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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

How to Watch Jeff Bezos Go to Space

Imagine you have infinite money. Just an unstoppable amount of dollars—the ability to buy anything and destabilize everything. Do you use it to end world hunger? Do you take actually meaningful steps to mitigate the climate crisis? Ha ha, no. You go to space! Or at least you do if you’re Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Or Virgin CEO Richard Branson.

Today, Blue Origin will launch a crew including the former Amazon CEO, his slightly less high-profile brother, a trailblazing octogenarian pilot, and a young Dutch physics student up to the outer edges of the planet. (WIRED’s own Steven Levy will be reporting live from the launch site, so keep an eye out for his dispatches.)

The broadcast starts at 7:30 am Eastern time on July 20. The actual launch is aiming for 9:00 am ET, but expect delays. (As with all liftoffs, that timing depends on weather, the whims of random animals, or any number of technical snafus. Launching a rocket is dangerous, and things can go awry.) You can watch right here:

The flight itself should take about 11 minutes. And while there are risks involved any time you mix humans and space flight, experts expect things to go smoothly. 

This event is historic enough. There have only been a handful of crewed commercial space launches, and this is Blue Origin’s first. (If you’re keeping score, Virgin has completed one other crewed flight. Musk’s SpaceX has been flinging people into space for a while now, though none have been civilians yet.) Thanks to a last-minute booking change, the launch also now has the distinction of carrying both the youngest and the oldest person to ever go to space. It’s particularly neat for the 82-year-old passenger and ex-pilot Wally Funk, who had previously been denied her lifelong dream of traveling to space.

This launch is a big deal for Bezos too, obviously. The billionaires had locked themselves in a dude-bro cold war, each eager to make history as the very first head of a space tourism brand to hurl himself into the thermosphere. Branson claimed victory last week, with a bombastic mission in his Virgin Galactic shuttle. Bezos will try for second place, though Blue Origin has been keen to point out that the boundary of what constitutes space is a little contentious. The Bezos gang’s parabolic voyage will carry them past the Kármán line—or 62 miles up, the US Department of Defense's round number that marks the boundary of space (the Federal Aviation Administration uses a more lenient 50 miles, which is where Branson flew last week)—and keep them up there just long enough to tickle the abyss. It’ll probably be plenty of time to ensure that the price tag of future trips appeals to those with the dough. 

Of course, these high-altitude ambitions have come under fire from critics, who point out stuff like how all the money the space billionaires avoid paying in taxes could be used to fund public resources like NASA. (You know, the agency that has been sending humans to space for 60 years.) Or that Bezos has spent the last couple of decades overseeing a company that has had a serious impact on the planet's environment and a contentious history with worker’s rights advocates. The endeavor loses some of its egalitarian “giant leap for mankind” luster when it’s centered around a guy whose employees have had to pee in bottles while on the clock.

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