Just weeks after he formally steps down as CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos plans to blast off into outer space.
The billionaire founder of space firm Blue Origin announced Monday that he would be one of the passengers on the first crewed flight of its New Shepard rocket on July 20. He will be joined by his brother, Mark Bezos.
“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of travelling to space,” Bezos, 57, said in a video announcement posted to Instagram. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”
The Bezos brothers will be joined by four other passengers, including the winner of a private auction Blue Origin launched in May to raise money for its charity, Club for the Future. The non-profit organisation’s mission is to promote science, math, engineering and technology careers.
The auction’s final round will conclude with live bidding on June 12, with the winner joining the Bezos brothers on the trip of a lifetime. The current highest bid stands at $3.2m.
Blue Origin has spent the last few years putting its rocket and crew capsule through a series of 15 test flights to ensure it can safely transport people.
The New Shepard rocket — named after the first American in space, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard — and crew capsule are designed to carry six people and scientific equipment just beyond an invisible line known as the Karman line, which separates Earth from space.
To get past the Karman line, roughly 100km (62 miles) above the Earth, the crew capsule with passengers on board is launched atop the rocket. The rocket then detaches and lands itself, while the capsule descends by parachute before touching down in the desert in Texas in the United States.
The company’s most recent test flight, which occurred in April, included preflight astronaut operations in which company executives dressed as astronauts ran through tests and procedures then disembarked the vehicle before liftoff.
According to Blue Origin, the exercise was “a verification step for the vehicle and operations before flying astronauts”. The company says it’s now ready to start flying passengers as early as July.
Passengers will be treated to epic views of space as well as the Earth below thanks to the capsule’s massive windows.
Crew members will spend roughly 11 minutes in zero gravity, where they can float within the cabin before the craft returns to Earth.
“You see the Earth from space and it changes you,” Bezos said in his video announcement Monday. “It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity.”
Bezos’s participation in the flight could potentially boost the value of the winning bid for the final seat — or lead to criticism, said Lori Garver, a former deputy administrator for NASA.
“Personal participation in the flight will likely heighten interest,” Garver told Al Jazeera. “But it could tease a backlash over perceived billionaire ‘junkets.'”
Bezos and his rivals, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson, have all said they want to reduce the cost of travelling to space.
But so far, only very wealthy individuals have been able to afford seats on future flights — or donate them to others.
Billionaire Jared Isaacman used his four seats on SpaceX’s first flight to raise money for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, awarding them to a community college educator from Arizona and a former Air Force missileman from Washington. That flight is set to take off no earlier than mid-September.
Virgin Galactic, which plans to begin flying people in 2022, has announced a few of its own passengers, most recently a payload specialist named Kellie Gerardi.
As a researcher at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, Gerardi will blast off sometime next year to conduct research during her flight.
“This is a chance to set a precedent for the next generation of researchers,” Gerardi told Al Jazeera. “In the past, only handfuls of humans had access to space. Now platforms like Virgin Galactic will enable researchers and scientists to fly to space with their payloads.”
Each space firm has honed its own design to ferry passengers.
Virgin Galactic relies on a rocket-powered plane to transport its passengers to suborbital space. Travellers will have roughly the same experience as those with Blue Origin, although the view will be out of smaller windows.
Musk’s SpaceX is arguably the most successful of the space tycoon endeavours thus far, as the company has successfully carried three different crews of astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA and has several private astronaut flights already on the books.
SpaceX and Blue Origin are currently battling over a multibillion-dollar contract to design and launch a human landing system as part of NASA’s efforts to return to the moon. The US space agency awarded SpaceX a sole contract worth $2.9bn, but Blue Origin and a third contender, Dynetics, have filed formal protests over the process.
There is no love lost between Bezos and Musk, who openly taunted the Amazon CEO locker-room style after SpaceX won the contract.
In addition to the competition between their firms, Bezos and Branson are locked in a race to be the first tycoon to make the trip themselves, while Musk has expressed casual interest in flying to space.
Branson has said he wants to take a Virgin Galactic flight himself before welcoming passengers on board, and Musk has previously said he wants to go to space one day but has yet to make definitive plans to do so.
If all goes as planned and Bezos does fly on July 20, he will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere with bragging rights, too.