Update for July 20, 1 pm ET: Blue Origin has successfully launched its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and three other civilians into space on the first crewed flight of the New Shepard spacecraft. See photos, videos and an account of the launch in our wrap story here.
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket is counting down for its first crewed flight today (July 20), when it will launch company founder Jeff Bezos and three others into space, and you can watch the whole thing live.
The launch of New Shepard's first crewed flight will be broadcast beginning at 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT) at BlueOrigin.com (opens in new tab). Liftoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), but that will depend on the weather forecast and other technical factors.
A typical New Shepard flight lasts 11 minutes, and a live broadcast with the astronauts will be available at BlueOrigin.com after the landing, Blue Origin said in a press release Monday (July 12). The company will also be sharing mission updates all day via @BlueOrigin (opens in new tab) on Twitter.
Riding along with Bezos will be Mercury 13 aviator Wally Funk, whom he personally invited to join the crew, along with his brother Mark and a so-far anonymous auction winner who paid $28 million for a seat.
The New Shepard rocket and capsule will launch from Launch Site One, a remote area in the west Texas desert that will be closed to all spectators, even along nearby sections of State Highway 54, Blue Origin said.
Bezos (best known for creating Amazon) founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the hopes of eventually bringing rich space tourists to suborbital space. Sheer altitude has become one of the points in which Blue Origin hopes to differentiate itself from competitor Virgin Galactic, which was founded in 2004 and just launched its own billionaire founder Richard Branson on Sunday (July 11).
Days before Branson's flight, Blue Origin released an infographic snarkily comparing the two systems and criticizing Virgin Galactic's design decision to fly below the Kármán line, the 62-mile (100 kilometers) mark that is internationally recognized as the boundary of space. That said, all Virgin Galactic astronauts do soar well above 50 miles (80 km), the demarcation point recognized by NASA, the U.S. military and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The billionaire vs. billionaire battle of Branson and Bezos has also prompted a wider discussion about affordability of space tourism, although some people of more ordinary means like Funk have been comped a seat aboard early flights. A typical seat on Virgin Galactic costs $250,000; usual per-seat pricing for New Shepard as not yet been revealed.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.