Jeff Bezos may have been beaten to space by rival Richard Branson, but the billionaire American businessman is poised to make history next week with his suborbital flight with an all-civilian crew, begging the question: Who's space experience is 'cooler'?
This report produced by Chris Dignam with commentary from Eric Johnson.
While Richard Branson may have been the first in the billionaire space race to complete a suborbital flight, Jeff Bezos is poised to make history next week aboard what would be the world's first unpiloted trip to the edge of space with an all-civilian crew.
Reuters Correspondent Eric Johnson, who will be in West Texas for Blue Origin's July 20th launch, explains.
JOHNSON: "Blue Origin has designed the New Shepard, which is a rocket and capsule combo to fly fully autonomously.
That means that computers control everything and there's no ability for a pilot to take over the controls.
They say that it's actually safer to have a crew on the ground controlling the spacecraft, rather than an individual astronaut in space, you know, operating things with a joystick like they did on NASA missions, you know, many decades ago.
They've also developed a crew escape system so that in the event that there's some issue or anomaly with the booster, the capsule can separate and sort of jettison the crew to safety." Beyond safety, one question remains for potential commercial space travelers: Who's space flight is cooler?
JOHNSON: "Blue Origin has taken pains to point out that they are going 62 miles up.
And that's the internationally recognized boundary of space.
Branson, who, of course, beat Bezos to the edge of space, however you want to define it, he went a few days ago.
He went more than 50 miles up, which is what NASA and the U.S. Air Force recognize as the boundary of space.
But Blue Origin says in their marketing materials that this is a true astronaut experience because they're going to the internationally designated boundary of space.
You know, I've talked to a bunch of different people who, you know, some people will say, well, Branson's is cool or some people will say Bezos' Blue Origin's experience is cooler.
But the bottom line is UBS is estimating that this is a $3 billion annual space tourism market in a decade.
So both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are eagerly trying to prove and demonstrate not just the safety of their experiences, but that their experiences are better so they can capture more of that market." On Thursday, Blue Origin announced that an 18-year-old physics student whose father heads an investment management firm will join the four-member all-civilian crew for Tuesday's scheduled flight, becoming the the company's first paying customer - after an unnamed auction winner, who paid $28 million for a seat on the rocket, dropped out due to unspecified "scheduling conflicts." The teenager will be joining Bezos, his brother Mark, and an 82-year-old female pilot who has always dreamed of traveling to space.