A Virgin Galactic ticket holder who met Blue Origin passenger Wally Funk at parties said the 82-year-old had ‘the energy of 6,000 labradors’

Blue Origin astronaut Wally Funk makes a speech after the launch.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew member Wally Funk speaks during a press conference after flying into space in the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas.

  • A Virgin Galactic ticket holder told Insider that Wally Funk was very “understated” and energetic.
  • Caroline Freeland, who is training for her spaceflight, said she met Funk at parties and talks.
  • Freeland said she also met Richard Branson, who she described as a “lovely chap.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Wally Funk, who flew to space with Jeff Bezos on Tuesday, bounces around and has endless amounts of energy.

That’s according to Virgin Galactic ticket holder, Caroline Freeland, who told Insider that she has met the 82-year-old on several occasions.

After buying her $250,000 ticket for a trip to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceship, Freeland, 58, was invited to former astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s 49th and 50th anniversary parties.

Picture of Virgin Galactic ticket holder next to Wally Funk
Virgin Galactic ticket holder, Caroline Freeland, standing next to Wally Funk.

The three-day celebrations in Cape Canaveral allowed Freeland to get to know many well-known astronauts, including Funk, who is the oldest person to travel into space.

Freeland, who has already completed some training for her spaceflight with Virgin Galactic, described Funk as “very understated … engaging, easy, charming, happy, and fun.”

The recent Blue Origin astronaut “really bounces around … she has the energy of 6,000 labradors,” Freeland said.

Aviator Wally Funk behind a control panel
Wally Funk behind a control panel.

Funk was part of a group of female aviators called Mercury 13 in anticipation of flying to space in the 1960s but she never got the chance to go. Bezos asked Funk to join him, his brother, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen on a trip to space in Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Funk also traveled to London and gave a speech about her experience in the space industry to 10 to 15 Virgin Galactic ticket holders, which Freeland said she attended.

Freeland said that these meetups were “one of the wonderful things about this whole journey to becoming a future astronaut.”

The ticket holder and future astronaut said she’s also met Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, who she described as a “lovely chap.” Branson beat Bezos to space by nine days when Virgin Galactic flew its first crewed mission 55 miles above Earth.

Freeland, who is London-based, said she also met former NASA astronaut, Mike Massimino, at the parties.

Read the original article on Business Insider

You won’t go to space any time soon, no matter what the billionaires say

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson

  • This month, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson went on suborbital space flights with their respective companies.
  • The billionaires say they plan to make space tourism mainstream, but the trips came with hefty price tags.
  • Space law experts say the prices aren’t the only thing that will stop the average person from going on a space tour.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have drawn public attention to space tourism after they traveled to the edge of space this month, but it’s unlikely the average person will get to visit space in the foreseeable future.

It is likely that space tourism will be a hobby solely reserved for billionaires and centi-millionaires for many years to come.

Ticket prices for suborbital tours on Branson’s Virgin Galactic are selling for around $250,000 per person. To date, about 600 people have reserved tickets to fly with the company to the edge of space.

While Bezos’ Blue Origin has yet to release its ticket prices, the Amazon founder has indicated that the tickets will be competitive with Branson’s company. The first available ticket on Bezos’ flight sold for $28 million at auction and the entire 10 minute trip on Tuesday cost the billionaire about $5.5 billion out-of-pocket. The same day, the company said it had sold about $100 million worth of tickets for future passengers to ride on the 4-person aircraft.

Bezos said he plans to launch future flights at a “very high” rate going forward. “We need to get as good at running space tours as we are as a civilization at running commercial airliners,” he said.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that he believes the cost of going to space, in particular visiting Mars (a trip that would cost about $10 billion per person using current technology), will one day be equivalent to the cost of buying a house.

But, the truth is current technology is too expensive for the average person to be able to afford a seat on one of Bezos, Branson or Musk’s rockets. Though Bezos and Musk have been progressively working to make space travel more affordable through the development of reusable rockets, the industry is still in its beginning stages.

