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Richard Branson-owned Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s aerospace venture SpaceX are the other two heavyweights in the space race apart from Blue Origin led by Bezos.
A 4-member crew including the eCommerce mogul Jeff Bezos will make history as they take part in the first unpiloted suborbital flight with a civilian crew onboard the New Shepard. The 11-minute space flight will take off at 8 am CDT (1300 GMT) today.
In the billionaire space race, the next to undertake a trip beyond the skies and kick start the whole space tourism project is none other than billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos. Just days ago, business magnate Richard Branson flew 53 miles above the Earth onboard VSS Unity. Bezos will break Branson’s record and fly 62 miles/100 km above the planet. Blue Origin’ New Shepard capsule will thus officially reach the Karman Line, which defines the boundary separating Earth’s atmosphere and space. An international aeronautics body has defined this edge of space.
Mark Bezos and 82-year-old former pilot Wally Funk who has an impressive aviation career, will be joining the entrepreneur. Apart from these two, an 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen will replace the mystery bidder from the auction who bid $28 million for a seat inside the New Shepard capsule. In this historic space flight, Wally Funk, at 82 years of age, will make a record of being the oldest woman to go to space. She is an aviation veteran with many firsts to her credit. She had been part of NASA’s Mercury 13, a crew of female pilots who cleared the same physiological screening tests as had their counterparts; the Project Mercury astronauts.
At the company’s Launch Site One in the remote West Texas desert, the spacecraft will be lifted off the ground. The company has closed all on-site public viewing at the location. However, the launch can be viewed live on the company’s website.
New Shephard and the 11-minute Space Trip
Although the trip is just 11 minutes long, it marks a significant moment in space tourism history as it is among the many first steps to put the common man in space. New Shepard is a 60 feet tall reusable rocket that has had 15 successful test flights in the past and can travel up to a suborbital height of 340,000 feet.
After reaching a top speed of three times the speed of sound within 3 minutes of the lift-off from the site, the booster will get separated from the New Shepard capsule. Once this happens, the four-member crew will experience microgravity as they make way through the Karman Line. The boosters will be descending back to Earth at this time. Once the New Shepard reaches the Karman Line, post 6 minutes, the spacecraft will begin its descent deploying parachutes at 9 minutes and bringing down the speed to as low as 26 kph. As per the company’s website, the speed of the capsule at the time of the final desert landing will be 1.6 kph.
Designed to aboard up to 6 members, the capsule doesn’t need any pilots unlike Branson’s VSS Unity and comes with the largest windows ever to be seen in space.
Space Tourism Post New Shepard and VSS Unity Space Flights
Richard Branson-owned Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and Elon Musk’s aerospace venture SpaceX are the other two heavyweights in the space race apart from Bezos’ Blue Origin. While Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have already undertaken their space flights and are more invested in making commercial suborbital flights a reality, SpaceX has higher ambitions of undertaking orbital flights within a multiday arrangement.
The pricing model adopted by the billionaires differs greatly. Virgin Galactic’s ticket cost amounts to $200,000 to $250,000. It is much cheaper compared to Blue Origin’s $28 million charged in the auction. In its orbital flights to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX charges the space giant NASA $55 million for every seat within the spacecraft. Commercial trips to space are soon to become a reality for the Earth’s inhabitants as these initiatives by the tycoons will likely empower more and more people to be able to go on these trips. But it is also true that these initiatives will likely cater to the wealthy only and a large part of the population will thus be left out in the process.