The Truth About Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' Space Venture

Just over a week after Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson made it to the edge of space and back, another billionaire is getting ready to go where no other rich person has gone before.

The latest participant in what mainstream media have dubbed the "billionaire space race" is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who will take his turn in a few days, in his own rocket made by his own company Blue Origin. Bezos (who will be accompanied on the flight by his brother Mark, a volunteer firefighter, an 18-year-old student, and aviation trailblazer Wally Funk) is hoping to shoot past Branson's 53.5 mile limit by aiming to go as high as 66 miles and deeper into the edge of space.

But unlike Branson, Bezos won't be traveling with pilots or flight engineers because his ride is fully automated, allowing him to, as Branson put it: "Just sit back, relax, look out of the window, [and to] just absorb the view outside" (via The Associated Press).

Jeff Bezos has always been fascinated with space

Jeff Bezos appears to have been looking to the heavens for as long as Richard Branson has. The Associated Press says Bezos became captivated with the idea of space when he was only 5 years old, and as he had watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon back in 1969. Such is Bezos' interest in space that he once quoted his high school sweetheart as saying, "Jeff started Amazon just to get enough money to do Blue Origin — and I can't prove her wrong."

Bezos established Blue Origin just over 20 years ago in 2000, and underwrites its costs by selling as much as $1 billion worth of Amazon stock a year. After he founded Blue Origin, The Wall Street Journal says Bezos began buying up hundreds and thousands of acres worth of land in West Texas, but that today, the company employs 3,500 people who work across offices located in Florida, California, Alabama, and Washington D.C. Because it is privately owned, we don't know that much more about the company since it is not obligated to release financial statements.

Jeff Bezos paid for the development of a reusable rocket and capsule

What we do know about Blue Origin and the Amazon founder comes from Howard McCurdy, who is an American University professor and an expert on space. He believes Jeff Bezos is "doing what he did with Amazon, which is to roll over every nickel he could get into capital equipment and innovation" (via The Wall Street Journal). 

Bezos' investment paid for the development of a rocket named after astronaut Alan Shepard, which is meant to fly toward the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere before disconnecting with the capsule and coming back down for an upright landing. The capsule, which will contain Bezos and his guests, will continue on, experience zero-gravity for a few minutes, and then return to earth for a parachute landing.

Before the scheduled July 20 liftoff, AP says Blue Origin would have taken part in 15 successful test flights in total since 2015. Its rockets traveled into space with a payload of experiments, postcards, as well as a guest named Mannequin Skywalker.

Jeff Bezos plans to sell tickets to space ASAP

If all goes well Tuesday, AP says Jeff Bezos won't be sitting around, because he expects to start selling tickets to paying passengers looking to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere ASAP. It's difficult to say how much these tickets will cost, since the last paid seat on the maiden voyage went for $28 million in a charity auction (the millionaire has since backed out, blaming "scheduling conflicts," per The Week). 

What we do know is that Amazon's founder has big plans for Blue Origin — The Wall Street Journal says Bezos' company, and SpaceX, which belongs to Elon Musk, are both angling to build a moon lander for a trip scheduled to take place in 2024.

If there's anyone who appears to be winning the competition for now it's Elon Musk, whose company has dispatched 23 rockets in 2021 alone. But social media users overall appear to be less impressed and more baffled by this billionaire space race as a whole — particularly where Jeff Bezos is concerned, given that his company Amazon is being sued for employment law violations, including equal pay, harassment, and discrimination (via CNET).

 "If you can afford to start your own space program you can afford to pay more than $0 in taxes." one social media user grumbled on Twitter. Another said: "I'm sure his overworked, underpaid employees are so happy for him."