Space law experts told Insider that even outside of the sheer cost of space tourism there are several hurdles the companies must overcome before space tourism can become a viable industry for everyday people. These include creating standard regulations akin to the policies that guard airplanes, as well as developing strategies to better manage air travel and pollution from the flights.

People who ride with Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic “are not astronauts or passengers, legally speaking,” the director of McGill’s Institute of Air and Space Law, Ram Jakhu told Insider. “They are called spaceflight participants, which means they are essentially people participating in an experiment with a massive risk.”

As it stands, individuals that currently purchase space tourism tickets must sign an informed consent document releasing companies from liability if the ticket-holders are injured or killed.

Spokespeople from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic did not respond to a request for comment, but Jakhu and Frans Von der Dunk, a professor of Space Law at University of Nebraska-Lincoln told Insider the risk would likely deter the general public, even if the hefty price tag had not already narrowed the field of participants.

What’s more the flights themselves would also have to be more persuasive for tourists.

“Right now, these flights are just a sophisticated form of bungee jumping,” Von der Dunk said.

On Tuesday, one of Blue Origin’s flight participants, Wally Funk, expressed discontent with the trip, saying it was crowded.

“I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough,” Funk said in a presser after the flight.

Branson’s flight received similar criticism after the Virgin Galactic flight only went 85 kilometers high, slightly lower than Bezos’ flight.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch Jeff Bezos throw Skittles to companion Oliver Daemon in space: ‘See if you can catch this in your mouth’

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.

Some astronauts bring chocolate to space. Jeff Bezos brought Skittles.

The billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin played a game of catch with spaceflight companion Oliver Daemon during their brief jaunt in zero gravity on Tuesday.

“Who wants a Skittle?” Bezos asked. He then turned Daemon, the 18-year-old son of a private-equity executive: “See if you can catch this in your mouth.”

Daemon caught the Skittle while floating upside down.

“Yeah! Well done!” Bezos said. “Here, toss me one.”

The exchange occurs about 35 minutes and 30 seconds into the video below:

The Skittles Twitter account appreciated the highlight. “We are honored to have heard SKITTLES were aboard #BlueOrigin @JeffBezos is it true #SKITTLES taste better in space?” the company tweeted.

Read more: As Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson blast off, here are 11 of the most exciting space startups according to VCs

Bezos and his companions took off for the edge of space at 8:12 a.m. CT on Tuesday from Blue Origin’s launch site in Texas.

Along with Daemon, Bezos was joined by his brother, Mark, and 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk, who trained to go to space in the 1960s but was ultimately denied the opportunity because she was a woman. Funk is now the oldest person to reach space. Daemon is the youngest.

The crew 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.

The entire voyage lasted just over 10 minutes, but the crew was only weightless for three minutes. During that time, they unbuckled, floated around the cabin, and tossed around orange ping pong balls and candy. Then they briefly took in the bird’s-eye views of Earth.

“It felt way cooler than it looked,” Daemen said after watching the video footage.

“Everyone on the ground was way more emotional than we were,” he added. “We were just having fun.”

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.

Tuesday marked New Shepard’s first passenger flight. (The rocket has successfully flown 15 times without people on board.) But Bezos isn’t the first billionaire to fly his company’s rocket to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson completed a similar suborbital flight aboard a reusable, winged rocket called SpaceShipTwo on July 11. That journey lasted 90 minutes.

Blue Origin has argued that Branson didn’t go to space, since he only flew to about 55 miles above sea level and did not pass the Kármán line. But both NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have awarded astronaut wings to pilots who flew past 50 miles.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Wally Funk may have finally achieved her lifelong goal of visiting space, but she still plans to take the Virgin Galactic trip she paid $200,000 for over a decade ago

Wally Funk and Richard Branson
Wally Funk, left, and Richard Branson.

