Jeff Bezos goes to space

By Jackie Wattles, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 4:24 PM ET, Tue July 20, 2021
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8:23 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

How do we define space?

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

This is a question a lot of space nerds — and, apparently, Jeff Bezos' team at Blue Origin — care a lot about.

There is no single definition of "outer space." And deciding where space begins is largely an exercise in pinpointing exactly where the Earth's atmosphere becomes less troublesome than the Earth's gravitational pull. But there is no exact altitude where that happens. The atmosphere thins out, but the "vacuum of space" is never really devoid of matter entirely. It's a blurry line.

Where does space begin? Does it begin when you look up, and the sky goes from blue to dark and speckled with stars? What about when you just go so high enough that you float, like you see with astronauts on the space station?

Well astronauts on the space station don't float because they're so high up, it's because they're in orbit. To put it plainly, according to NASA, emphasis ours:

An orbiting spacecraft moves at the right speed so the curve of its fall matches the curve of Earth. Because of this, the spacecraft keeps falling toward the ground but never hits it. As a result, they fall around the planet. The moon stays in orbit around Earth for this same reason. The moon also is falling around Earth.

And while Bezos and his fellow passengers won't be going into orbit, they will be experiencing microgravity, as they freefall from the peak of their journey, very similar to what astronauts experience on the ISS. Except they're not moving at over 17,000 mph like the people on the ISS, so the New Shepard capsule and rocket will come screaming back down to Earth rather than continuously circling the planet.

Richard Branson's flight aboard the space plane developed by his space company, Virgin Galactic, nine days ago reached more than 50 miles high, which is the altitude the US government considers the beginning of outer space.

Bezos' flight will hit more than 62 miles high — also known as the Kármán line — which is the altitude internationally recognized as the boundary.

Exactly which is correct — the US-accepted 50-mile mark or the internationally accepted 62-mile Kármán line — is widely debated and mostly arbitrary.

But when we say the international community "recognizes" or "accepts" the 62-mile Kármán line as the edge of space, we're mostly talking about one organization: The the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which keeps track of world records in spaceflight such as tallying how many people have become astronauts.

But even the FAI has said it's considered changing its definition to the US-recognized 50-mile mark in response to research from Jonathan McDowell with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

What you should know: It's not a huge deal. And people that fly on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin — both US-based companies — will still be in the American-recognized version of outer space.

Though it should be noted, neither company is sending passengers to orbit.

Still, Blue Origin took the opportunity last week to make the outer-space-definition debacle into a Twitter argument.

8:20 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

All about the West Texas launch site

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The sign outside of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin operations in West Texas on July 19, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. 
The sign outside of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin operations in West Texas on July 19, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Blue Origin's New Shepard launch site — named simply "Launch Site One" — is in the middle of a massive private ranch that Bezos owns in rural West Texas. And it's very rural.

It's roughly a 30-minute drive north of Van Horn, Texas, a town that's home to about 2,000 people, a handful of restaurants, a small local paper, and an Old West-style downtown strip.

And all that well, space, is great for spaceflight. Neighbors don't love it if the best case scenario involves loud sonic booms, and the worst case scenario involves potentially destructive explosions.

Blue Origin broke ground on its Launch Site One in 2006, and it didn't have paved roads until 2018. And though the launch site is isolated, Blue Origin workers spend quite a bit of time in the Van Horn area. (About 275 people work full-time at the site.)

Employees booked up the rooms at most of the local hotels. And a few businesses have put up signs of encouragement for Blue Origin ahead of today's flight, including this new mural visible from a Van Horn roadway.

Blue Origin also held a safety briefing for reporters at the Van Horn community center here on Sunday.

One of the biggest tips? Beware of critters.

West Texas is known to have an array of pests lurking around, most notably rattlesnakes.

8:10 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Today's flight will include the oldest and youngest people to ever fly to space

From CNN's Jackie Wattles


The team of four people traveling in Blue Origin's rocket ship New Shepard will include the youngest and the oldest people to ever fly to space, according to the company.

At 82 years old, Wally Funk — who trained for NASA's Mercury program but was denied the opportunity to go to space — will become the oldest person to travel to space if today's flight goes off as planned.

Funk volunteered as a member of the Mercury 13 program, otherwise known as the "Women in Space Program," in February 1961, which was a privately-funded effort intended to begin training women to fly in NASA's earliest space programs. The 13 women in the program undertook all of the training and testing that the seven men selected by NASA for the Mercury spaceflight program undertook.

Funk became the youngest woman to graduate from the program, and she was told she "had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys," she said during a promotional video about her participation in the Blue Origin flight.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, a recent high school graduate who plans to attend the University of Utrecht in the fall, will become the youngest person in space.

