Billionaire American businessman Jeff Bezos and his three crewmates are engaging in a crash course of training on Sunday in preparation for his company Blue Origin's inaugural flight to the edge of space planned for Tuesday.
The suborbital launch from a site in the high desert plains of West Texas marks a crucial test for Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft, a 60-foot-tall (18.3 meters) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo that is central to plans by Bezos to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market.
The planned 11-minute trip from the company's Launch Site One facility is set to include the oldest person ever to go to space - 82-year-old trailblazing female aviator Wally Funk - and the youngest - 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen. Joining them for Blue Origin's launch will be Bezos, the founder and current executive chairman of Amazon.com Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos.
The mission would represent the world's first unpiloted flight to space with an all-civilian crew. Blue Origin will have none of its staff astronauts or trained personnel onboard.
New Shepard is due to launch nine days after rival Richard Branson's space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, successfully carried out a suborbital flight from New Mexico with the British billionaire inside its rocket plane.
Blue Origin's training program, according to the company, includes safety briefings, a simulation of the spaceflight, a review of the rocket and its operations, and instruction on how to float around the craft's cabin after the capsule sheds Earth's gravity.
The training "will help you feel comfortable and prepared for spaceflight and your responsibilities as an astronaut," Blue Origin said in material describing the sessions.
New Shepard, which cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft, is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space during a suborbital flight as part of NASA's pioneering Mercury program.
New Shepard, like Virgin Galactic's flight, will not enter into orbit around Earth, but will take the crew some 62 miles up (100 km) before the capsule returns by parachute. Virgin Galactic's flight reached 53 miles (86 km) above Earth.
Billionaire businessman Elon Musk's space transportation company, SpaceX, is pledging to go even higher in September, sending an all-civilian crew for a several-day orbital flight aboard its Crew Dragon capsule.
Illustrating tensions in the high-stakes "billionaire space race," Blue Origin has described Virgin Galactic as falling short of the 62-mile-high-mark (100 km) - called the Kármán line - set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space.
The U.S. space agency NASA and the U.S. Air Force both define an astronaut as anyone who has flown higher than 50 miles (80 km), as Branson achieved with his flight.
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