to Mars, the investor quipped that he would charge a lower premium if the Tesla CEO was on the spaceship.

“I would probably have a somewhat different rate if Elon was on board or not on board,” he said. “It makes a difference. If somebody is asking you to insure something, that’s called getting skin in the game.”

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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.

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Meet the crew: Jeff Bezos is launching to the edge of space with his brother, an 82-year-old aviator, and a Dutch teen

Jeff Bezos
Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.

The richest person on Earth is about to rocket to the edge of space, but he won’t be doing it alone.

Jeff Bezos, who founded the spaceflight company Blue Origin in 2000, is set to take its New Shepard rocket for a ride next week. He’s taking three others with him: his brother Mark, an 82-year-old aviator named Wally Funk, and an 18-year-old high school graduate named Oliver Daemen.

If all goes according to plan, that motley crew will lift off from Blue Origin’s West Texas launchpad at around 9 a.m. ET on Tuesday. The New Shepard rocket will scream through the atmosphere, pressing the passengers into their seats, before releasing the passenger capsule and allowing it to arc past the edge of space.

For about three minutes, Bezos and his companions will feel weightless. They’ll be able to float around the spaceship’s cabin, admiring the Earth’s curvature below them, before gravity begins to pull them back down. After a high-speed plunge through the atmosphere, the capsule should release three parachutes and drift safely to the Texas desert.

New Shepard has flown 15 times, but never with humans on board. This will be Blue Origin’s first passenger flight. Here’s what we know about the soon-to-be space tourists.

Mark Bezos is Jeff Bezos’ younger brother

Jeff Bezos Mark Bezos
Mark and Jeff Bezos in 2017.

When Jeff Bezos announced that he would be heading to space, he also revealed that he invited his younger brother, Mark. In a video posted to Instagram, Bezos said that he asked his brother to come along “because we’re closest friends.”

Mark, who is six years Jeff’s junior, is a former marketing executive and volunteer firefighter. He’s been involved in the Bezos Family Foundation for over 20 years, and was also an early investor in Amazon, likely making him a millionaire several times over.

Jeff has described his brother as the “funniest guy in my life” and said that when they’re together – often drinking bourbon – “I just laugh continuously.”

Wally Funk is an 82-year-old aviator who trained to go to space in the 1960s

Aviator Wally Funk gives a thumbs up surrounded by other hopeful space tourists
Wally Funk at a Virgin Galactic event in 2010.

Bezos announced earlier this month that Funk would be Blue Origin’s “honored guest” on its upcoming flight.

In 1961, Funk joined an all-woman space mission dubbed “Mercury 13.” But the program was ultimately scrapped – seemingly for sexist reasons – and Funk never made it to space. Funk later embarked on a long career in flight and says she has taught over 3,000 people to fly.

“No one has waited longer,” Bezos wrote in an Instagram post announcing that Funk was joining the mission. “It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally.”

Oliver Daemen is an 18-year-old soon-to-be college student from the Netherlands

Oliver Daeman smiling in front of water and mountain
Oliver Daemen.

Daemen will be Blue Origin’s first paying customer – he bid for the seat at an auction last month, ultimately losing out to an anonymous bidder who paid $28 million for the opportunity. But Daemen is flying in that passenger’s place after “scheduling conflicts” arose, Blue Origin said in a blog post on Thursday.

Daemen’s father, Joes Daemen, the CEO of real estate private equity firm Somerset Capital Partners, paid for the seat, according to CNBC.

Daemen graduated from high school in 2020, took a gap year to obtain his pilots license, and will attend college for physics and innovation management this fall.

Daemen will be the youngest person ever to go to space, while Funk will be the oldest.

“I’ve been dreaming about this all my life,” Daemen said in a video posted to Twitter. “I am super excited to experience zero-g and see the world from above.”

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Billionaire Richard Branson aims to fly to the edge of space as early as July 11, narrowly beating Jeff Bezos

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Jeff Bezos (left) and Richard Branson (right) may be in a very tight space race.

After weeks of flying rumors, Richard Branson has finally confirmed that he’s aiming to reach the edge of space before Jeff Bezos.

The two billionaires both founded their own spaceflight companies – Bezos started Blue Origin in 2000 and Branson created Virgin Galactic in 2004 – with the ultimate dream of getting to space themselves. Their personal space race might end next weekend.

That’s because Virgin Galactic announced Thursday that it’s planning to launch Branson aboard its next test flight, as early as July 11. Bezos won’t be climbing aboard his company’s New Shepard rocket until July 20.

“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars,” Branson said on Twitter. “On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight.”

richard branson with spaceshiptwo space plane
Richard Branson poses with the SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger two-pilot vehicle meant to ferry people into space, in Mojave, California, February 19, 2016.

Branson will fly as a mission specialist – an employee playing the role of a future passenger. He’ll be joined by three other mission specialists: Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research.

Pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will ferry the four mission specialists to the edge of space aboard the company’s VSS Unity vehicle – one of its SpaceShipTwo space planes. This will be Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight, though the company has flown humans to the edge of space three times now.

Racing to the edge of space

VSS Unity on its May test flight.
VSS Unity after detaching from its mothership during a May 22 test flight.

There’s some debate about where space begins. Both Branson and Bezos will be flying in a grey area. Neither will enter orbit around the Earth – making these flights “suborbital.”

Bezos’s spaceship should take him just above the Kármán line – an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where some people say space begins. He’ll experience three minutes of weightlessness, then descend back to the ground.

blue origin new shepard rocket launch
A New Shepard rocket lifts off from Blue Origin’s West Texas launchpad.

Virgin Galactic has not shared the planned altitude for Branson’s flight, but the VSS Unity has never flown past the Kármán line. Its most recent crewed test flight, in May, soared 55 miles high.

Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin ultimately aim to ferry paying customers to these suborbital heights.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a statement. “As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

In its press release, Virgin Galactic said it would share a global livestream of next weekend’s flight.

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