Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin aims to launch its first-ever crewed mission on a date already steeped in spaceflight history, and you can bid for a seat on that flight.
The company is targeting July 20 for the debut astronaut launch of its New Shepard vehicle, which is designed to take people and scientific experiments on brief trips to suborbital space.
On that date in 1969, NASA's Apollo 11 mission touched down on the lunar surface, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans ever to set foot on a world beyond Earth.
To continue the historical parallels: Blue Origin made the astronaut-launch announcement today (May 5), the 60th anniversary of the United States' first-ever human spaceflight, which sent NASA astronaut Alan Shepard on a 15-minute jaunt to suborbital space. New Shepard is named after that pioneering spaceflyer.
The announcement also revealed that one of New Shepard's six seats on July 20 will be filled by the winner of a three-phase online auction, which opened today.
The first phase, which runs through May 19, consists of sealed online bidding, Blue Origin representatives wrote in a description of the auction. It then shifts to unsealed online bidding and wraps up with a live online auction on June 12. You can find out how to bid on the New Shepard seat auction at the Blue Origin website.
"The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and help invent the future of life in space," Blue Origin wrote in the description.
New Shepard consists of a rocket and a capsule, both of which are reusable. The rocket comes back down to Earth for a powered, vertical touchdown shortly after liftoff, and the capsule lands softly under parachutes after completing its journey to suborbital space.
Blue Origin has flown 15 uncrewed test missions with New Shepard to date. The most recent such suborbital flight, which the company billed as an "astronaut rehearsal," took place on April 14.
Blue Origin's main competitor in the suborbital space-tourism industry, Virgin Galactic, has two crewed spaceflights under its belt. Virgin Galactic's piloted VSS Unity space plane reached the final frontier for the first time in December 2018 and then did so again in February 2019. Virgin Galactic has not started flying customers yet; VSS Unity is still wrapping up its test-flight campaign.
Virgin Galactic's most recently stated ticket price was $250,000. Blue Origin has not announced how much it will charge for a seat aboard New Shepard.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.