Former Amazon CEO and insatiable money-vacuum Jeff Bezos is all set to blow himself to the edge of Earthly existence tomorrow thanks to his very big, very firm rocket. It’s an ego-trip of a lifetime years in the making for the Big Tech oligarch, and one that has generated a sizable amount of recent back-and-forth spaceship-measuring between Billionaire Boyz Club members like Virgin mogul “Sir” Richard Branson and Technoking Elon Musk of SpaceX, Tesla, and Boring Company infamy.
Branson became the first billionaire to cross the edge of space as recognized by U.S. officials (55 miles) last week — a distance Bezos’ Blue Origin spacefaring company pettily advertised as a technicality — but tomorrow marks the first billionaire to sail past the internationally-recognized atmospheric border of 62-miles-high. So, there’s that.
On the off-chance you aren’t completely exhausted from watching white, male multibillionaires squabble about how far their own rocket can go kablooie, you can check out our full rundown of tomorrow’s trip below to get the nitty-gritty on Bezos’ and Blue Origin’s particular brand of cosmic gatekeeping, as well as what this means for the ongoing privatization of space exploration.
How long and how far can Jeff’s rocket perform? — As mentioned above, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket will be the first to cross the Kármán line, space’s border as recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Technically speaking, however, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s excursions are aboard suborbital craft, which require far less fuel and energy than something like SpaceX’s orbital rockets.
Tomorrow, Bezos and his New Shepard capsule companions (more on them in a minute) will travel upwards of 2300 mph, or three times the speed of sound. Near the height of its trajectory, New Shepard’s capsule will detach, after which the momentum carries it across the Kármán line, resulting in a few minutes of weightlessness so Bezos can survey his Amazon empire’s reach through one of the cockpit’s multiple windows. From there, they will begin their rapid decent before parachutes deploy to slow them down for a soft landing. All-in-all, the entire journey will last about 11-minutes. Very impressive, Mr. Bezos.
Is it different than ‘Sir’ Branson’s trip — Yes, actually. Virgin Galactic’s VSS Spaceship Two is technically a “space plane” piloted by actual humans as opposed to Blue Origin’s and SpaceX’s automated rockets. While Bezos will be launching vertically aboard a self-landing, reusable rocket system, Branson’s trip took off similar to a standard plane via a runway. Of course, the rocket fuel and giant “mothership” frame attachment made Branson’s journey a bit more intense than your standard commuter flight.
Who’s riding Jeff’s rocket with him? — Bezos will strap himself in tomorrow next to his brother, Mark, alongside the 82-year-old pilot and a former “Mercury 13 woman,” Wally Funk, and an 18-year-old named Oliver Daemen. The recent high-school grad acquired his ticket thanks to his Danish investment-firm-founding father after an anonymous $28 million ticket auction purchaser suddenly and unexpectedly bowed out late last week. Congrats to exactly one person on that flight manifesto — we think you know to whom we are referring.
What’s next? — A lot more wealth jaunts to the edge of space, unfortunately. Branson’s Virgin Galactic has already opened up reservations for future, $250,000-a-seat flights, with celebrities including Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Tom Hanks reportedly plopping down $10,000 deposits to climb aboard upcoming VSS trips. Blue Origin will certainly be doing the same very soon, while SpaceX continues its U.S. government partnerships and plans to establish an independent Martian Musktopia, or whatever.
All in all, though, nothing is gonna change for you and me. As technically awesome a flight as tomorrow’s Blue Origin launch will be, it and future trips will always be marred by the knowledge of who and how these projects are being funded. The only people this month’s billionaire space stunts will truly apply to are the uber-wealthy — to them, even the sky is no longer their limit.