Blue Origin sets date, auctions seat on New Shepard crewed launch
May 5, 2021
— Sixty years after its spacecraft's namesake launched on the first U.S. human spaceflight, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin announced the date of its first New Shepard crewed flight and began taking bids for one of the seats on board.
"We named our launch vehicle after Alan Shepard to honor his historic flight," Blue Origin wrote in an email sent Wednesday (May 5), the 60th anniversary of Shepard's Mercury-Redstone 3 suborbital mission. "In the decades since, fewer than 600 astronauts have been to space."
"They all say this experience changes them," the company wrote.
Since 2015, Blue Origin has launched its reusable New Shepard launch vehicles and capsules on 15 spaceflights, testing its safety systems and its ability to launch and land payloads.
"Now, it's time for astronauts to climb on board," Blue Origin said Wednesday.
The first New Shepard flight with passengers on board has been scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 first moon landing. Blue Origin is auctioning a chance to launch on the mission on its "RSS First Step" capsule.
On June 12, the auction will go live with the winner claiming the seat. In addition to the high bid, the winner will be responsible for a 6% buyer's premium, which is not refundable. The sale is being run by RR Auction of Boston for Blue Origin.
All of the proceeds from the auction will be donated to Blue Origin's non-profit foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and help "invent the future of life in space."
"This seat will change how you see the world," Blue Origin wrote.
The New Shepard capsule can carry a crew of up to six passengers. According to the auction's terms and conditions, there will be other people, chosen by Blue Origin, on the first flight. The company has not said how many other people will fly.
The winning bidder must be at least 18 years old, be between 5 feet and 6 foot, 4 inches tall (152 and 193 cm), weigh between 110 and 223 pounds (50 and 101 kg) and be able to climb the New Shepard launch tower — seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds.
The winner also needs to be able to sustain up to three times the force of gravity for up to two minutes and be able to reliably follow instructions by radio contact or alert lights.
Before the flight, the high bidder will be required to sign a liability waiver and undergo training, when Blue Origin will assess the individual for their ability to fly (Blue Origin will not assess the person's medical fitness, deferring that to a doctor at the winner's expense.)
If approved, the winner will report to Blue Origin's Launch Site One in West Texas, where the 10 to 12 minute flight will be conducted. After lift off and a 2-minute, 45-second ascent, the crew cabin will separate from the New Shepard propulsion module (rocket) at about 220,000 feet (67 km) and then continue to ascend to over 328,000 feet (100 km) — the internationally-recognized Kármán Line separating Earth and space.
The capsule will then descend, deploying parachutes to slow its return back to Earth. The flight ends with a touchdown near where the New Shepard launched.
Assuming a successful flight, the winner (and other passengers) will be eligible to wear the Association of Space Explorers' Universal Astronaut Insignia, denoting he or she has been to space and back on a suborbital mission.
Blue Origin has not yet revealed what seats on future New Shepard flights will cost or how or when those tickets will be sold.
The view from on board Blue Origin's New Shepard crew capsule. The first passengers, including an auction winner, will get this view on the company's first crewed launch on July 20. (Blue Origin)
Drone's-eye-view of the launch of Blue Origin's New Shepard from the company's Launch Site One in West Texas. (Blue Origin)
Blue Origin's New Shepard crew capsule descends to Earth under parachutes for a touchdown in West Texas. (Blue Origin)