Blue Origin plans to launch its first human passenger into outer space by the end of 2019.

If theres one thing that the ultra-rich of the 21st century have in common besides their astronomical wealth, that would be astronomy itself. Over the past decade, an increasing number of mega-billionairesfrom Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk to Richard Bransonhave joined the race to be the first man to launch regular humans (not just professional astronauts) into outer space. While none of them have succeeded, Bezos, the richest of the richest bunch, believes his rocket company, Blue Origin, already has a leg up in the race.

This weekend, therecently scandal-ridden Amazon chiefmade an unusual appearance at the Yale Club in New York City to speak during a private event, where he was interviewed by Space News writer Jeff Foust on various topics regarding Blue Origin and his competitors in the 21st century space race.Business Insiderfirst reported on the event.

Before diving into space topics, its worth knowing that, unlike Musks SpaceX, which isbacked by generous outside investors, Blue Origins operation isfunded solely by Bezos day job, AKA Amazon. (He has been shifting $1 billion worth of Amazon holdings into Blue Origin since April 2017.) And for that, the Amazon founder wanted to properly thank all Amazon shoppers. Every time you buy shoes, youre helping fund Blue Origin, so thank you, he said. I appreciate it very much.

One big thing to expect from Blue Origin in the near future: One of its New Shepard rockets, a 59-foot-tall reusable vehicle, is going to send the first human tourist into spaceand bring them backby the end of 2019.

Bezos said the New Sherpard rocket is the most mature vehicle among Blue Origins offerings so far and that the company had successfully tested all aspects of its launch, including a complicated escape system.

In addition, Bezos stressed that Blue Origins first human passengers can proudly call themselves astronauts, as the rocket will fly them well above the Karman line, the altitude defining the boundary between Earths atmosphere and outer space.

So for most of the world, the edge of space is defined as 100 kilometers [62 miles]. In the U.S. its different [80 kilometers or 50 miles]. We fly to 106 kilometers [66 miles], Bezos explained, adding that this altitude is unreachable by Bransons Virgin Galactic, which is mulling a similar space tourism program, because its vehicle isnt quite capable.

The highest point Virgin Galactics rockets have reached to date is 82.7 km (51.4 miles), accomplished by a VSS Unity spaceplane in December 2018. The altitude would qualify it as entering outer space by the U.S. standard, but not international.

Weve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman line, because we didnt want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether youre an astronaut, Bezos said proudly.

That said, however, Bezos hinted that hes not interested in taking humans too far beyond the Karman line just yet. And those who do, such asMars-aiming Musk, strike him as quite pointless.

One thing I find very un-motivating is the kind of Plan B argument, where the Earth gets destroyed, where you want to be somewhere else. It doesnt work for me, Bezos said of the idea of migrating to Mars. [To] my friends who want to move to Mars, Id say, Do me a favor, go live on the top of Mount Everest for a year first, and see if you like itbecause its a garden paradise compared to Mars.

BusinessTechnologySpaceAmazonElon MuskJeff BezosSpaceXRichard BransonYusaku MaezawaVirgin Galactic

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