In the modern 21st century Space Race, there is a clear leader. SpaceX has captured the imagination of the public like nothing since the early days of the shuttle program, when people stopped their day to watch launches by the millions. The repeated success of SpaceX rockets to take off and then, amazingly, land safely to fly another day has mesmerized the public, giving the company a significant lead in the race to be the space transport and exploration company of the future.
But don’t count out the competition quite yet. Especially when that competition is helmed by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. His commercial space company, Blue Origin, may be lagging at present, but the company is working hard to make up lost ground, both in the commercial sense and in the hearts and minds of a newly-interested public.
Blue Origin recently celebrated the ninth flight of its New Shepard rocket, a signature event, though it did not manage to grab the attention of many similar SpaceX launches. What did make the news was one of the primary reasons for the flight. Blue Origin is working on its vehicle escape system in anticipation of the company’s first human space flight, a step many in the company believe is relatively imminent.
The flight ascended from the company’s West Texas test facility on a mission to determine how feasible it would be to carry passengers away to safety in the case of an in-flight emergency.
How soon does Blue Origin anticipate its ability to start booking commercial space flight? According to recent news reports, the company hopes to start taking tourists on “short space flights” as soon as next year… exciting news and an imminent deadline that should certainly fill headlines.
Of course, Blue Origin is not the only company making similar promises. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic already has a signup list going for people interesting in being among the first civilians in space. A seat on one of those flights can be purchased for about $250,000. Blue Origin hasn’t released a price list quite yet, though the company did say its most recent flight was about more than just passenger safety.
According to a Blue Origin release, the flight also conducted a number of experiments, as well as testing the ability of accessing WiFi in space. The purveyor of those tests? A flight dummy the company calls “Mannequin Skywalker,” which, if not headlining a press release, is definitely a missed opportunity.