STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION
An 18-year-old Dutch student will join Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and aviation pioneer Wally Funk next Tuesday when they blast off aboard the Amazon founder’s New Shepard rocket for its first sub-orbital flight to space with passengers on board.
The launching will come just nine days after Richard Branson flew to space aboard his own sub-orbital rocketplane, highlighting the billionaire battle to turn the dream of regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights to space into a profit-making reality.
The still-anonymous winner of an auction who paid $28 million to join Bezos and company next week was forced to pass up the opportunity because of schedule conflicts and plans to fly on a downstream mission, Blue Origin said in a statement Thursday.
Taking his place will be Oliver Daemen, who participated in the auction with his father and secured a seat on the New Shepard’s second commercial flight. When the auction winner pulled out, Blue Origin offered the seat to Daemen, who will be “the first paying customer” to fly aboard a New Shepard spacecraft.
He also will be the youngest person to fly in space, an appropriate counterpoint to Funk, who at 82 will be the oldest.
“I am super excited to go to space and join them on the flight,” Daemen said in a video posted on a Danish social media site. “I’ve been dreaming about this all my life, and I’ll become the youngest astronaut ever because I’m 18 years old.
“I am super excited to experience zero G and see the world from above. Thanks so much for the people of Blue Origin for making this happen and making New Shepard. Thank you.”
The Danish news agency RTL reported Oliver and his father Joes Daemen, founder of Somerset Capital Partners, “unsuccessfully participated in the internet auction in June” for the fourth seat in the New Shepard capsule. After the winner dropped out, Blue Origin “then chose to award the last place to the young Dutchman,” RTL reported.
Other reports said Joes Daemen actually bid on the seat and gave his slot to Oliver.
A Blue origin spokesperson said Oliver Daemen “was a participant in the auction and had secured a seat on the second flight. We moved him up when this seat on the first flight became available.”
Blue Origin announced in May that it planned to launch its first flight with passengers on board on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Last month, company founder Bezos announced he would be on board, along with his brother and the winner of the on-line auction.
Funk, an accomplished professional pilot and one of 13 women who went through Mercury program testing only to be barred from the initially all-male astronaut corps, was added to the flight a few days later.
Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, upstaged Bezos last Sunday when he and five company crewmates rode their VSS Unity spaceplane out of the discernible atmosphere. It was the company’s fourth piloted test flight but the first with a full crew on board and, of course, the first with the company owner.
Bezos and his three crewmates plan to blast off on their mission at 9 a.m. EDT Tuesday. Strapped into a capsule with the largest windows ever built into a spacecraft, the New Shepard’s more traditional hydrogen-fueled rocket will boost the crew to an altitude higher than 62 miles.
After about three minutes of weightlessness, the capsule will plunge back into the lower atmosphere for a parachute descent to touchdown. It will be the 24th sub-orbital spaceflight since Alan Shepard’s Mercury flight in 1961 and the eighth such purely commercial, non-orbital flight out of the discernible atmosphere.
It’s not yet known when regularly scheduled passenger service will begin or how much Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin will charge. But tickets are expected to cost in the neighborhood of $250,000.