Jeff Bezos says he’s heading to space. In an Instagram post on Monday, the billionaire CEO of Amazon announced that next month he will be aboard Blue Origin’s rocket New Shepard on its first flight with humans aboard. Bezos called the trip “the thing I wanted to do all my life.”
The flight is scheduled to lift off from West Texas on July 20, just two weeks after he’s officially set to leave his current post as the chief executive of Amazon. Up to six astronauts, including Bezos’s brother Mark, a volunteer firefighter and charity executive, will take the trip. Another civilian will also be included in the crew: Blue Origin is auctioning off a final civilian ticket. (The high bid was $2.8 million when Bezos announced his plans to join the flight.) Eventually, Blue Origin hopes to launch satellites and offer space tourism flights.
Jeff Bezos won’t be traveling into outer space, however. New Shepard is built to be suborbital, which means it will reach the border between Earth and space. Overall, the trip on the rocket is supposed to last about 11 minutes.
While other billionaires have been more outwardly bombastic about their own personal aspirations to visit space, Bezos appears to have been training for his own journey into space for quite some time — and he’s been alluding to making the trip for years.
Back in 2013, journalist Brad Stone mused that Bezos wanted to go to space during a town hall in Seattle.
“One sort of interesting physical transformation, as Amazon has grown, Jeff is in pretty good shape now. He looked a little pasty and rumpled back in the ’90s,” Stone told New York Times journalist Nick Wingfield. “Now, he’s clearly working out every day, and the reason I bring that up is I think he’s in astronaut training.”
It was four years later, in 2017, that a photo of Bezos looking particularly muscular at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in 2017 went viral and even became a meme. Indeed, Bezos has been dreaming of leaving Earth since at least 2000, when he founded Blue Origin with the hope of making it easier to get to space.
“The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel. That is basically it,” Bezos said in 2018. “Blue Origin is expensive enough to be able to use that fortune.”
Blue Origin has so far launched the New Shepard rocket 15 times without crews, though the rocket is designed to bring tourists to space. Though it was originally planned in 2019, the anticipated date for human travel on the vehicle has been pushed back. Blue Origin is also working on a rocket called New Glenn for orbital travel, and it will be capable of delivering payloads (and eventually people) into orbit.
Blue Origin is one of several billionaire-backed space efforts. Its main rival is SpaceX, the private space company led by billionaire Elon Musk. Since 2002, SpaceX has focused on developing rockets to launch satellites into orbit and deliver payloads to the International Space Station (ISS). Last year, the company became the first private firm to launch humans into space, sending four astronauts to the ISS, and it’s planning a civilian crew trip at the end of this year. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has been signing up researchers to travel on its vehicles, though there’s no launch date yet.
These 21st-century space companies are in serious competition. Because there aren’t that many clients who need their services, SpaceX and others are often fighting for whatever contracts government space agencies like NASA have to offer — like helping with plans to return to the moon — or getting lawmakers to provide the money they need to continue launching. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are also staking their claims in the nascent industry of suborbital space tourism, hoping to cash in on rich people looking for a thrill.
Many congratulations to @JeffBezos & his brother Mark on announcing spaceflight plans. Jeff started building @blueorigin in 2000, we started building @virgingalactic in 2004 & now both are opening up access to Space - how extraordinary! Watch this space…— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) June 7, 2021
But there’s a sense of personal competition, too: Both Musk and Branson have indicated they want to make it to space, too. Now Bezos is on track to beat them both by climbing aboard his own ship and showcasing his confidence that this new era of civilian space travel can work.