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June 15, 2021

Adventurer pays Rs4.36b to accompany Amazon boss to space

NEW YORK: An adventurer with money to burn has paid $28 million (Rs4.36 billion) for a seat on a spaceship alongside Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

The space tourist, whose identity will be revealed soon, secured their place on the first crewed spaceflight by Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket company in an auction, foreign media reported. The four people flying to space, including Bezos, his brother Mark, the auction winner and one other not yet announced, will be in flight for 11 minutes and weightless for three minutes. They will venture up to 62 miles above the Earth's surface on the New Shepherd rocket, the point believed to be the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, although NASA recognises 50 miles above the surface as the edge of space.

They will launch on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Amazon founder and outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos entered the space sector in 2000, two years before SpaceX was formed by Elon Musk.

Based in Kent, Washington, it originally focused on sub-orbital spaceflight services, building cheaper, more reliable and reusable launch vehicles. Blue Origin haven't said who will take the fourth seat on the crewed, but autonomous flight, but there is some suggestion it will be a Blue Origin employee.

The firm said after the auction - which attracted interested from 159 countries - that the successful bidder’s identity would be revealed soon. All we know about them so far, apart from their deep pockets, is that they must be between 5ft and 6ft4ins tall, and weigh more than 7 stone 12lb, but less than 16 stone, to fit the size and specifications of the spacecraft.

Fitness-wise they will be capable of climbing seven storeys of stairs to the top of the launch tower, in Van Horn, Texas, within 90 seconds. And they will require a strong bladder, as there are no facilities on board, where they are due to remain for at least 90 minutes.

The wealthy thrill-seeker should also have nerves of steel - as they will be flying at more than 2,000 mph (3,218 km/h) to get into space, and such a trip is, needless to stay, inherently dangerous.

After its moments in orbit, the innovative vehicle is supposed to float back on parachutes and land upright. New Shepard - named after first American in space Alan Shepard - flies by automation, is 59ft high, and has room for up to six passengers.

So far the only ones we know are Bezos and his brother Mark. A second space tourist is also expected to be there.

Bezos, who has built a fortune of some $183.4 billion (Rs28.57 trillion) after spotting the potential for online shopping 30 years ago and starting Amazon as an internet bookseller, is stepping back from the top of the firm early next month.

His Blue Origin project has so far completed 15 flights, but all of them have been unmanned. He has been putting $1bn a year into it out of his spare change. As a result of his planned personal trip Bezos is now the leader in the space race which has developed between himself and rival technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, the similarly fabulously rich boss of Tesla electric cars.

In an Instagram post, the billionaire said he had dreamed of travelling to space ever since he was five years old, adding: “I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”