Blue Origin announced Thursday that an 18-year-old paying customer will become the youngest astronaut in history when the company launches its first crewed spaceflight on July 20.
As the fourth member of the crew, Oliver Daemen, who graduated from high school last year and holds a private pilot’s license, joins Blue Origin creator Jeff Bezos, the tycoon’s brother Mark, and ground-breaking female flier Wally Funk.
However, he is not the winner of a $28 million auction watched closely by space fans, who has requested anonymity and will travel on a future flight due to a schedule difficulty, according to the company.
“This marks the beginning of commercial operations for New Shepard, and Oliver represents a new generation of people who will help us build a road to space,” said Blue Origin’s CEO, Bob Smith.
Blue Origin’s reusable rocket system, New Shepard, is named after Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space.
Smith also expressed gratitude to the auction winner for their support of Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s foundation, which announced this week that it would donate $1 million to 19 scientific and engineering NGOs.
Daemen has been interested in space, the Moon, and rockets since he was four years old, and flying on New Shepard will allow him to realize a lifetime ambition.
This September, he plans to enroll at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management.
Daemen’s nationality was not revealed by the company, but comments on his Instagram account, which included photographs of him surfing, kiteboarding, and diving, were mostly in Dutch.
After the auction winner stepped aside due to a scheduling conflict, Oliver grabbed the fourth and final place on the space capsule.
The offer came as an unexpected phone call from Blue Origin last week, he said.
Oliver Daemen will be the first paying customer, according to the company, but the price of his ticket was not disclosed.
It would be far less than the winning price, a family spokesperson said.
Daemen and Funk will be the youngest and oldest astronauts to journey to space, respectively, at the ages of 18 and 82.
Space Tourism Takes Off
Bezos, the world’s richest man, hopes to join Richard Branson in space on a ship built by a company he founded.
On Sunday, Branson accomplished the feat aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship, marking a watershed moment for the fledgling space tourism industry.
Blue Origin has stated that its experience is superior to Bezos’s, despite the fact that Bezos will go second.
At an altitude of 100 kilometers, Blue Origin’s rocket surpasses the internationally recognized space limit, while Virgin Galactic broke the 50-mile border recognized by the US.
Virgin Galactic’s air-launched spaceplane releases greenhouse gases and soot, thus the New Shepard reusable rockets, which launch vertically from the ground, are more environmentally benign.
Blue Origin’s goals go beyond space travel, with the company aiming to become a major NASA mission contractor.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is currently NASA’s most important private sector partner, having launched humans to the International Space Station in 2020 and constructing a deep-space rocket for future flights to Mars.