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Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson's proposed excursions to the frontiers of space

The billionaire kings of global marketing wage a battle for the attention of thousands of potential space tourists
A few minutes of enjoying weightlessness for 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Damien, Jeff Bezos, the 82-year-old veteran and Mark Bezos, Jeff's brother, not visible

PHOTO/Blue Origin  -   A few minutes of enjoying weightlessness for 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Damien, Jeff Bezos, the 82-year-old veteran and Mark Bezos, Jeff's brother, not visible

US tycoon Jeff Bezos, founder of e-commerce giant Amazon, has chosen 20 July, the 52nd anniversary of man's landing on the moon, to become an astronaut and promote in person on a global scale his transport system for ferrying wayward tourists to the frontier of outer space.  

On his maiden voyage of 10 minutes and 10 seconds beyond the edge of the earth's atmosphere, Jeff Bezos has made the first private civilian passenger flight into space a reality without even a professional pilot or astronaut at the controls of the spacecraft. "The expectations were very high, but they have been totally exceeded," he said after returning to earth. For the remainder of the year, two more manned launches are planned, and tourist excursions are planned to begin in 2022.

The entire SN16 coded mission of the Blue Origin launch vehicle, from before liftoff to after landing, was broadcast live. Dozens of ground and aerial cameras were able to capture the moment when the rocket engine ignited at 15:11 Spanish peninsular time (09:11 hours) at the company's launch facility in the Texas desert. The New Shepard capsule, christened RSS First Step, reached a height of 107.1 kilometres at the top of the capsule.

Alegría y satisfacción de Oliver Damien, Jeff Bezos y Mary Wallace Funk tras un vuelo espacial de ida y vuelta que desde el despegue hasta el aterrizaje se prolongó durante 10 minutos y 10 segundos
PHOTO/Blue Origin - Joy and satisfaction for Oliver Damien, Jeff Bezos and Mary Wallace Funk after a round-trip space flight that lasted 10 minutes and 10 seconds from take-off to landing

Although he started second at a later date than his closest competitor, Bezos has surpassed the ceiling reached by Richard Branson, the creator of the Virgin Group of companies. The Briton beat the American to the punch and took off into space on 11 July with his suborbital SpaceShipTwo aircraft, along with a team of three executives from his company Virgin Galactic. The experience was a success and the aircraft completed its trajectory and flight conditions as planned.

But, as was known beforehand, Branson's vehicle fell 13,900 metres short of crossing the invisible 100-kilometre line that his American antagonist has just crossed at 57 years of age. Jeff Bezos took part in it in the company of two guests and a paying passenger. The guests were his younger brother Mark, four years his junior, whom he considers "his best friend and partner". And retired airline pilot Mary Wallace Funk, who at 82 is the oldest person to have flown into space.

Coincidiendo con el 52 aniversario de la llegada de los astronautas de la NASA a la Luna, el despegue del lanzador Blue Origin y la cápsula  tripulada New Shepard se produjo el 20 de julio, a las 15:11, hora peninsular española, desde las instalaciones de Jeff Bezos en el desierto de Texas
PHOTO/Blue Origin - Coinciding with the 52nd anniversary of NASA astronauts landing on the Moon, the liftoff of the Blue Origin launcher and the manned New Shepard capsule took place on 20 July at 15:11 GMT from Jeff Bezos' facility in the Texas desert
Two very different space tourism transport systems

One of the women in the Mercury 13 programme who never had the opportunity to become astronauts, Funk has taken the record away from veteran astronaut John Glenn, who in October 1998 and aged 77 travelled to the International Space Station together with the young Spaniard Pedro Duque, who had just left his post as Minister of Science and Innovation. Glenn was the first NASA astronaut to orbit the Earth in February 1962 aboard the Friendship 7 capsule.

The fourth traveller to have the privilege of accompanying Bezos was 18-year-old Oliver Damien. The son of a Dutch billionaire, he has become the youngest of the 600 or so people who have reached space to date. The record for the youngest was held by the Soviet German Titov, who was the only crew member on the Vostok 2 spacecraft at the age of 25 in August 1961. The Dutch boy has taken fourth place by chance, because the anonymous millionaire who paid $28 million at auction resold the seat at a low price... due to scheduling problems.

