Jeff Bezos can have whatever he wants. He could fly around the world in a private jet or sail around the world in a fleet of megayachts indefinitely. He could buy the entire NFL, an archipelago for his family and friends, and over 65,000 Bugatti Chirons (base price $2.9 million), despite only 500 being built. The possibilities are endless as the world’s wealthiest person. But Bezos appears willing to put everything on the line for an 11-minute trip into space.
Historically, space travel has been fraught with peril. Though the risks for Bezos’ trip to the stars aren’t necessarily astronomical, his space company Blue Origin has spent the better part of the last decade successfully testing the suborbital New Shepard rocket he’ll be riding on. (Also, being in space has been a lifelong ambition of Bezos.)
Even so, what Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, and the winner of an online auction will be doing — flying the New Shepard, a fully autonomous suborbital rocket and spacecraft system designed to take ticket holders on brief joy rides to space — is not without risk.
Here’s how Bezos’ flight will look, as well as the extent to which people nowadays take their lives into their own hands when traveling to space.
When most people think of spaceflight, they imagine an astronaut floating in space for at least a few days circling the Earth.
That will not be the case for the Bezos brothers and their fellow passengers.
They’ll be going up and back down in less time — about 11 minutes — than most people take to get to work.
Suborbital flights are not the same as the orbital flights that most of us envision when we think of spaceflight. Blue Origin’s New Shepard flights will be short, up-and-down trips, but they will travel more than 62 miles above Earth, which is widely regarded as the edge of space.
Orbital rockets must generate enough thrust to reach a speed of at least 17,000 miles per hour, or orbital velocity, which allows a spacecraft to continue spinning around the Earth rather than being dragged back down by gravity.
New Shepard’s suborbital fights reach speeds of around three times the speed of sound — roughly 2,300 miles per hour — and fly straight up until the rocket’s fuel runs out. At the top of the trajectory, the crew capsule will separate from the rocket and briefly continue upward before almost hovering at the top of its flight path, giving the passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. It works like an extended version of the weightlessness you feel when you reach the top of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity slams your cart — or, in Bezos’ case, his space capsule — back down to earth.
Before hitting the ground, the New Shepard capsule deploys a large plume of parachutes to slow its descent to less than 20 miles per hour.
The rocket, which is still flying, re-ignites its engines and uses its on-board computers to land perfectly upright. The booster landing resembles what SpaceX does with its Falcon 9 rockets, though the Falcon 9 rockets are far more powerful and, yes, more prone to exploding on impact than New Shepard.