by Marcia Dunn
VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — Jeff Bezos is about to board the first flight of his space travel company.
The founder of Blue Origin as well as Amazon will become the second billionaire on Tuesday to ride his own rocket. She will launch from West Texas with her brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands, and an 82-year-old female aviation pioneer from Texas – the youngest and oldest woman ever.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is set to blast off with its eclectic group of passengers on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Bezos’ parents and other family members were present for the launch.
Bezos is aiming for an altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers), more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) higher than Richard Branson’s ride on July 11.
The capsule is fully automated, so there is no need for trained crews on a quick up and down flight, which is expected to last only 10 minutes. Two pilots are needed to operate Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Dressed in a blue flight suit and cowboy hat, Bezos boarded the launch pad with his fellow passengers. He shook the hand of the crowd gathered on the street and clenched his right fist.
Bezos’s dream-cum-true journey follows 15 successful test flights to space by a New Shepard rocket since 2015, all of them empty. If successful, Blue Origin plans to have two more passenger flights by the end of the year.
The company has yet to open ticket sales to the public and is filling upcoming flights with people who participated in a $28 million charity auction last month for a fourth capsule seat. Mystery Winner pulled out of Tuesday’s launch due to a scheduling conflict. This opened the slot for Oliver Damon, a college-going student from the Netherlands, whose father was among the unsuccessful bidders.
Also flying: Bezos’ younger brothers, Mark and Wally Funk, one of 13 female pilots who went through the same tests as NASA’s Mercury astronauts in the early 1960s, but failed to make the cut because they were women .
Not everyone was excited about the drama taking place 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the north in the remote, desert town of Van Horn.
“It’s a luxury that’s being set aside for the rich,” said pizza shop owner Jesus Ramirez. He planned to watch the morning start from the courtyard of his restaurant with a cup of coffee.
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