Las previsiones de las trayectorias balísticas de ascenso y regreso del lanzador Blue Origin y la cápsula tripulada New Shepard se han cumplido casi de forma milimétrica
PHOTO/Blue Origin - The predicted ascent and return ballistic trajectories of the Blue Origin launcher and the manned New Shepard capsule have been met almost to the millimetre

The aims of Jeff Bezos' and Richard Branson's space tourism proposals are similar: to lead the space excursion market that heralds the near future. But the two marketing kings' transport systems for accessing space and returning to earth are radically different. Bezos' is based on a vertical take-off launch vehicle, on top of which is attached an automatically operated manned capsule.

The capsule separates from the rocket at about 80 kilometres, passes the 100-kilometre altitude limit and describes a ballistic descent trajectory. It falls under its own weight and lands on the sands of Texas, cushioned by three large parachutes and the action of a retrorocket that fires seconds before it hits the ground.

Richard Branson's approach is very different and is configured around a mother plane, which takes off from a runway at Spaceport America (New Mexico), lifts off and releases the SpaceShipTwo suborbital aircraft at an altitude of about 14 kilometres. Its hybrid rocket engine ignites for 60 seconds, causing it to reach a ceiling of just under 90 kilometres. It then describes a return manoeuvre and lands gliding on the same runway.

El británico Richard Branson consiguió el éxito nueve días antes. Se anticipó al norteamericano y voló el 11 de julio en su avión suborbital SpaceShipTwo, acompañado por tres directivos de su compañía Virgin Galactic.
PHOTO/Virgin Galactic - Britain's Richard Branson succeeded nine days early. He anticipated the American and flew on 11 July in his SpaceShipTwo suborbital aircraft, accompanied by three executives of his company Virgin Galactic
Success and million-dollar recognition for chef José Andrés

In relation to the duration of the experience, the times are also very different. SpaceShipTwo's flight lasts about two hours from its take-off fixed under the mother plane until the landing is completed. Most of that time is spent in the slow ascent to reach the ceiling suitable for releasing the suborbital aircraft. In the case of Bezos' proposed New Shepard flight, it is a much shorter trip, with the time between take-off and landing being just over 10 minutes.

Both systems of transport to the edge of space and back in a very short period of time provide passengers with unique experiences, where they can experience the sensation of weightlessness and observe the curvature of the Earth for several minutes, all without actually orbiting the Earth or being a tenant of a space station. Despite the vast difference in flight time, passengers in both vehicles spend around 3-4 minutes experiencing the sensation of floating.

En la rueda de prensa posterior al vuelo, Jeff Bezos entregó un premio “Al valor y al Civismo” por valor de 100 millones de dólares al chef español José Andrés por su labor de ayuda a los afectados por desastres en todo el mundo
PHOTO/AFP-Joe Raedle - At the post-flight press conference, Jeff Bezos presented a $100 million "Courage and Civility" award to Spanish chef José Andrés for his work in disaster relief around the world

Branson's SpaceShipTwo can carry up to eight passengers, but two of them are the pilots who steer its ascent and perform the complex return and landing manoeuvres. In contrast, New Shepard can carry six people without pilots, as the entire flight from take-off to landing is autonomous and fully automated.

In both initiatives, although the passenger cabins are very different in their configuration, both have large panoramic windows, especially New Shepard. The internal walls are cushioned to allow passengers to safely enjoy the sensation of weightlessness and to admire the views of the Earth and the cosmos from the exceptional heights attained. 

La cápsula New Shepard rebasa el límite del centenar de kilómetros de altura, describe una trayectoria balística de descenso y aterriza amortiguada por tres paracaídas y la acción de un retrocohete que se dispara segundos antes de tocar el suelo, al igual que las rusas Soyuz
PHOTO/Blue Origin - The New Shepard capsule passes the hundred-kilometre altitude limit, describes a ballistic descent trajectory and lands cushioned by three parachutes and the action of a retro rocket that fires seconds before touching the ground, just like the Russian Soyuz

Both technological bets are based on fully reusable aircraft, resulting in significant savings in maintenance costs, which will allow flights to be marketed at affordable prices. But this will be the case for the wealthy, buoyant and privileged family economies, at least for the current decade. Ticket prices have not yet been set, but it is estimated that each ticket will be in the region of $250,000 at the very least.

As the king of marketing that he is, at the press conference following the success, Jeff Bezos announced the awarding of a "Courage and Civility" prize worth 100 million dollars, or around 85 million euros. The winner is the Spanish chef José Andrés, in recognition of the work of World Central Kitchen, the NGO run by the Asturian chef, which is dedicated to providing food to people all over the world who have been affected by natural disasters.