A New Shepard rocket launch by Blue Origin in West Texas. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

A New Shepard rocket launch by Blue Origin in West Texas. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

Kent-based Blue Origin opens bids for its first passenger flight into space

Single seat to go to highest bidder for July 20 flight

The bids have started for a seat on Kent-based Blue Origin’s first flight into space this summer with astronauts.

Blue Origin announced that on July 20, New Shepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. The company is offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of an online auction. Anyone can place an opening bid by going to BlueOrigin.com.

“This is going to be an incredible experience,” said Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin director of astronaut sales, during an May 5 Zoom media interview. “The winner will write themselves into the history books. They are opening the doors for other space explorers to pass through behind them.”

The auction has three phases:

• May 5-19: Sealed online bidding – you can bid any amount you want on the auction website (no bids are visible)

• May 19: Unsealed online bidding – bidding becomes visible and participants must exceed the highest bid to continue in the auction

• June 12: Live auction – the bidding concludes with a live online auction

The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.

Owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin’s goals are to get astronauts back on the Moon and people living and working in space. The company opened in Kent in 2000 and expanded its headquarters in 2020 to a 236,000-square-foot blue-colored facility along 76th Avenue South between South 212th and South 228th streets.

Blue Origin employs more than 3,500 across the nation and more than 2,500 in Kent, according to a company spokesperson.

Cornell declined to answer media questions about how much Blue Origin plans to charge customers to fly into space once it starts regular flights.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a pretty priceless experience,” Cornell said. “But this is an auction so there will be a price and we are leaving it up to the astronaut customers to determine (the price).”

Cornell also declined to answer whether Bezos plans to take a flight into space.

The New Shepard reusable launch vehicle includes a propulsion module and a crew capsule. The propulsion module is the powered booster that carries the crew capsule to space. The capsule carries up to six astronauts and there will be other astronauts, selected by Blue Origin, participating in the flight from the company’s launch site in West Texas.

The module and capsule launch and ascend in a mated configuration. The capsule separates from the module at about 220,000 feet and continues to ascend to over 328,000 feet, during which time the astronauts in the capsule will experience weightlessness.

The module returns to Earth and lands on a landing pad, while the capsule returns to Earth under parachutes. On a typical mission, the capsule and the module land within a few miles of the launch pad, which is in Van Horn, about two hours east of El Paso.

Cornell said the crew capsule sits on top of the rocket. An escape motor in the center of capsule is ready to fire if there are any issues with the rocket and it becomes necessary to get the capsule away from the rocket. She said the company has run numerous tests of the escape motor and it worked each time.

“This is the type of design test to give us the confidence to say it’s time to put people on board,” Cornell said. “And it should give our astronaut customers that peace of mind that they too are ready to go.”

Blue Origin named its launch vehicle after Alan Shepard to honor his historic flight into space 60 years ago on May 5, the first American to fly into space.

New Shepard has flown 15 successful consecutive missions to space and back above the Kármán Line, the altitude where space begins, about 62 miles high that represents the border between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, through a meticulous and incremental flight program to test its multiple redundant safety systems.

“For all of you who have said, ‘I can’t wait to go to space,’ I’ve got some good news for you,” Cornell said. “The wait is over.”

Flight requirements

The astronaut who wins the bid must be able to meet each of the following functional requirements:

• Be within the following height and weight range: 5 feet 0 inches tall and 110 pounds and 6-4, 223 pounds

• Dress themselves in a one-piece, zip-up flight suit

• Climb the New Shepard Launch Tower (equivalent to 7 flights of stairs) in under 90 seconds

• Walk quickly across uneven surfaces, such as a ramp or a deck with occasional steps

• Be comfortable on the top deck of the launch tower and on the grated gangway to the crew capsule. These are about 70 feet above ground level and are surrounded by balcony-like railings. The view is equivalent to the view from a seventh-floor balcony

• Fasten and unfasten his/her own seat harness in under 15 seconds, which is about as difficult as fastening the seat-belt in an unfamiliar car in the dark

• Sit strapped into the crew capsule’s reclined seat for 40 minutes, but up to 90 minutes if there is a long launch delay, without getting up, and without access to a bathroom

• Spend 40 minutes, but up to 90 minutes if there is a long hold, in the capsule with up to five other people with the capsule hatch closed

• Experience up to three times your normal weight (3gs) pushing you into your seat for up to 2 minutes during powered ascent

• Hear and understand instructions in English from a ground crew member nearby or from mission control over a radio speaker, in an environment where the noise level can reach one hundred (100) dB during the flight

• See and respond to alert lights in the capsule. At each seat, there is a panel of six lighted symbols to indicate, for example, when to fasten the harness or leave the capsule (the lights are similar to the warning lights on a car’s dashboard; the use of corrective lenses is permitted because glasses and contact lenses both function normally in zero-g)

• Reliably follow instructions provided either over the radio speaker or via the alert lights

• Experience up to five-and-a-half times one’s normal weight (5.5gs) pushing the astronaut into his/her seat for a few seconds during descent into the atmosphere

• Lowering down from the capsule’s hatch opening to the ground after landing, which is equivalent to lowering down to the floor from a dining-room table (note that Blue Origin expects to provide the option of using stairs within a few minutes of landing).

Training

Blue Origin shall provide the astronaut with familiarization and training as determined by Blue Origin in its sole discretion, to be necessary for the astronaut to participate in the flight. Familiarization and training may occur at Blue Origin’s facilities in Kent, in Culberson County, Texas, or in some other location that the company deems appropriate.


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