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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8:29 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

You might hear this Latin phrase a lot today

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

In the days leading up to today's Blue Origin flight, company founder Jeff Bezos has tagged his space-related Instagram posts with a two-word Latin phrase: gradatim ferociter.

It's actually the Blue Origin's motto, and it translates to "step by step, ferociously."

The motto reflects Bezos' desire not to rush-manufacture rockets. He founded Blue Origin in 2000 — six years after starting Amazon.

The company's mascot is also a tortoise, paying homage to the tortoise and the hare fable that made the "slow and steady wins the race" mantra a childhood staple.

"Our mascot is the tortoise because we believe slow is smooth and smooth is fast," Bezos has said, which could be seen as an attempt to position Blue Origin as the anti-SpaceX, which is known to embrace speed and trial-and-error over slow, meticulous development processes.

8:27 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Takeoff will be slightly delayed after the countdown clock was paused

Takeoff for Jeff Bezos and his crew will be slightly delayed past their expected 8 a.m. CT/9 a.m. ET liftoff after the countdown clock was paused.

It's possible there could be more delays — we'll keep you posted here as we learn more.

Here's a breakdown of all the important moments for the rest of the day.

(Note: T- indicates "time before liftoff." "T" was originally expected to be 9 a.m. ET exactly, but now it's a few minutes after 8 a.m. ET. If there are more delays, the timeline below will hold, but the "T" will change further.)

  • T-30 minutes: Astronauts climb the launch tower. If all is "go," they will climb aboard the crew capsule 
  • T-24 minutes: Hatch on the New Shepard crew capsule will close
  • T0: Liftoff
  • T+ 3 minutes (approximately): Capsule surpasses 62 miles in altitude, a widely recognized boundary of outer space
  • T+ 4 minutes (approximately): The capsule reaches the top of its flight path and the passengers spend a few minutes in weightlessness
  • T+8 minutes: New Shepard rocket booster lands on a nearby ground pad 
  • T+11 minutes: New Shepard crew capsule, with parachutes deployed, lands nearby
  • T+22 minutes: Hatch opens and astronauts disembark
  • T+30 minutes: Webcast concludes 
  • T+ 2 hours (approximately): Press conference with Bezos and other astronauts begins

8:26 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

She trained with male astronauts in the 1960s. Now, she's finally going to space.

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

About 60 years after undertaking rigorous astronaut training, Wally Funk is finally headed to space. The 82-year-old pilot is one of four people on board the Blue Origin flight today.

Funk volunteered as a member of the "Mercury 13" program, otherwise known as the "Women in Space Program," in February of 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.

Funk even spent 10 hours and 35 minutes inside a sensory deprivation tank in one Mercury 13 test, outperforming famed astronaut John Glenn.

"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."

Funk has extensive experience piloting aircraft, logging over 19,600 flying hours and teaching more than 3,000 people how to fly private and commercial aircraft.

According to a 2019 profile of Funk in the Guardian, Funk previously purchased a ticket aboard the suborbital space plane built by the Richard Branson-backed company Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin's direct competitor.

It's not clear if Funk will keep her plans to fly with Virgin Galactic as well.

8:21 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

The entire flight will take just 11 minutes

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The Blue Origin flight today will go up and come right back down, in less time — about 11 minutes — than it takes most people to get to work.

This is a suborbital flight, which means the New Shepard rocket ship will not make it to orbit. However it will go more than 62 miles above Earth, which is widely considered to be the edge of outer space.

Orbital rockets need to drum up enough power to hit at least 17,000 miles per hour, or what's known as orbital velocity, essentially giving a spacecraft enough energy to continue whipping around the Earth rather than being dragged immediately back down by gravity.

Suborbital flights require far less power and speed. That means less time the rocket is required to burn, lower temperatures scorching the outside of the spacecraft, less force and compression ripping at the spacecraft, and generally fewer opportunities for something to go very wrong.

New Shepard's suborbital fights hit about about three times the speed of sound — roughly 2,300 miles per hour — and fly directly upward until the rocket expends most of its fuel.

The crew capsule will then separate from the rocket at the top of the trajectory and briefly continue upward before the capsule almost hovers at the top of its flight path, giving the passengers a few minutes of weightlessness.

It works sort of like an extended version of the weightlessness you experience when you reach the peak of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity brings your cart — or, in Jeff Bezos' case, your space capsule — screaming back down toward the ground.

Here's a look at the expected flight:

8:25 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Jeff Bezos and passengers are on their way to the launch pad

From CNN’s Carma Hassan 

Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen waved as they left the Astronaut Training Center to head to the launch pad, according to a video feed provided by Blue Origin

Each passenger will receive a challenge coin, a military tradition, before they board the rocket, according to Blue Origin.

Jeff Bezos and three fellow passengers will be flying aboard New Shepard, a suborbital capsule and rocket system built by his space company Blue Origin.

Takeoff will kick off from Blue Origin's facilities at an extremely remote plot of land near Van Horn, Texas, which is about two hours from El Paso.

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

CNN
CNN

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.