  • Wally Funk is an 82-year-old aviator and was a passenger on Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight.
  • In 2010, she put a $200,000 deposit on a future Virgin Galactic flight.
  • “At this point, yes, Wally is planning to fly with Virgin Galactic too,” Funk’s agent told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Wally Funk has finally achieved her lifelong dream of heading to space – but it seems the trip with Blue Origin won’t be her last.

Funk is an 82-year-old aviator who was invited by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to be an “honored guest” on his spaceflight on Tuesday. But over a decade ago, Funk paid $200,000 for a future ride on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital plane, according to The Guardian – and it seems she has no intention of giving up her seat.

“At this point, yes, Wally is planning to fly with Virgin Galactic too,” Funk’s agent, Loretta Hall, told Insider in an email last week.

Virgin Galactic told Insider that the company didn’t comment on “the identities of Future Astronauts.” Blue Origin did not respond to a request for comment on Funk’s plans.

Read more: The space race between Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson isn’t about saving Earth – it’s a PR stunt by billionaires trying to pretend they care about the rest of us

‘No one has waited longer’

Earlier this month, Bezos announced Funk would join him, his younger brother Mark, and a third passenger on their 11-minute trip to space. (The other passenger was later revealed to be 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, who replaced the winning bidder in an auction for the seat after that passenger had “scheduling conflicts.”)

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

A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos)

In 1961, Funk joined an all-woman space mission dubbed “Mercury 13.” She embarked on an extensive series of tests and trainings, which she aced – she told Texas Monthly that the researchers told her she had performed better than any other astronaut in the program, man or woman.

But the program was ultimately scrapped, and Funk never made it to space. In 1962, two of the women from the program testified before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics that they were being denied the opportunity simply because they were women.

Funk later embarked on a long career in flight, becoming the first female safety inspector at the Federal Aviation Administration and working with the National Transportation Safety Board, according to Texas Monthly.

In a video posted on Bezos’ Instagram account, Funk said she had taught over 3,000 people to fly.

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic

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

Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft lifted off shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

The flight took Bezos and company 62 miles above Earth to the edge of space. Inside the spacecraft, Bezos and his fellow passengers had roughly three minutes to float around and view Earth from afar or gaze into the depths of outer space.

While Blue Origin’s mission was a major milestone – it’s the first time the company has sent human passengers into space – it was slightly eclipsed by Virgin Galactic and its billionaire founder, Richard Branson.

Earlier this month, Branson and three crewmates flew 55 miles above Earth aboard Virgin’s space plane, floated in zero gravity for about five minutes, and returned safely to Earth.

Branson’s flight – which beat Bezos’ by nine days, a fact Branson called “an incredible, wonderful coincidence” – seemed to rankle Blue Origin, which said the flight wouldn’t go high enough to truly count.

Still, Virgin plans to start offering suborbital flights to space tourists next year, and has already sold 600 tickets to hopeful space tourists, including SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk – and, of course, Funk.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Jeff Bezos just launched to the edge of space. Here’s how Blue Origin’s plans stack up to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

Elon Musk (left), Jeff Bezos (center), and Richard Branson.
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson.

  • Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson all have ventures dedicated to space travel.
  • Each billionaire has his own vision for humanity’s future in space.
  • Bezos on Tuesday launched to the edge of space, becoming the second of the three to do so.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX may be the buzziest name in private space exploration, but the Tesla CEO isn’t the only superrich entrepreneur with grand visions for humanity’s future beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

The Amazon founder and fellow centi-billionaire, Jeff Bezos, has his own space firm – Blue Origin. He flew on the company’s human flight to the edge of space on Tuesday, launching 62 miles above the Earth’s surface aboard its New Shepard rocket.

Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group dabbles in everything from airlines to healthcare, launched a commercial-spaceflight company of his own called Virgin Galactic. Earlier this month, he launched 53.5 skyward on one of the company’s rocket-powered planes, fulfilling a decades-long dream of traveling to space.

These three companies were all founded within a few years of one another in the early 2000s, but each has its own business model and plans for a space-faring future.

Here’s what Musk, Bezos, and Branson are each trying to accomplish, and where their efforts stand today.

