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Blue Origin sees clear skies for space flight by Bezos and crew

Billionaire American businessman Jeff Bezos and his three crew members are attending a crash course on Sunday in preparation for his company Blue Origin’s inaugural flight to the edge of space scheduled for Tuesday.

The suborbital launch from somewhere in the high desert plains of West Texas marks a crucial test for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, a 60-foot (18.3-meter) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo that is central to the plans from Bezos to exploit a potentially lucrative space tourism market.

The planned 11-minute ride from the company’s Launch Site One facility is set to include the oldest person ever in space – 82-year-old groundbreaking female pilot Wally Funk – and the youngest – 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen. Attending them for the launch of Blue Origin will be Bezos, the founder and current chairman of Amazon.com Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos.

Blue Origin sees clear skies for space flight by Bezos and crew

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket launcher and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA April 5, 2017. REUTERS / Isaiah J. Downing / File Photo

The mission would represent the world’s first non-piloted flight to space with an entire civilian crew. Blue Origin, which does not want any of its staff astronauts or trained personnel on board, expressed confidence at a briefing Sunday.

“We are not currently working on any open versions and New Shepard is ready to fly,” said Flight Director Steve Lanius, adding that the weather forecast seemed favorable for the scheduled liftoff at 6 p.m. 8 CDT (1300 GMT) Tuesday.

New Shepard is set to launch nine days after rival Richard Branson’s space company, Virgin Galactic, successfully completed a suborbital flight from New Mexico with the British billionaire inside its rocket plane.

According to the company, Blue Origin’s training program includes safety briefings, a space flight simulation, a review of the rocket and its operations and instructions on how to float around the vessel’s cabin after the capsule casts the earth’s gravity.

Blue Origin sees clear skies for space flight by Bezos and crew

Members of the media tour the Blue Origin Crew Capsule mockup and New Shepard rocket booster at the 33rd Place Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA April 5, 2017. REUTERS / Isaiah J. Downing / File Photo

Bezos and his crew had started the 14-hour program on Sunday and would be ready to “experience the flight of a lifetime,” said Ariane Cornell, director of sales for astronauts at Blue Origin. Cornell said Funk was eager to do a few somersaults during the flight.

New Shepard, which cannot be controlled from inside the spacecraft, is named after Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space during a suborbital flight as part of NASA’s groundbreaking Mercury program.

Like Virgin Galactic’s flight, New Shepard will not orbit the Earth, but will take the crew 100 km before the capsule returns with a parachute. Virgin Galactic’s flight reached 86 km above the ground.

Billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s space shuttle, SpaceX, promises to go even higher in September, sending an all-civilian crew member on a multi-day orbital flight aboard his Crew Dragon capsule.

Illustrative tensions in the high-stakes “billionaire space race”, Blue Origin has described Virgin Galactic as a lack of the 62 km high mark (100 km) – called the Kármán line – set by an international aviation body that defines the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

The US space agency NASA and the US Air Force both define an astronaut as anyone who has flown more than 80 km (80 km), which Branson achieved with his flight.

Blue Origin’s next flight is likely to be in late September or early October, CEO Bob Smith said. Smith said “willingness to pay remains quite high” for people interested in future flights.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania; editing by Will Dunham and Lisa Shumaker)

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