A Closer Look at Blue Origin’s First Crewed New Shepard Flight with Jeff Bezos & Friends

New Shepard (NS-14) lifts off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Tuesday morning, Jeff Bezos and his three companions — Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen — will be aboard the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The flight will include the youngest (Daemen), oldest (Funk) and richest (Jeff Bezos) people ever to fly to space.

At a press conference on Sunday, Blue Origin officials said the vehicle is in excellent shape and the weather is looking good for the launch. A live broadcast on www.blueorigin.com will begin at at 7:30 am EDT/11:30 UTC.

After launch from Blue Origin’s facility in west Texas, the crew capsule will separate from the booster and reach an altitude of more than 100 km (62.1 miles). The passengers will experience about 3 minutes of weightlessness during a flight that will last 10-11 minutes. The capsule will land under parachutes, while the booster will use its engine and landing legs to touch down on a concrete pad.

Jeff Bezos

With an estimated net worth of $205 billion, Jeff Bezos will be the richest person to ever visit space and the second to fly on a vehicle that his own company built.

Richard Branson, who is worth an estimated $4.7 billion, beat the Amazon.com founder to that latter milestone when he flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle on July 11.

Jeff Bezos’ brother Mark, 53, is a former marketing executive who was an early investor in Amazon.com. He has been involved in the Bezos Family Foundation for more than two decades.

At 82, Funk will the oldest person to travel to space. Funk has dreamed of going to space since she was part of a group of female pilots who went through the same medical tests as the original seven Mercury astronauts. NASA’s astronaut corps was all male until the space agency began recruiting candidates for the space shuttle program in the late 1970’s.

Wall Funk

Daemen, 18, will be the youngest person ever to fly to space. He will also be the first paying passenger carried by a commercial suborbital vehicle. Branson and three company employees who flew with him did not pay for their flight on July 11.

A Dutch citizen, Daemen replaces the winner of an auction for the seat on the flight who Blue Origin officials say has a schedule conflict. Daemen, whose father is an investment manager, was the runner up to the winner, who bid $28 million.

Flight Test History

It will be the 16th flight of the full New Shepard system. Four separate New Shepard boosters have been used for the tests, which began on April 29, 2015. The flight on Tuesday will be the third flight of the fourth vehicle.

Mannequin Skywalker — an instrumented test dummy — flew aboard the New Shepard capsule. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Thus far, the six-seat capsules have carried scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, postcards from students, and an instrumented test dummy named Mannequin Skywalker.

The table below shows tests to date, including a ground abort test that only involved the capsule.

Blue Origin New Shepard Flight Tests

Flight TypeSuccessPartial FailureTotal
Flights Above 62.1 miles (100 km) — FAI Recognized Spaceflight12012
Flights Between 50-62.1 miles (80.5-100 km) — U.S. Recognized Spaceflight112
Planned In-flight Abort Test101
Ground Abort Test (Capsule Only)101
Totals: 15116

During 14 flight tests, both the rocket and capsule landed separately back at Blue Origin’s test facility in West Texas. The lone failure occurred on the first launch in April 2015 when the rocket crashed during descent after separating from the crew capsule. The capsule landed safety under parachutes.

New Shepard crew capsules exceeded 100 km (62.1) on 12 flights. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which keeps aviation and space records, recognizes that altitude as the boundary of space.

Ground crew recover experiments that launched on the reusable New Shepard rocket on which the microgap-cooling technology flew twice. (Credit: Blue Origin)

On two flights, crew capsules reached 93.5 km (58.1 miles) and 98.3 km (61.1 miles). Both flights exceeded the 50 mile (80.5 km) altitude that the U.S. government judges to be the start of space.

The capsule used for the planned in-flight abort test reached 7.1 km (4.4 miles). The rocket, which was expected to explode, survived the abort and flew to an altitude of 93.7 km (58.2 miles) before landing safely back on Earth.

New Shepard has flown to a maximum altitude of 118.8 km, although most recently flights have reached between 104 km (64.6 km) and 107 km (66.5 miles).