Blue Origin aims to shatter two longstanding astronaut age records on its debut crewed flight with billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and his brother on Tuesday (July 20).
Flying aboard the company's New Shepard rocket will be Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator best known for attempting to enter NASA's astronaut program in the 1960s, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old who plans to study physics in the fall. Liftoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One in West Texas near Van Horn.
The typical professional astronaut must meet strict education, career experience and health requirements, which tends to cluster the ages of spaceflyers between their 30s and their 60s. That said, Funk and Daemen will break outlying records even among that professional group, and it's possible their age records will be challenged again as more space tourists enter the emerging industry.
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The oldest astronaut to reach space before Funk was John Glenn, who ironically was in the Mercury program that Funk fought unsuccessfully to be in (she was excluded because of her gender, as women were not allowed to be astronauts or military pilots until the 1970s. At the time, military service was required for astronaut consideration.) In another ironic twist, the New Shepard spacecraft is named after another Mercury astronaut, Alan Shepard, who was the first American in space.
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Glenn's first flight in 1963 was at a more typical astronaut age, 40, but the popular astronaut was deemed too valuable to return to space for a second opportunity. A generation later, he finally negotiated a return to space on space shuttle mission STS-95 at age 77, to study how microgravity affects aging.
Funk was personally invited by Blue Origin billionaire founder Jeff Bezos (best known for creating Amazon) to join him aboard the debut crewed flight of New Shepard. Bezos' brother Mark was the third passenger, and the fourth seat was auctioned off to the public to the highest bidder. The high amount, at $28 million, came from an anonymous individual who had to postpone their spaceflight due to a scheduling conflict. That opened up the seat for someone else.
Blue Origin initially didn't disclose during the bidding process that runners-up could be considered for future flights. That's how Oliver Daemen, 18, secured the fourth and final seat on the debut New Shepard opportunity. Daemen's father Joes is CEO of Somerset Capital Partners, a hedge fund, and offered an undisclosed amount of money for a spaceflight. Then Joes passed on the astronaut opportunity in favor of his son.
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The younger Daemen is just beginning his career; he is reported to be on a gap year after high school before studying physics and innovation at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Blue Origin also said that Daemen wanted to be an astronaut since age 4, and that the teenager is working on a pilot's license.
Daemen is set to break an age record set at the dawn of the space age, by Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov. On Aug. 6, 1961, Vostok 2 launched the 25-year-old Titov, a military pilot who became the fourth person in space after the Soviet Yuri Gagarin, and American astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom. Titov was also the first person to spend more than a day in space.
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