Elon Musk

Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, years before becoming Tesla’s outspoken CEO and cementing himself as a regular fixture in the Twittersphere.

The company grew out of an idea Musk had to send a spacecraft called the “Mars Oasis” to the red planet. The vehicle would deliver an experimental greenhouse and equipment for taking photos of the planet and sending them back to Earth. Musk hoped the project would spark a renewed interest in getting to Mars within the US government.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking off at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

He pledged $20 million to fund the mission – and attempted to purchase some refurbished intercontinental ballistic missiles from Russia to no avail – but discovered that the project was way out of his budget. He founded SpaceX to develop reusable rockets that would lower the cost of blasting people and things into space.

That’s what the Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has spent the better part of the past two decades trying to achieve, and it’s made some great strides.

SpaceX launch in Texas
SpaceX launching its first super-heavy-lift Starship SN8 rocket during a test from its facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on December 9.

It has completed numerous launches for commercial and government customers, and in 2012 it became the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. In 2020 it became the first to send humans to space and to the ISS. And in April NASA picked the company to land the first astronauts on the Moon since 1972.

SpaceX is also working on a broadband-internet service consisting of thousands of satellites, called Starlink. The service hopes to deliver high-speed internet to remote and rural areas, and SpaceX recently said it had more than 500,000 orders and deposits.

SpaceX Starship.JPG
A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft at the company’s facility in Boca Chica.

Ultimately, Musk thinks humanity’s future hinges on its ability to settle Mars. He said in 2020 that he wanted to establish a city of 1 million people on Mars by 2050. Settlers would get there using a fleet of 1,000 SpaceX Starships – the towering, 387-foot-tall rocket ship the company is designing for deep-space travel.

Jeff Bezos

Like Musk, the Amazon billionaire Bezos’ fascination with space travel stretches back decades. He’s been particularly taken with the physicist Gerard O’Neill’s visions of floating space stations that could house trillions of humans once Earth runs out of resources.

To indulge his obsession, Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 with a similar goal as Musk’s venture: Make space exploration cheaper through boosters that can be recycled for future launches. The Kent, Washington-based company operated in total secrecy until about 2003, and Bezos stayed tight-lipped about its plans for more than a decade after that.

new shepard reusable rocket launch 2016 blue origin
Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launching toward space in 2016.

For years now, the company has been testing a suborbital rocket called New Shepard, built to take paying tourists to the edge of space in a pressurized capsule. The idea is that on a Blue Origin flight, space tourists will be able to catch a glimpse of Earth through large windows and experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

Blue Origin completed its first human flight aboard New Shepard on Tuesday when it launched Bezos, his brother Mark, legendary aviator Wally Funk, and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen more than 350,000 feet up. Daemen, whose father paid millions for his son’s ticket to space, was able to join the flight after the winner of an auction backed out due to scheduling conflicts.

Read more: A private astronaut explains why his next flight – likely with Tom Cruise – is ‘setting the bar for commercial human spaceflight forever’

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Jeff Bezos wrote in an Instagram post. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

new shepard space capsule interior blue origin 01
A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

The company is also developing a larger rocket called New Glenn for delivering payloads to low orbit, along with a secretive future project called New Armstrong. If you’re sensing a pattern here, you’re right – Blue Origin’s launch vehicles are all named for former NASA astronauts.

In 2019, Bezos revealed plans for a lunar lander called Blue Moon, which the company said would be ready in 2024 and would eventually help establish a “sustained human presence” on the moon. Blue Origin bid for a contract to land NASA astronauts on the moon and was beat out by SpaceX – but the company is disputing the decision.

jeff bezos blue origin blue moon
Blue Origin unveiled a lunar lander, but it lost to SpaceX for a contract to take NASA astronauts to the moon.

When Bezos announced plans to step down as Amazon’s CEO in 2021, he said he planned to dedicate more time to his other ventures, including Blue Origin. And in a 2018 interview with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, Bezos called the rocket company his “most important work.”

