COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos had his chance to go into space in a Russian Soyuz capsule – and not just into space, but around the moon. But he says he’d rather taste the final frontier in a spaceship built by his own company, Blue Origin.
Bezos touched on what it would take for spaceflight, including what he’s done to prepare for the experience, during my informal chat with him in front of hundreds of attendees here today at the 32nd Space Symposium.
The Blue Origin space venture was created back in 2000, six years after Bezos founded Amazon, so that he could pursue his childhood dream of going into outer space – a dream that goes back to watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
Bezos noted that his high-school girlfriend, Ursula Werner, has been quoted as saying Amazon exists “solely to create money for Blue Origin.”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that,” he joked.
But he did confirm that he’s undergone some training for spaceflight – not under zero-G conditions in an airplane, as many people have done, but in a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. “If you’re subject to motion sickness, you might not want to do that,” he said.
He has also tested the seats that will be installed in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship. New Shepard already has gone through three successful space launches and landings during autonomous test flights.
If the schedule proceeds as Bezos hopes it does, test passengers will soar to the edge of space in the New Shepard from Blue Origin’s launch facility in Texas starting next year. That would set the stage for paying passengers to get on board as early as 2018. The price of a ticket has not yet been set.
— Jack Yeh ? (@jckyeh) April 12, 2016
Another player in the suborbital space tourism market, Virgin Galactic, is just starting to test its second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane – more than a year after the first plane broke up during a test flight, killing the co-pilot and injuring the pilot.
Even though it’s not clear exactly when Virgin Galactic will begin commercial spaceflights, the company has about 700 customers who are paying as much as $250,000 for a spot on the passenger list. Many of those would-be spacefliers have gone through zero-gravity airplane flights as well as centrifuge training.
Bezos said passengers won’t need a lot of training for the 11- to 12-minute flight they’ll take on Blue Origin’s vertical-launch-and-landing spaceship.
“For the suborbital mission, training is going to be relatively simple,” he said. “One of the things that you have to do is emergency egress, so we’ll train people for that. One of the things you’ll have to be able to do is get out of your seat, and get back into your seat. We want people to be able to get out, float around, do somersaults, enjoy the microgravity, look out those beautiful windows.”
Would Bezos go? Absolutely, as long as it’s in his own spaceship.
“I want to go into space, but I want to do it in Blue Origin vehicles,” he told me. “Even though I do want to go into space, as a personal thing … it’s not what’s important to me. What’s important to me is lowering the cost of access to space.”
Several millionaires have purchased trips on Russian Soyuz capsules to the International Space Station and back, for tens of millions of dollars. Seattle software billionaire Charles Simonyi enjoyed the first trip in 2007 so much that he bought a second ride through Space Adventures in 2009.
Bezos said he was approached about going on a Soyuz as well. “I’m definitely in their target market,” he quipped.
At one point, he was offered a flight around the moon at a premium price.
“The Soyuz is theoretically designed to do a lunar flyby and then re-enter,” he said. “So I looked at this, and it was expensive. Like $200 million or something. I said, ‘Yeah, but has it ever been tested?’ And they were like, ‘Well, no.'”
“Isn’t that a little risky?” Bezos recalled asking. “Well, for $400 million, we’ll test it for you,” came the reply.
“Maybe I’ll wait on that one,” Bezos said with his signature laugh.