Editor's note: Blue Origin's first crewed flight launched successfully on July 20, read the full story here.
On July 20, Blue Origin has cleared its New Shepard rocket and capsule to launch its first crewed spaceflight, and the flight will carry its billionaire founder: Jeff Bezos.
The mission, which Blue Origin has dubbed the First Human Flight, will be the 16th flight of New Shepard, but the first with astronauts aboard. Bezos and three other civilians will launch from the company's Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), in a milestone mission for the space tourism company.
Here's everything you need to know about the flight.
Related: Jeff Bezos launches into space on Blue Origin's 1st astronaut flight
Live updates: Follow Blue Origin's first human flight here
What time is Blue Origin's launch? How can I watch?
The launch of New Shepard's first crewed flight will be broadcast Tuesday (July 20) beginning at 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT) at BlueOrigin.com and here at Space.com, if possible. Liftoff is expected at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), but could change depending on weather or technical matters.
Blue Origin will hold a prelaunch press conference on Sunday, July 18, at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), which will be livestreamed on BlueOrigin.com and also here if possible.
[Read about the press conference here: Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket is 'go' to launch Jeff Bezos (and crew) on 1st astronaut flight]
A typical New Shepard flight lasts 11 minutes. After the landing, a live broadcast with the astronauts will be available at BlueOrigin.com. The time of that press conference has not been announced, but Blue Origin will stream it live online and Space.com will simulcast it if possible. The company will also be sharing mission updates all day via @BlueOrigin on Twitter.
Blue Origin has not announced if it will have a special host for the webcast similar to rival Virgin Galactic, which recruited comedian and The Late Show host Stephen Colbert for its July 11 launch of billionaire Richard Branson.
Typically, New Shepard flies well above the 62-mile (100 kilometers) Kármán line that international authorities recognize as the boundary of space. The rocket will return autonomously to its launch site and land, and the crew capsule will descend beneath a parachute.
Who is Blue Origin launching on New Shepard?
New Shepard's first crewed flight will carry four passengers, but no pilot as the space capsule is an automated system. The crew will include:
Jeff Bezos, 57, who founded Blue Origin in 2000 and made billions as the founder of Amazon.com.
[Related: A lifelong dream and 20 years of work: How Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos arrived at their 1st astronaut launch]
Mark Bezos, 53, the younger brother of Bezos and a millionaire in his own right. He is a former ad executive and is on the leadership council of the non-profit Robin Hood, which fights poverty, according to Business Insider.
Wally Funk, 82, a pioneering female aviator who was one of the famed Mercury 13, women tested by NASA as potential astronauts during the early days of the U.S. space program. Funk will become the oldest person to fly in space with this launch, beating the late Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew on his second mission on NASA's space shuttle Discovery in 1998.
[Related: 'Mercury 13' pilot Wally Funk will carry 60 years of history to space on Blue Origin flight]
Oliver Daemen, 18, a physics student who plans to study at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Deaemen will be the youngest person in space on this mission, beating Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov, who was 25 when he flew on the Soviet Union's Vostok 2 mission in 1962. Daemen is a late addition to the crew, replacing the anonymous winner of a $28 million auction for the first paid seat on New Shepard.
Blue Origin announced Daemen's addition to the New Shepard crew on July 15, just five days before launch. The winner of the company's auction "has chosen to fly on a future New Shepard mission due to scheduling conflicts," Blue Origin officials said at the time.
According to CNBC, Daemon's father Joes Daemen placed the second-highest bid in the Blue Origin auction (an amount that has not been disclosed) and was selected to fly on this flight. Joes Daemen, a private equity firm CEO, then handed the seat to his son Oliver, CNBC reported
What is Blue Origin's mission for the flight?
The New Shepard system is named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first American to go to space in 1962.
The rocket has performed 15 uncrewed tests before the July 20 flight, most recently on April 14 when it launched on an astronaut rehearsal flight. It is about 60 feet (18 meters) tall and is designed to shoot passengers into suborbital space for a "weightless" phase of about three minutes.
