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Blue Origin will break records for oldest and youngest astronaut with July 20 launch

Wally Funk, 82, will become the oldest person to fly in space when she launches with Blue Origin on July 20, 2021.
Wally Funk, 82, will become the oldest person to fly in space when she launches with Blue Origin on July 20, 2021. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

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.

Related: How to watch Blue Origin launch Jeff Bezos into space on July 20
Live updates: Blue Origin's first astronaut launch updates

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.

Related: Blue Origin's launch with Jeff Bezos: Everything you need to know

John Glenn works with an experiment inside the Spacehab module aboard space shuttle Discovery in November 1998.  (Image credit: NASA)

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.

Related: The most extreme human spaceflight records

Oliver Daemen, 18, will be the youngest person in space when he launches on Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, 2021. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

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.

Visit Space.com on July 20 for complete coverage Blue Origin's first astronaut launch.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.

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