A mystery bidder on Saturday paid US$28 million at auction for a seat alongside Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on board the first crewed spaceflight of the billionaire’s company Blue Origin next month.
Bezos revealed this week that he and his brother Mark Bezos would take seats on board the company’s New Shepard launch vehicle on July 20, to fly to the edge of space and back.
The Bezos brothers are to be joined by the winner of Saturday’s charity auction, whose identity remains unknown, and a fourth, as yet unnamed space tourist.
“The name of the auction winner will be released in the weeks following the auction’s conclusion,” Blue Origin wrote on Twitter after the sale. “Then, the fourth and final crew member will be announced — stay tuned.”
Saturday’s successful bidder beat out about 20 rivals in an auction launched on May 19 and wrapped up with a 10-minute, livecast frenzy.
Bidding had reached US$4.8 million by Thursday, but shot up spectacularly in the final live auction, rising by US$1 million increments.
The proceeds — aside from a six percent auctioneer’s commission — are to go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to inspire future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Taking off from a desert in western Texas, the New Shepard trip is to last 10 minutes, four of which passengers are to spend above the Karman line that marks the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
After liftoff, a capsule separates from the booster, then spends four minutes at an altitude exceeding 100km, during which time those on board experience weightlessness and can observe the curvature of Earth.
The booster lands autonomously on a pad 3.2km from the launch site, and the capsule floats back to the surface with three large parachutes that slow it down to about 1.6kph when it lands.
Bezos, who announced earlier this year that he is stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive to spend more time on other projects including Blue Origin, has said it was a lifelong dream to fly into space.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard has successfully carried out more than a dozen uncrewed test runs from its facility in Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains.
“We’re ready to fly some astronauts,” Blue Origin director of astronaut and orbital sales Ariane Cornell said on Saturday.
The reusable suborbital rocket system was named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space 60 years ago.
The automated capsules with no pilot have six seats with horizontal backrests placed next to large portholes, in a futuristic cabin with swish lighting. Multiple cameras help immortalize the few minutes the space tourists experience weightlessness.
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