Richard Branson

Branson’s space venture differs from Blue Origin and SpaceX in a couple of key ways. Virgin Galactic is focused on suborbital tourism, rather than launching people and payloads into space. It also has a radically different method of sending spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Virgin galactic whiteknighttwo
A Virgin Galactic spacecraft attached to its carrier vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo.

Virgin Galactic doesn’t launch rockets straight up from the ground like its rivals. Instead, its spacecraft are meant to be flown to 50,000 feet by a broad, dual-fuselage jet called WhiteKnightTwo. From there, the ship detaches and glides for a few seconds before firing up its rocket motor and beginning a near-vertical ascent to about 300,000 feet.

The company completed its first fully-crewed flight to the edge of space earlier this month, launching its founder and others more than 50 miles skyward. Virgin Galactic planned to accept passengers in 2021, it’s pushed those plans to next year. It has sold 600 tickets for $200,000 to $250,000 apiece.

Richard Branson on Virgin Galactic space ship
Richard Branson prepares to take off in a Virgin Galactic space ship on July 11, 2021.

When the spacecraft reaches its final altitude, customers will be able to get out of their seats and spend several minutes floating around the luxurious cabin and gazing back at Earth or out into space. Virgin also plans to offer flights for research purposes. Once the spacecraft is pulled back into Earth’s atmosphere, it will be piloted back to Virgin’s New Mexico facility for a runway landing.

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane on July 11, 2021.

Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft are reusable, aside from their fuel, and the company hopes to make launching things and people into space more economical and environmentally sound.

In March, Virgin Galactic unveiled the VSS Imagine, the first of its next-generation SpaceShip III vehicles. Before that, it had built and flown two SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, including the VSS Enterprise, which was obliterated in a fatal crash in 2014.

Virgin Galactic VSS Imagine
In March, Virgin Galactic unveiled its next spacecraft, the VSS Imagine.

In the future, Virgin Galactic plans to operate a fleet of vehicles that could fly tourists to space hotels, transport researchers to floating labs, or provide lightning-fast transcontinental flights. In 2017, it spun off a company called Virgin Orbit, which is working to send satellites into orbit using a similar air-launch system.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Jeff Bezos delivered his grandmother’s chicken-and-rice dinner to press covering his Blue Origin space flight

Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos wears a grey suit and talks on stage in front of a purple rocket model.
Jeff Bezos is due to fly to the edge of space on his Blue Origin rocket, New Shepard, on Tuesday 20 July.

  • Jeff Bezos delivered a chicken-and-rice dinner to reporters covering his Blue Origin spaceflight.
  • Bezos, alongside his brother Mark, said the arroz con pollo was his grandmother’s recipe.
  • Bezos is due to fly to the edge of space – about 62 miles above Earth – on Tuesday.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos delivered a chicken-and-rice dinner to journalists at the Blue Origin broadcast news site on Monday – a day before his scheduled flight to the edge of space.

Bezos and his brother Mark walked into a press warehouse near the Texas launch site to hand reporters a large tray of arroz con pollo, and said it was his “grandmother’s recipe.” Michael Sheetz, CNBC’s space reporter, posted a video of the delivery on Twitter.

“Now if you don’t like this,” Bezos told reporters about the dinner, “just keep it to yourself.”

Sheetz said that the chicken was “excellent, flavorful” and fell “off the bone” in another tweet.

The Bezos brothers also left a sheet with the dinner’s recipe, which Sheetz shared in a tweet.

Jeff Bezos is scheduled to travel to the edge of space on Tuesday morning in a rocket, called the New Shepard, owned by his spaceflight company Blue Origin.

The rocket is scheduled to reach 62 miles above Earth, around the Kármán line, an imaginary boundary above which the atmosphere is too thin to provide enough lift for normal aircraft to fly, according to the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service.

Read more: Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin launched a rocket that could make way for space-tourism flights this year

“Having crossed over the Kármán Line into space, you will have earned your astronaut wings,” Blue Origin’s website says.

