American billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos said on Monday he is excited and curious but not very nervous on the eve of taking part in his company Blue Origin’s inaugural suborbital flight alongside the oldest and youngest people ever bound for space.
The world’s richest person and three crewmates are due to fly from a desert site in West Texas on an 11-minute trip to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a 60-foot-tall (18.3 metres) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo. The flight represents an important milestone in the establishment of the space tourism industry.
Bezos did a round of televised interviews ahead of the launch, set for around 8am CDT (6:30pm IST) from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility some 20 miles (32km) outside the rural Texas town of Van Horn.
“We’ve been training. This vehicle is ready. This crew is ready. This team is amazing,” Bezos said. “We just feel really good about it.”
Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos will be joined in the all-civilian crew by 82-year-old pioneering female aviator Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, a recent high school graduate set to attend the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management in September.
Daemen is the company’s first paying customer. His father heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners.
The flight comes nine days after rival Richard Branson, the British billionaire businessman, was aboard his company Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane for its pioneering suborbital flight from New Mexico.
Bezos sought to downplay any rivalry with Branson.
“There’s one person who was the first person in space. His name was Yuri Gagarin. And that happened a long time ago,” Bezos said on the NBC’s programme “Today,” referring to the Soviet cosmonaut who reached space in 1961.
“I think I’m going to be number 570 or something. That’s where we’re going to be in this list. So this isn’t a competition. This is about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things in space,” Bezos said.
Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become astronauts for the first US human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. She passed the same rigorous testing as the Mercury Seven male astronauts in NASA’s space programme, though the women were denied the chance to become astronauts because of their gender.
“Back when Wally was part of the Mercury 13, all the testing that she did, she outperformed all of the men,” Bezos said on “Today.” “And we can confirm at 82 years old, she can still outperform all of the men. We’ve been doing the training with Wally. She can outrun all of us.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021