He was a participant in the auction Blue Origin held for the final seat on the rocket, but he was not the top bidder. The mystery bidder — who put up a whopping $28 million and asked to remain anonymous — had to bow out because of "scheduling conflicts," Blue Origin said last week.

A source familiar with the matter said Daemen's spot was purchased for him by his father, Joes Daemen, who is the founder and CEO of Somerset Capital Partners, an investment firm based in the Netherlands.

Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos are the other two people flying in the rocket today.

8:04 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Who will be in the rocket with Bezos

From CNN's Jackie Wattles and Alyssa Kraus

Left to right: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos.
Left to right: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos. CNN

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is launching into space today aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft he funded.

This is the first time humans will go to space aboard a Blue Origin vehicle, although the rocket ship is autonomous and does not require a pilot.

There are six seats aboard the capsule, but only four seats will be filled.

Here are the other three people who will ride alongside Jeff Bezos:

Mark Bezos:

  • Jeff Bezos' younger brother, Mark Bezos, will join the billionaire on the 11-minute flight. Mark Bezos, formerly the owner of an advertising agency, is now a senior vice president at Robin Hood, a New York City charity.
  • "Ever since I was five years old, I've dreamed of traveling to space," Jeff Bezos said in an Instagram post. "On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend."

Wally Funk:

  • Wally Funk — who trained for NASA's Mercury program but was denied the opportunity to go to space — is finally getting her time among the stars. Funk volunteered as a member of the Mercury 13 program, otherwise known as the "Women in Space Program," in February 1961, which was a privately-funded effort intended to begin training women to fly in NASA's earliest space programs. The 82-year-old will fly on New Shepard as an "honored guest," according to a post on Bezos' Instagram. After this flight, Funk will be the oldest person to fly to space.
  • "I got ahold of NASA four times, and said 'I want to become an astronaut,' but nobody would take me," Funk said. "I didn't think I would ever get to go up. Nothing has ever gotten in my way. They say, 'Wally, you're a girl, you can't do that.' I said, 'Guess what, doesn't matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to do it,' and I like to do things that nobody's ever done before."

Oliver Daemen:

  • The mystery bidder who paid $28 million for a trip to space with Jeff Bezos can no longer make the flight, Blue Origin announced. Therefore, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year old recent high school graduate, will take the anonymous bidder's place.
  • Daemen "was a participant in the auction and had secured a seat on the second flight. We moved him up when this seat on the first flight became available," a Blue Origin spokesperson told CNN Business. If today's flight goes according to plan, Daemen will become the youngest person ever to fly to space.
7:51 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

If you want to fly on a Blue Origin flight, here are the physical requirements

Left to right: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos.
Left to right: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos. Felix Kunze/Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos, his brother, an 82-year-old pilot and an 18-year old recent high school graduate are scheduled to take off for space soon aboard the New Shepard, the rocket ship made by Bezos' space company, Blue Origin.

Everyone on board must comply with a set of requirements laid out by Blue Origin.

According to the company's website, there are limitations on who can take a New Shepard flight:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older.
  • You must be between 5'0" and 6'4" in height and between 110 pounds and 223 pounds in weight.
  • You must be in good enough physical shape to climb seven flights of stairs in a minute and a half
  • You must be able to fasten and unfasten a seat harness in less than 15 seconds, spend up to an hour and a half strapped into the capsule with the hatch closed and withstand up to 5.5G in force during descent.

9:07 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

The astronauts have arrived at the launch site 

The motley crew of four future astronauts arrived at the launch site, creatively named  “Launch Site One,” around 6 a.m. local time. 

They’ll spend another hour or so at the training center before departing for the actual launch pad, where they’ll get into the New Shepard capsule. 

Liftoff is expected at 9 a.m. ET. The entire flight will take about 11 minutes.

7:59 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Fueling has begun

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The New Shepard rocket is now being loaded with propellant. The company likes to say that it basically "runs on water" because the fuels it breathes on are super-chilled liquid oxygen — called LOX — and liquid hydrogen. 

7:51 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

New Shepard rocket is on the launch pad

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Blue Origin rolled its New Shepard rocket and capsule out to its launch pad in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, around 1:30 a.m. local time.

9:06 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

There's no one piloting the New Shepard. Here's why.

There are four people flying today on Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule, and while one of them — 82-year-old Wally Funk — is a pilot, her decades of experience aren't required to fly the rocket.

That's because New Shepard is fully autonomous. Blue Origin has spent the better part of the last decade running the suborbital New Shepard rocket through a series of successful test flights that have been fully automated and, thus far, carried no humans.

Today's flight will mark the first time carried people on board.