The Amazon founder, who stepped down as CEO after 27 years on July 5, will fly alongside his brother as well as an 82-year-old aviator named Wally Funk and an 18-year-old high school graduate called Oliver Daeman.

After one reporter asked Bezos if the meal was his last, he responded: “I don’t think we have to put it that way! Let’s talk about it in a different way.”

Bezos is risking his life to prove that Blue Origin can safely fly humans to the edge of space.

Billionaires have long hoped to pioneer a new era of commercial space travel. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson became the first billionaire to reach the edge of space when he flew on board his rocket, the VSS Unity, on July 11.

Branson did not breach the Kármán Line, although NASA has awarded astronaut wings to pilots who’ve flown above 50 miles.

Bezos’ flight to space is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET and will be streamed live on Insider’s website.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Will Jeff Bezos be an astronaut during his space flight? It’s complicated, because experts say there’s still a debate about where space begins.

jeff bezos inside new shepard crew capsule
Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, who will probably be an astronaut.

  • Blue Origin has said founder Jeff Bezos will earn his “astronaut wings” during his space flight.
  • He’ll cross the Kármán Line, the imaginary boundary into space.
  • But academics and other experts said there isn’t yet a true consensus on where space begins.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos will blast off soon, ushering in a new era of private space travel, and raising questions about who gets to call themselves an astronaut.

Will paying customers be considered astronauts? Or will that term be reserved for pilots and scientists?

“We’re in the early stages, so it seems like it hasn’t really hit where those debates about who’s [an astronaut] have happened,” said Phantom Space CEO Jim Cantrell, who was SpaceX’s first VP of business development.

He added: “I think that sort of thing will develop over time.”

There’s also an ongoing debate over where space actually begins. A common demarcation is the Kármán Line, an imaginary boundary sitting 62 miles or 100 km above sea level.

“Essentially, once this 100 km line is crossed, the atmosphere becomes too thin to provide enough lift for normal aircraft to maintain flight,” Raman Prinja, head of University College London’s Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, said via email.

But some academics, governments, and executives offer varying altitudes when asked to define where Earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins. A few space-travel companies have boasted that they’re going to the “edge” of space, even though they’re flying well below the Kármán Line.

NASA, meanwhile, says space begins at just 50 miles up, meaning anyone who crosses above that is an astronaut in the eyes of the US government.

nasa astronaut jeanette epps spacesuit emu extravehicular mobility unity international space station iss jsc2017e126052_orig edit bi
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity shuttle in May hit an altitude of 55.45 miles. By NASA’s standards, tourists who eventually soar that high would be considered astronauts. But others may disagree.

Blue Origin said the 60-foot rocket that will carry Bezos and his fellow travellers will cross the Kármán Line, which the company called the “internationally recognized line of space.”

“Having crossed over the Kármán Line into space, you will have earned your astronaut wings,” Blue Origin’s website said.

So, by Blue Origin’s standard, Bezos will be an astronaut. This is also true for the anonymous bidder who will pay $28 million to be aboard.

But Prinja and other experts said that imaginary boundary wasn’t precise – and may change in the future.

“I am reasonably certain there is no single compelling definition for ‘the edge of space,'” Edwin L. Turner, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, said via email.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale considered moving the line, perhaps dropping it as low as 80 kilometers (in this scenario, Bezos would still be an astronaut.) And Turner said the line could eventually be defined as high as 150 km, or about 93 miles (in this scenario, Bezos would not be an astronaut.)

Turner included a more technical definition of the edge of space: “However, a reasonable and popular [definition] is that it is the minimum altitude at which an object moving with sufficient velocity could complete one circular orbit of the Earth without the benefit of further propulsion before the drag force associated with the very thin atmosphere at that altitude would cause its orbit to decay and the object to plunge back to Earth.”

With that definition, getting to space could be dependent on the size or shape of an aircraft. Another wrinkle is that the changing atmosphere may effectively move the line, Turner said.

