The billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will attempt his most ambitious delivery on Tuesday, when he accompanies an octogenarian aviation pioneer, a college student and his own brother Mark into space on a rocket that he funded and built himself.
The world’s richest man and his crewmates plan to soar into the heavens above Texas at 8am local time (2pm BST) in the first human spaceflight of his company Blue Origin’s sub-orbital New Shepard rocket.
“I’m excited, I’m not really nervous,” Bezos told CBS’s This Morning on Monday. “This vehicle is ready, this crew is ready, we are feeling really good about it.”
In a separate interview with CNN, Bezos said some friends had cautioned against taking the very first Blue Origin space flight but that he was confident in the safety of the rocket.
Asked about criticism that he was taking a rich person’s “joyride” instead of focusing on problems on Earth, Bezos his critics are “largely right – we have to do both. We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those and we also need to look to the future, we’ve always done that as a species and as a civilization. We have to do both.”
Bezos, who has outlined a vision where all polluting industry is relocated to other planets and Earth becomes purely “residential”, said that the mission was aimed at “building a road to space for the next generations”.
Intended to showcase what Bezos hopes will become a prolific and lucrative venture into the fledgling industry of space tourism, the flight will also mark the realization of a long-held dream for the 57-year-old tycoon.
“Jeff started Amazon just to get enough money to do Blue Origin. He was intrigued by the idea of rocketing into outer space,” his Miami high school girlfriend Ursula Werner once said, something Bezos said in 2016 he could “neither confirm nor deny”.
Tuesday’s mission is rich in symbolism. The debut crewed flight of New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961, it is scheduled for launch on the 52nd anniversary of the day Apollo 11 astronauts placed the first footprints on the moon.
The crew features both the oldest and youngest humans to travel into space. Wally Funk, 82, trained as an astronaut in the 1960s as part of the semi-official women’s Mercury 13 project, but Nasa policy dictated only men could fly. An “honored guest” aboard the capsule, Funk said in a CBS interview this month: “I love flying, that’s my job, that’s what I love. And I’m not a quitter.”
The previous oldest astronaut, John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, was 77 on his second and final spaceflight on the shuttle Discovery in January 1999.
At 18, Oliver Daemen, from the Netherlands, will become the youngest astronaut in history. Blue Origin has been largely coy about the circumstances of his selection, revealing only that the son of the chief executive of a private equity company had bought a seat for a future flight and was bumped forward when the anonymous winner of last month’s auction for a place aboard the first flight pulled out due to a “scheduling conflict”.
The company has repeatedly refused to say how much Daemen, who is on his gap year, paid for his flight, but the original winner’s bid was $28m (£20m).
The final crew member is Bezos’s brother Mark, 50, an investor, marketing agency founder and former volunteer firefighter.
The 11-minute flight will not be the first time a billionaire has left the planet on a self-funded spacecraft. The British tycoon Richard Branson achieved that feat on 11 July aboard the Virgin Galactic rocket plane VSS Unity in a mission many thought was brought forward to pip Bezos to the post.
Blue Origin has denied any rivalry between the pair, but in pointed and mocking tweets Bezos’s team claimed the Virgin plane had not made it to space, and that its occupants had asterisks next to their names because they had not crossed the Karman line 100km (62 miles) above Earth, where many experts accept space begins.
The US is among only a handful of countries that recognizes that boundary at 50 miles, which the Virgin crew surpassed. New Shepard will fly to an expected altitude of about 66 miles.
Bezos appears relaxed. An Instagram post on Sunday featured an image of the crew smiling together in West Texas, near Blue Origin’s spaceport at Van Horn, and in an earlier post he said: “Can’t wait for Tuesday.”
In June Bezos, who owns the Washington Post but who stepped down as Amazon chief executive earlier this year, said: “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On 20 July, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”
Bezos funded Blue Origin by selling $1bn in Amazon stock each year, and hopes sales of seats aboard future flights will help sustain the operation. New Shepard is scheduled to fly twice more this year, Blue Origin executives announced at a press conference on Sunday, the next flight possibly in September.
Like Branson, and SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, Bezos has attracted criticism for being part of a perceived billionaires’ space race that some see as “a wasteful ego contest”. Bezos has longer-term goals in partnership with Nasa, including infrastructure to live in space.
“New Shepard is only the beginning. Because Blue Origin is a company that is not only building space vehicles, but it’s building a company that builds space vehicles,” chief executive Bob Smith said on Sunday.
“Blue is tackling foundational building blocks, the technology, the people, the processes and the infrastructure, to truly lower the cost of access to space and enable a near-term future where people live and work in space for the benefit of Earth.”