The final bids are in and Blue Origin has raised US$28 million for a seat on the first crewed flight of its New Shepard vehicle. The name of the winner has yet to be released, but he or she will join Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his younger brother, Mark, on the historic suborbital flight. In an example of the company’s ‘trickle-briefing’ technique, a fourth crewmember will be announced after the bid winner.
The bidding process involved an initial online bidding phase on the company’s website BlueOrigin.com, which produced a top bid of US$4.8 million, followed by a “live auction” on 12 June. Almost 7,600 prospective astronauts from 159 countries registered to bid online and such was the interest in the live auction that RR Auctions had to field three times the usual number of telephone operators.
Beginning with intervals of US$100,000, bidding was soon increasing in US$1 million increments, reaching its climax at US$28 million just five minutes later. The winning sum will be donated to Blue Origin’s non-profit foundation, the Club for the Future. Its mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and “help invent the future of life in space”, according to a company press release. And with a commission rate of 6 per cent – amounting to some US$1.68 million – the Club was not the only winner!
The first crewed flight is scheduled for 20 July, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. It will follow a total of 15 test fights conducted over some years, the most recent of which was on 14 April 2021.
Update on 2 July by Matt Wilson: On 1 July Jeff Bezos invited one of the “Mercury 13” women, Wally Funk, to be third named participant on the first crewed New Shepard mission. Funk, aged 82, will be the oldest person to reach space surpassing John Glenn who was 77 at the time of the STS-95 mission in 1998. The “Mercury 13” group were a selection of women who during an unofficial process successfully passed the tests that NASA had designed for its (all-male) Mercury astronauts. This development now leaves just the bid winning fourth member of the crew unknown.