Infographic: How Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket works
The entire flight is typically 11 minutes long, with the rocket returning autonomously to the launch pad using a ring and wedge fins for aerodynamic stabilization. The crew members return to Earth underneath a parachute, within their crew capsule.
New Shepard's capsule has a maximum capacity of six people and includes large windows for astronauts to take in views of Earth. Alternatively, flights can include a combination of astronauts and experiments, as Blue Origin hopes to eventually have paying companies use microgravity for a few minutes to test out advances in manufacturing, physics or biology, among other ideas.
What will Blue Origin astronauts experience?
As with all spaceflights, the New Shepard crew will be subject to high risk. Their 11-minute spaceflight will subject them to multiple forces of gravity, or G-loads, especially during launch and landing. They will also sustain a few minutes of microgravity or "weightlessness" at the top of their parabolic flight.
Some other hints of the spaceflight experience come from a terms and conditions document associated with the Blue Origin seat auction earlier this year. Among requirements, crew members had to be able to "dress themselves in a one-piece, zip-up flight suit" and climb the launch tower — about seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds, the document states.
Related: Here's how Blue Origin trained Jeff Bezos and his crew for an 11-minute launch into space
The crew will be climbing in the spacecraft atop a launch tower (requiring no fear of heights), then sitting in a reclined seat for between 40 and 90 minutes before launch time. In case of emergency, they'll need to unstrap themselves in less than 15 seconds.
Blue Origin has also boasted about its big windows that tourists can look through during their precious few moments in space. "These windows make up a third of the capsule, immersing you in the vastness of space and life-changing views of our blue planet," the company said in 2018.
Will Blue Origin really reach space on the flight?
This is a definite yes.
Lately, Blue Origin and its competitor Virgin Galactic have been engaging in a battle for customers, especially in the runup to Virgin Galactic's launch of its own billionaire founder, Richard Branson, on July 11. Branson denied the companies were in competition, but Bezos remained quiet; then days before Branson's launch, Blue Origin released an infographic highlighting what it said are advantages in purchasing a seat on New Shepard instead of Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane.
The companies' biggest bone of contention is whether Virgin Galactic crew members reached space at all. VSS Unity is designed to fly above the 50-mile (80-kilometer) boundary of space recognized by NASA, the U.S. military and the Federal Aviation Administration. New Shepard, by contrast, typically soars above the internationally recognized Kármán line, generally interpreted at 62 miles (100 km) in altitude.
Blue Origin has been bringing up the Kármán line dispute periodically over the years. "We've always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Kármán line, because we didn't want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you're an astronaut or not," Bezos said in 2019. "That's something they [Virgin Galactic] are going to have to address, in my opinion."
Where does Blue Origin launch New Shepard from?
Blue Origin will lift off from Launch Site One, a remote area in the West Texas desert roughly 25 miles from the town of Van Horn. The area is largely filled with desert scrub, allowing for an incredible vista from the top of the New Shepard launch area in the hours before launch.
The area is generally closed off to visits (and it will be that way, even along nearby State Highway 54, during launch of Bezos, according to Blue Origin.) That said, we can get a glimpse of the facilities in a short tour video Blue Origin previously released.
From the video, it appears the launch pad is adorned with the feather logo of the Blue Origin feather. All paying customers will have the chance to visit their spacecraft in the nearby building in which it is readied for space, the tour video states. It's probable that the crew members went through at least a little training at the facility prior to flight, too, based on comments in the video.
When could I launch to space with Blue Origin?
Blue Origin hasn't quite released yet the sequence of its future flights, and when it starts to regularly carry passengers. It wasn't publicly disclosed, for example, that Daemen was scheduled for the second flight of New Shepard until he moved up a spot in the launch sequence. So it may be that other bid participants may have spots on future flights for a little while.
Blue Origin has a spot on its website where you can reserve your interest for future flights.
"You’ll receive early access to pricing information and tickets when we open reservations," the company has promised.
So far, Blue Origin has not released seat pricing for normal paying customers. By comparison, Virgin Galactic seats retail for $250,000 apiece.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.