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On Tuesday, Blue Origin is launching Jeff Bezos to space. Here's what you need to know.

AN HORN, Texas — A quartet led by the world's richest person is set to fly on a historic flight to the edge of space in a small town in the West Texas desert.

For more than a decade, Blue Origin, the space business founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2000, has been testing versions of its New Shepard rocket and capsule.

Blue Origin is preparing to put its spacecraft to the ultimate test: its first human spaceflight, after 15 successful test flights without humans on board. The company hopes to take Bezos, his brother Mark, aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, and Dutch youngster Oliver Daemen to the edge of space on Tuesday, where they will hover in microgravity for a few minutes before safely returning.

Bezos' company is one of many in a new space race driven mostly by investors rather than just by superpower governments in the twenty-first century.

He's also one of several billionaires investing in businesses, with Bezos competing with Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson in the burgeoning space industry. Bezos' aim for his company, like theirs, extends beyond flying wealthy passengers on spaceflight thrill rides. Blue Origin's purpose is to build "a future where millions of people live and work in space to benefit Earth," and Bezos sees Tuesday's trip as the next step in that direction.

Here's all you need to know about the crew, the rocket that will launch them, the expected experience, and the high-profile but still modest market for space tourists.

The crew

Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen will make up Blue Origin's inaugural crew.

The 57-year-old Bezos, whose Amazon reputation precedes him, scarcely needs an introduction. His desire for spaceflight, on the other hand, does not. While at Princeton, the e-commerce mogul was profoundly affected by the teachings of space visionary Gerard O'Neill, who grew up enthralled by the Apollo moon landings.

Bezos has spent the majority of his time to Amazon over the last two decades, but he has slowly sold shares of the internet giant to fund Blue Origin's development - to the tune of $1 billion a year or potentially more. Bezos stepped down as Amazon's CEO earlier this month, with many in the space sector anticipating him to devote more attention to Blue Origin's development. The business is also working on the orbital New Glenn rocket, a stable of rocket engines, and a crewed lunar lander in addition to the New Shepard rocket.

Bezos typically is typically seen in a cowboy hat and boots when checking Blue Origin's progress in the desert, which contrasts with his more well-known demeanour as a sharp-dressed corporate billionaire. His costumes, on the other hand, are more in keeping with the rural rancher environment, although his space company's sparkling rocketry is a stark contrast. On the highway that runs through the valley, Blue Origin's facilities can be seen from miles away, and the company's immaculate white spaceships stand out even more.

The second passenger on the first human flight was Mark Bezos, Jeff's younger brother, who is 53 years old. Mark Bezos, a Scarsdale, New York-based volunteer firefighter, stated in a Blue Origin video that he "wasn't even expecting" his brother "to be on the first trip," let alone himself.

Wally Funk is a female aviation pioneer who will become the oldest person to travel in space when she reaches the age of 82. She's dreamed of travelling to space for longer than any of the other passengers, having been a part of the "Mercury 13," a group of women who passed the same tests as NASA's Mercury astronauts but were never granted the chance to fly to orbit.

Her aviation career is legendary — she was the first female civilian flight instructor at the United States Army's Fort Sill, the first female FAA flight inspector, and the first female National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator — and she has logged more than 19,000 flight hours along the way.

Oliver Daemen, 18, is the fourth and last member of the inaugural crew. Daemen joined the group at the last minute, replacing an anonymous bidder who paid $28 million for the last seat on this aircraft in a public auction last month. However, while the mystery bidder was aware of the July 20 launch date before the auction began, Blue Origin said the person was unable to make the flight due to “scheduling conflicts” and would instead be deferred to a later date.

Even though he didn't win the auction, Daemen's father Joes, the CEO of a private equity firm in the Netherlands, was a bidder in the public auction who "had secured a place on the second flight," according to Blue Origin. When the mystery bidder backed out, Blue Origin “moved him up,” according to a business representative.

The capsule and rocket

The rocket booster and the capsule on top of New Shepard stand 60 feet tall and are both reusable. The capsule was initially tested in October 2012, followed by the rocket booster in April 2015, with the latter being the only occasion the launcher failed to land successfully after a test flight.

The rocket is propelled by a single liquid-fueled BE-3 engine that produces 110,000 pounds of thrust at sea level and can throttle down to less than 20% power for slow, gentle landings.

