Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is set to join the astronaut club 20 July 2021 on the first crewed launch by Blue Origin, another key moment in a big month for the fledgling space tourism industry. The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final frontier, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

What

  1. Bezos founded Blue Origin back in 2000, with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.
  2. Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA under the Artemis program.
  3. The crew will spend a few minutes beyond the Karman line -- the internationally recognized boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space, at 62 miles altitude (100 kilometers), as the spacecraft peaks at 65 miles high (106 kilometers).
  4. They will be able to admire the curvature of the planet -- and the inky black of the rest of the universe -- from large windows that comprise a third of the cabin's surface area.
  5. The booster returns autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule freefalls back to Earth before deploying three giant parachutes, and finally a thruster, to land gently in the west Texas desert.
  6. Elon Musk's SpaceX will enter the fray in September with an all-civilian orbital expedition on its Crew Dragon, and is tying up with another company, Axiom, for visits to the International Space Station.
  7. Beyond tourism, Blue Origin would like to supplant SpaceX as NASA's leading private sector partner, and sees New Shepard as "sort of the stepping stone and also the way to make money along the way for the greater ambition.