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When Bezos and Branson head into space, they and their companions fly at their own risk

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 5, 2021
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Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has plans to send people to the moon. Blue Origin

When Bezos and Branson head into space, they and their companions fly at their own risk

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 5, 2021
Heard on:
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has plans to send people to the moon. Blue Origin
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Jeff Bezos steps down as CEO of Amazon today – 27 years to the day after he founded the company.

He’s turning his attention to other projects, like his commercial space enterprise Blue Origin, which is scheduled to launch its first human flight – with Bezos on board – on July 20.

Not to be outdone in the billionaire space race, Richard Branson has scheduled his own flight with his company, Virgin Galactic, for July 11.

The companies are competing for paying passengers who’ll turn extraterrestrial excursions into a business. However, there’s not a whole lot of regulation when it comes to the final frontier.

One of the three people on the flight with Bezos will be an anonymous bidder who paid $28 million dollars for a seat – the kind of customer Blue Origin will be counting on.

“Many of them are the same people that might choose to do extreme scuba diving or climb Mount Everest,” said Greg Autry, a professor of space policy at Arizona State Univeristy. “They’re looking for that thrill.”

“It’s not as though you’ve got to have the right stuff in order to go to begin with,” he added. “Basically, you go sign up.”

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are offering minimal training to deal with G-forces and zero gravity … but that’s not even required by the government, said Josef Koller with the Center for Space Policy and Strategy.

“The FAA is actually not permitted to … provide regulation that specifically protects the health and safety of the flight participants and the crew and so forth,” he said.

That’s a congressional mandate for this “learning period” of commercial human space flight. Federal authorities are responsible for making sure no one on the ground or in a plane will be affected by a launch. But the folks onboard fly at their own risk, said Karina Drees with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

“The entire purpose is to allow adults to buy flights so that the most innovative and safe companies can continue to innovate and expand U.S. leadership in space,” she said.

The learning period for commercial human space flight is set to end in 2023.

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