Then, we were talking about Blue Origin theoretical ticket holders who paid a sum of maybe $ 250,000 or so to become space tourists. I didn’t imagine Bezos himself would be on this first flight. And, I suspect, neither did he. But this is where we are in the summer of 2021. The world is still in the throes of a pandemic, climate change threatens vast parts of the planet, and we watch the world’s richest man escape from Earth to 11 minutes. Just over a week ago, another billionaire owner of a space company, Richard Branson, floating in his own missile ship, gave lectures to children around the world on the inspiration they should take from his company, and flashed a sip of champagne on his return.
Bezos might say that escaping from Earth is the point. Because while Blue Origin enthusiastically launches its space tourism business tomorrow, Bezos has been emphatic that its long-term goal is something beyond controlling “astronauts” off the bucket list for wealthy customers. He believes that the destiny of humanity will lead us to vast space colonies, ultimately supporting a population of one trillion humans. In short, especially in light of the fierce competition between Bezos and Branson, I wonder if this message can be lost, since civil space travel becomes synonymous with the ability to pay, or to win the favor of whoever is the rocket power brokers.
I write this from the rural town of West Horn in West Texas, which according to the road sign on Interstate 10, hosts 2,500 souls. It’s my third time walking through this small deserted town, which is filled with its limited capacity for what everyone says will be a historic launch. My last time here, I saw a launch of Blue Origin (although one where the only passenger was a test dummy called Mannequin Skywalker), so my own bucket list has already checked that box. I think the story is what attracted me here, although I admit that it’s hard to justify exactly what makes this a major milestone, as opposed to a data point in future timelines.
The flight itself, in terms of technical achievements, does not open ground. The first human suburban trip, by Alan Shepard in 1961, was itself a sort of consolation prize, since the Russians had already sent astronauts into orbit twice. Branson has already been the first space billionaire magnate to lead his own ship. Elon Musk’s private SpaceX company is now routinely sending astronauts to the International Space Station into orbit. As with SpaceX, Blue races usually return to land unscathed.
However, you may feel something different here, and it’s not necessarily what the Blue Origin people are promoting. During a press briefing on Sunday, Blue Origin officials continued to talk about all the firsts. The most compelling, and certainly a great future response to trivia, is that this flight will include both the oldest and the youngest person to travel in space. In addition to Bezos and his brother Mark-an Instagram post showed the older brother transmitting the suburban proposal, in Bachelorette-style style includes Wally Funk, a guest guest named who once trained for the Mercury program, who will be the oldest person to champion space travel, and pay the client Oliver Daemon, who would be the youngest. The executives also said they were the first commercial company to send a paying customer into the space. It’s a meager distinction, since a company called Space Ventures has been organizing the passage, for a very rigid fee, to the final frontier for years. One of his clients, former Microsoft scientist Charles Simonyi, also has the distinction of being the first billionaire in space, traveling twice on a Russian space agency ship. (Sorry, Branson.)