The capsule can accommodate up to six passengers, though the first crew will only have four. There is no human pilot on board during the launches because they are fully automated. It is pressurised and equipped with a climate control system, as well as the largest windows ever flown in space. The capsule's seats include a single-release five-point harness and, for further safety in the event of an emergency, the capsule's own escape motor, which may fire at any point before or during the launch to quickly eject the crew away from the rocket.

The NS3 and NS4 New Shepard rocket boosters are currently in service by Blue Origin, with the former being utilised for cargo missions and the latter for crewed flights.


The experience

As with previous test flights, Blue Origin will give a live webcast coverage of the launch. However, while the facility's isolated location may dissuade most visitors, the corporation stressed in a pre-launch briefing on Sunday that Texas law enforcement will restrict a portion of the nearby state highway. In contrast to the hundreds of thousands that travel to the Florida coast for NASA astronaut launches, there will be no public viewing places for the launch.

On Tuesday, the corporation will hold a webcast at 7:30 a.m. EDT, with liftoff slated at 9:00 a.m. EDT. Prior launches, however, have experienced delays ranging from a few minutes to an hour, most frequently due to weather or technical issues.

Half an hour before launch, the Blue Origin crew will board the capsule. Mission control will give the final all-clear about 20 minutes after the hatch closes, and then activate the rocket's engine. New Shepard will gradually accelerate to more than three times the speed of sound, with the capsule reaching a height of more than 340,000 feet after disconnecting from the booster (or over 100 kilometers).

Although the United States acknowledges a lower threshold of 80 kilometres as the frontier of space — and hence, those who pass that mark are acknowledged by the government as astronauts – the 100-kilometer height is often referred to as the Karman line. The disputed space barrier has become a source of rivalry between Bezos' Blue Origin and Branson's Virgin Galactic. Although the latter's spacecraft has a range of more than 80 kilometres, it has yet to hit the 100-kilometer milestone, as Blue Origin has pointed out.

Branson, for one, doesn't seem concerned by the connection, which is understandable given that he was the first billionaire space firm founder to launch into space just eight days ago.

The passengers will subsequently be able to freely move around the capsule once New Shepard has spent a few minutes floating in microgravity.

In the meantime, New Shepard's rocket booster will be returning to Earth. The booster will return to earth, activating its motor to slow down and extending a set of four legs to touch down on a concrete platform near where it launched from.

The capsule will return to Earth in a free fall at first, with the passengers strapped back in, before deploying a set of parachutes. The capsule's engines will fire momentarily when it's only a few feet above the earth, softening the impact with the desert.

Blue Origin trucks will drive out across the desert once the capsule lands to unlock the hatch and allow the occupants out.

The nascent market for space tourism

In April, Blue Origin stated that it would start selling tickets for future rides on New Shepard. However, months later, despite the firm claiming that members of the recent public auction had purchased seats, with Daemen being the first to board, Blue Origin has failed to announce how much tickets cost. So far, the only public clue is the extraordinary auction-inflated price of $28 million per ticket.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is the company's only direct competitor in the market for launching space passengers to the edge of space, a sector known as suborbital tourism. Although SpaceX is planning to fly Inspiration4, its first private mission, in September, Elon Musk's business sends its capsules further into space on multi-day journeys, a practise known as orbital tourism.

Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been working on rocket-powered spacecraft, but the similarities end there. While Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket takes off vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo system is released in mid-flight and glides back to Earth for a runway touchdown.

While Blue Origin takes off on its own, the Virgin Galactic system is piloted by two pilots. Branson's business has performed four test spaceflights so far, but it won't start flying paying clients until 2022.

Although Blue Origin's auction brought nearly $28 million, a ticket on a suborbital spaceship is normally far cheaper. Virgin Galactic had previously charged the Italian Air Force over $500,000 per ticket for a training journey.

NASA pays SpaceX around $55 million per seat for spaceflights to the International Space Station, making Musk's orbital trips more expensive than suborbital ones.

The tourism industry is a small part of the $420 billion space economy. Yet, because of its high visibility — and the considerably more fascinating human element — it has a significant and widespread influence on the space economy, with investors frequently citing astronaut trips as a source of excitement about the extraterrestrial marketplace's broader implications.

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