With a high bid of $28 million, an unnamed individual has won the chance to join the richest person on Earth on a flight into space.
Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' commercial spaceflight company, concluded its two-week-long competition for the first seat on board its New Shepard launch vehicle with a live auction on Saturday (June 12). The bidding, which the company streamed live online, soared from the opening $4.8 million to the hammer of $28 million in just under seven minutes.
"How exciting was that! $28 million!" exclaimed Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin's director of astronaut and orbital sales, just after the auction concluded. "The whole Blue Origin team cannot wait to meet our first customer."
The total payment for the seat, including the six-percent buyer's premium, will be $29,680,000. The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin's non-profit foundation, Club for the Future, which has the goal of inspiring future generations to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and "to help invent the future of life in space."
The high bidder, who Blue Origin said they will identify at a later time, has won the opportunity to join Bezos, his brother Mark and one still-to-be-named passenger on the New Shepard launch scheduled for July 20. Timed to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the bidder stands to make history of his or her own by being one of the first space tourists to fly to just above the 62-mile-high (100 kilometers) Kármán line, the internationally-recognized boundary separating Earth's atmosphere from outer space.
The flight, which will last a total of 10 to 12 minutes, will begin from Blue Origin's Launch Site One near Van Horn in West Texas. After lifting off and a 2-minute, 45-second ascent, the New Shepard crew capsule will separate from the rocket's propulsion module at about 220,000 feet (67 km) and then continue to ascend to over 328,000 feet (100 km).
The capsule will then fall back to Earth, deploying parachutes to slow its return. The flight ends with a touchdown near where the New Shepard launched.
The July 20 flight will mark the 16th flight of the New Shepard, after 15 uncrewed test flights. It will be the third use of the RSS (Reusable Space Ship) "First Step."
To be eligible to fly, the winning bidder needs to be at least 18 years old, stand between 5 feet and 6 foot, 4 inches tall (152 and 193 cm), weigh between 110 and 223 lbs. (50 and 101 kg) and be able to climb the New Shepard launch tower — seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds.
The winner also needs to be able to sustain up to three times the force of gravity for up to two minutes and be able to reliably follow instructions by radio contact or alert lights. Before the flight, the high bidder will be required to sign a liability waiver and undergo training, when Blue Origin will assess his or her ability to fly (the company will not pass judgement on the person's medical status, deferring to a doctor at the winner's expense).
Blue Origin began the auction on May 5, initially accepting sealed bids through its website. Working with RR Auction, a Boston-based firm that specializes in space exploration artifacts, bidders were individually vetted and were required to deposit $10,000 for bids of more than $50,000.
On May 19, the online bidding went public, opening at $1.4 million. The bid rose to $2.8 million within a day and then sat there until Monday (June 7), when Bezos announced that he and his brother would join the winner on the flight. A new round of bids then drove the price to $4.8 million, where the live auction on Saturday began.
Blue Origin said that the auction drew the interest of nearly 7,600 people from 159 nations. The company did not disclose the total number of qualified bidders or how many bids were placed.
The price for seats on future New Shepard flights has not yet been announced. Blue Origin has said the top bidders who did not win the auction will be among the first to have access to future seats.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.