Cantrell’s Phantom Space aims to mass produce launch vehicles to carry people to space. Its goal is to make it easy for anyone to travel out of Earth’s atmosphere, meaning anyone could be an astronaut.

“What we really want to do is to make space an everyday event, rather than a celebratory, notable, once-in-a-lifetime event,” Cantrell added.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Ashton Kutcher says he was supposed to be on the next Virgin Galactic flight, but that he sold his ticket back because ‘it was not a smart family decision’

Ashton Kutcher with his arm around Mila Kunis on the red carpet
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis at the annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony in 2017.

  • Ashton Kutcher sold his ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight at the urging of his wife, Mila Kunis.
  • He said “it was not a smart family decision” to go to space when the couple has young kids.
  • Kutcher said he was supposed to be on the next flight but will instead go to space “at some point.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ashton Kutcher is planning to go to space aboard a Virgin Galactic flight – just not for a long time.

The actor and venture capitalist told Cheddar’s Kristen Scholer on Wednesday that he had reserved a seat on one of the company’s suborbital flights years ago, but has since sold his ticket back at the urging of his wife, the actress Mila Kunis.

Kutcher and Kunis have been together since 2012 and got married in 2015. They have two kids together: Wyatt, age 6, and Dimitri, age 4.

“When I got married and had kids, my wife basically encouraged that it was not a smart family decision to be heading into space when we have young children, so I ended up selling my ticket back to Virgin Galactic,” Kutcher said. “I was supposed to be on the next flight, but I will not be on the next flight.”

But, he added, he hasn’t given up the dream completely: “At some point I will be going to space.”

While Kutcher may not be heading to space soon, others are: Virgin Galactic successfully flew its first full crew to the edge of space, 55 miles above Earth, last weekend.

The company has said that it wants to start taking paying customers on the flight beginning next year, and more than 700 people, including Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Elon Musk have already reserved slots. Tickets for the flight are worth up to $250,000; Virgin Galactic has said it hopes to eventually fly up to 400 flights per year.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A brief history of Stephen Colbert’s friendly ‘feud’ with billionaire Richard Branson

richard branson holds photo of stephen colbert
Richard Branson holds up a photo of comedian Stephen Colbert that he brought with him into space, during a press conference after the flight, July 11, 2021.

On Sunday, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson brought a tiny headshot of late-night host Stephen Colbert with him into space, marking a high point for the long-running frenemies.

“I brought up this head,” Branson told reporters, showing them the photo after landing safely back on Earth. “Anybody recognize that head? Stephen Colbert.”

During the livestream of Virgin Galactic’s launch, which Colbert hosted, the comedian heaped accolades and congratulations onto the company’s inaugural crewed flight into space, though not without cracking a few jokes about Branson’s goatee and hair. He also played with a model of the spaceplane, the VSS Unity, while making airplane sounds.

Previously, Colbert has been a little less fawning over Branson on his former show, the “The Colbert Report,” where the pair often turned to physical comedy, gags, and challenges.

On the show, Colbert referred to Branson as an “adult of the corn,” “Sir big baby,” “the grinning goat man,” and “a cross between David Bowie and Pan the goat god.” They have also alternately splashed each other with mugs of water and sprayed each other with fire extinguishers on the late-night show.

Branson has made multiple appearances on Colbert’s shows, with one being in 2007 to plug his newly formed airline, Virgin America. During one interview, Colbert tried to get Branson to write him an IOU for a $1 million to prove he was a “rebel billionaire,” but Branson demurred. Branson joked that he had named one of his planes the “Air Colbert” and doused Colbert with a mug of water, after he felt that Colbert hadn’t done enough to promote his airline. Colbert sought ammunition of his own from a crew member and splashed Branson with a water bottle, with the interview ending with both men laughing.

When Branson appeared on “The Colbert Report” again in 2011 to promote his book, Branson came armed with a fire extinguisher and sprayed Colbert with white foam at the end of the show after saying that the audience hadn’t liked that night’s show enough.

During a 2014 appearance, he also talked about vacationing with Barack Obama on his private island in the British Virgin Islands, his then-burgeoning space tourism company and the race between Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX.

