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    Thursday, May 6, 2021

    Blue Origin Will Fly First Crew to Space in July

    Blue Origin said Wednesday that it is auctioning off a seat on the first crewed flight to suborbital space of its New Shepard rocket and capsule system, currently set for July 20.

    Sealed bidding, in which aspiring astronauts can bid any amount on the auction website without any other bidders knowing, starts today. On May 19, the highest bid will become public to the other participants, and subsequent bidders must exceed the highest amount to stay in the auction. The contest will conclude with a live online auction June 12, Blue Origin said.

    Proceeds from the auction will go toward Blue Origin’s Club for the Future foundation, which promotes science, technology, engineering and math careers.

    “Not only will this winner be opening the doors for future space explorers to walk through, but they’ll be inspiring and also supporting the next generation,” Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales, told reporters Wednesday.

    The auction winner would arrive at the company’s West Texas launch site four days before the flight for training on how to get in and out of the capsule, emergency procedures and other things. On launch day, the winner will don a flight suit, walk up the staircase to the capsule and then launch, experiencing about three minutes of weightlessness and a view of space before the capsule returns to Earth buoyed by parachutes.

    Terms and conditions of the contest state that the winner must sign a Blue Origin nondisclosure agreement and a form from the Federal Aviation Administration that acknowledges the risks of spaceflight. The winner must also be 5-foot to 6-foot-4 in height, weigh 110 to 223 pounds, and be able to dress themselves in the flight suit and climb the launch tower’s seven flights of stairs in less than 90 seconds, among other requirements.

    The Jeff Bezos-led company has been flight testing its New Shepard rocket and capsule system for years. Its most recent flight test was last month, when the Kent, Wash., company tested some astronaut operations by doing a dress rehearsal of sorts with employees entering and exiting the capsule before and after launch.

    No employee stayed aboard during that flight — just a dummy named Mannequin Skywalker.

    ”After the last flight, we said, ‘It’s time. Let’s put people on board,’” Cornell said.

    Blue Origin will eventually compete with Virgin Galactic, a suborbital space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson. Virgin Galactic charged $250,000 for people who signed up early. The company now says on its website that it will charge more than that for all subsequent sign-ups but hasn’t settled on final pricing.

    On Wednesday, Cornell declined to comment on Blue Origin’s ticket prices for future seats or on specific details about the rest of the July 20 flight crew. Although other people will be aboard the capsule, the auctioned seat is the only one open for purchase on that flight, she said.

    The company plans to launch a couple more crewed flights before the end of the year. Active auction bidders will be “on our radar,” so Blue Origin will know who to contact when it opens ticket sales, Cornell said. She said the company has received a number of inquiries over the years from people interested in buying seats.

    Fundraisers offering a trip to space as the grand prize have become popular as of late.

    The Inspiration-4 mission, which will launch to space in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, held a sweepstakes for charity that awarded one seat to a winner. Participants were encouraged to donate at least $10 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to enter, but entrants could also join the contest without paying money. The winner of that seat — Christopher Sembroski — told the New York Times that he thought he had donated $50 in the auction, but that a friend ended up winning the auction and transferred the seat to him.

    That mission is being led by tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, chief executive of Shift4 Payments, a payment company in Allentown, Pa., and is set to launch toward the end of this year. It would be the first time a crew of only private astronauts reaches orbit.

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