COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Blue Origin founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says people who buy a ticket to fly on his company's space tourism vehicle New Shepard will need to use the bathroom before the flight, and they'd better not get sick during the trip — the company has no plans to install systems to deal with human waste.
New Shepard is the reusable, suborbital vehicle produced by Bezos' private spaceflight company Blue Origin. Bezos, who is also founder and CEO of Amazon.com, said that after years of test flights, he is hopeful that Blue Origin will fly customers in 2018. He emphasized, however, that the company will only start flying humans on New Shepard "when it's ready."
On Wednesday April 5, at the 33rd annual Space Symposium, Bezos and Blue Origin revealed new details about the experience that space tourists will have on New Shepard. Bezos also discussed the company's efforts to anticipate customer demand for space tourism, and a possible lottery for anyone who can't afford a trip aboard New Shepard.
Passengers who buy a ticket on a New Shepard will travel above the Kármán line, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface of the planet, which is considered the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space. From that altitude, passengers will experience weightlessness, and see the curve of the planet and the darkness of space.
Each New Shepard flight will last about 11 minutes. Six passengers will be strapped into soft, black-leather seats lined up around the perimeter of the capsule, according to Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales for Blue Origin. Though the seats will be reclined to about a 70-degree angle (in other words, nearly facing the ceiling), each passenger will be positioned to have a clear view out one of the capsule's massive windows.
Once the capsule reaches space, the passengers will be able to unbuckle from their seats and enjoy about 4 minutes of weightlessness. The capsule is equipped with handrails and soft walls to make the capsule ideal for customers as they float around inside, Cornell said during the Space Symposium event.
The crewmembers will board the vehicle only about 30 minutes before takeoff, Bezos said, which is part of the reason the company is not planning to have any kind of system in place for the passengers to urinate or defecate.
"Go to the bathroom in advance," Bezos said. "The whole thing, from boarding until you're back on the ground, is probably 40 or 41 minutes. So you're going to be fine. You could dehydrate ever so slightly if you have a weak bladder."
Many people get sick when they experience weightlessness. In fact, it's so common that the nickname "Vomit Comet" has been given to an airplane that flies in parabolic arcs so that passengers experience 30-second bouts of weightlessness. But Bezos said vomiting doesn’t usually occur until about 3 hours into a flight.
"[People] don't throw up right away," he said. "We're not going to worry about it. … It's a delayed effect, and this journey takes 10 or 11 minutes. So you're going to be fine."
The New Shepard vehicle is fully autonomous, which means the company can run tests of the system without having to put a human pilot on board, Bezos said. It also means that the paying passengers won't have an onboard escort.
Passengers will arrive at the Blue Origin facility in Van Horn, Texas, two days before launch, and they'll begin with a brief half day of training and introductions. They'll meet their fellow crewmembers, as well as "Crew Member 7," the Blue Origin employee who will train them. Crew Member 7 will remain on the ground during the flight but will be available to talk to the passengers during flight, Cornell said at the Space Symposium.
"You have to know how to strap yourself in and a few other things. But it's not a significant amount of training."
Passengers' second day at the Blue Origin facility will be full of training, which will include "etiquette" for the weightless environment, Cornell said. Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, told reporters that much of the training will be dedicated to helping the crewmembers become comfortable with one another before the trip.
"The system has been designed from the very beginning so that the training can be minimal," Bezos said. "You have to know how to strap yourself in and a few other things. But it's not a significant amount of training."
Ticket to Ride
While the cost of a trip aboard New Shepard has not yet been announced, it will assuredly be beyond the budget of most people. For comparison, private spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has been selling tickets to suborbital space aboard its SpaceShipTwo space plane for between $200,000 and $250,000 apiece. (However, Bezos and other space tourism experts believe the cost of such trips will go down over time.) At the symposium, Bezos was asked whether he had considered some kind of raffle that would bestow a free ticket on some lucky winner.
"That's a fascinating idea," Bezos said. "We have not spent a lot of time thinking about that. But I kind of like that idea … So yeah, maybe we should do something like that."
Regarding the price of those first tickets, Bezos said the company is "working on that, and we'll figure something out … but it's not an urgent thing." He said the company won't begin selling tickets until it has completed a series of human test flights with Blue Origin astronauts.
The level of customer demand may deeply influence those ticket prices, but Bezos said it's still difficult to anticipate that interest.
"You can do research and surveys, and ask people if they want to go, but it's really hard to know," he said. "We're really close to finding out what the customer demand will be, but I think nobody knows that for sure yet.
"You know, I've thrown parties that nobody came to," he added. "And I don't think that's going to be the case here. I'm super-optimistic. But the customers get to decide what the flight rates are. I hope they decide they want to fly."