But the hijinks returned in his most recent appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in 2017, where Branson briefly unbuckled his belt, turned around so his back was facing the audience, and pulled down his pants to show off a swimsuit made out of recycled plastics.

Watching Branson’s journey to space on Sunday during the livestream, Colbert voiced an interest in joining and a sincere observation of what the experience must be like.

“I imagine it must be an emotional and life-changing moment to experience zero G and see our fragile planet floating in the depths of space,” Colbert said. “I would go up in a minute – if my wife would let me.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 82-year-old passenger on Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight still plans to take the Virgin Galactic trip she paid $200,000 for over a decade ago

Aviator Wally Funk gives a thumbs up surrounded by other hopeful space tourists
Wally Funk celebrates as the Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise spacecraft makes its first public landing during the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony near Las Cruces, New Mexico in October 2010.

  • Wally Funk is an 82-year-old aviator and the fourth passenger on Jeff Bezos’ upcoming spaceflight.
  • In 2010, she put a $200,000 deposit on a future Virgin Galactic flight.
  • “At this point, yes, Wally is planning to fly with Virgin Galactic too,” Funk’s agent told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Wally Funk blasts off aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket next week, it’ll be her first time heading to space – but it seems it won’t be her last.

Funk is an 82-year-old aviator who was invited by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to be the fourth passenger on his spaceflight on July 20. But over a decade ago, Funk paid $200,000 for a future ride on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital plane, according to The Guardian – and it seems she has no intention of giving up her seat.

“At this point, yes, Wally is planning to fly with Virgin Galactic too,” Funk’s agent, Loretta Hall, told Insider in an email.

Virgin Galactic told Insider that the company doesn’t comment on “the identities of Future Astronauts.” Blue Origin did not respond to a request for comment on Funk’s plans.

Read more: The space race between Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson isn’t about saving Earth – it’s a PR stunt by billionaires trying to pretend they care about the rest of us

‘No one has waited longer’

Earlier this month, Bezos announced that Funk would join him, his younger brother Mark, and a third passenger on their 11-minute trip to space. (The other passenger, whose name hasn’t been revealed, placed the winning $28 million bid in an auction for the seat last month.)

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

A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos)

Back in 1961, Funk joined an all-woman space mission dubbed “Mercury 13.” She embarked on an extensive series of tests and trainings, which she aced – she told Texas Monthly that the researchers told her she had performed better than any other astronaut in the program, man or woman.

But the program was ultimately scrapped and Funk never made it to space. In 1962, two of the women from the program testified before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics that they were being denied the opportunity simply because they were women.

Funk later embarked on a long career in flight, becoming the first female safety inspector at the Federal Aviation Administration and working with the National Transportation and Safety Board, according to Texas Monthly.

In the video posted to Bezos’ Instagram account, Funk said she has now taught over 3,000 people to fly.

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic

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

Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft – which was cleared for takeoff by the FAA on Monday – is scheduled for liftoff at 9 a.m. ET on July 20.

The flight will take Bezos 62 miles above Earth, to the edge of space. Inside the spacecraft, Bezos and his fellow passengers will have three minutes to float around and view Earth from afar or gaze into the depths of outer space.

While Blue Origin’s mission will be a major milestone – it’s the first time the company has sent human passengers into space – it has since been slightly eclipsed by Virgin Galactic and its billionaire founder, Richard Branson.

On Sunday, Branson and three crewmates flew 55 miles above Earth aboard Virgin’s space plane, floated in zero gravity for about five minutes, then returned safely to Earth.

Branson’s flight – which beat Bezos’ by nine days, a fact Branson called “an incredible, wonderful coincidence” – seemed to rankle Blue Origin, which claimed the flight wouldn’t go high enough to truly count.

Still, Virgin plans to start offering suborbital flights to space tourists next year, and has already sold 600 tickets to hopeful space tourists, including SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk – and, of course, Funk.

Read the original article on Business Insider