When Apollo 11 placed the first people on the moon, on 20 July 1969, NASA might have known the price per person, but seats were not for sale, or rent.
On 20 July 2021, privatization of space demonstrated an aspect of commerce: market pricing, open bidding, for sale or rent. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, auctioned a seat on today’s ride. When the anonymous highest bidder ($28 million) backed out, citing other commitments, the place went to next-in-line Joes Daemen, CEO of Somerset Capital Partners. Daemen in turn bounced the ball to his son, Oliver Daemen, who will become the youngest person ever to go to space.
Space tourism is having a moment. On 11 July, Richard Branson flew aloft on Virgin Galactic for a view of Earth and a glimpse of space: also aboard were three Virgin staff and two crew pilots. On 20 July, Blue Origin’s New Shepard carried Jeff Bezos, brother Mark Bezos, and two other passengers: 82-year-old Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen for 10 minutes of rocket tourism.
Flying to the Kármán Line (100 kilometers: 54 nautical miles/62 miles above Earth, the point considered to be the beginning of space) is not cheap, but prices vary. What’s the cost per passenger for space tourism? Yet unknown. Bezos is funding Blue Origin, founded in 2000, with share sales of Amazon stock, selling 1.85 billion worth of shares in May 2021. Bezos donated the $28 million auction proceeds to a charitable outreach: Club for the Future. Branson filed to sell $500 million in Virgin Galactic shares after the July flight, sparking a brief halt in the stock’s trading. Virgin Galactic currently has 600 reservations for space tourism flights: pricing ranges from $200,000 to $400,000, depending upon date of purchase. To date. Blue Origin has sold seats by auction: scheduled pricing is to follow. SpaceX, founded by Elon Murk, will also carry paying passengers: three people paid $55 million each for a 10-day tour to the International Space Station.
There are some who question the ethical and environmental costs of private space. Should billionaires like Bezos, Branson, and Musk spend their money flying to space or solving problems on Earth? What about the emissions of space vehicles carrying not scientific experiments but joy-riding millionaires?
Others point out that innovation often starts with entrepreneurial investment. Early in the 20th century, in 1903, the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. In 2003, air transport generated 13.5 million jobs and significant contributions to GDP around the world. What innovations might we see from space tourism in this century? How will Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin influence development in space? Watch Blue Origin’s voyage here.
In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the costs of private space: environmental and financial.
Blue Origin. https://www.blueorigin.com
Fitzgerald, Maggie. “Virgin Galactic falls 17% after it gets set to sell $500 million in stock following Branson’s successful flight.” 12 July 2021. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/12/virgin-galactic-shares-rise-after-successful-branson-flight-paves-wave-for-space-tourism-industry.html
Gershgorn, Dave. “How much is a ticket on Blue Origin? Jeff Bezos reveals new details. Let the bidding begin…” Inverse.com. https://www.inverse.com/innovation/blue-origin-ticket-price-cost-auction-date
Klueger, Jeffrey. “Wally Funk Is Going to Space Aboard Jeff Bezos’s Rocket. Here’s Why That Matters: A flight 60 years in the making.” 18 July 2021. TIME magazine. https://time.com/6080695/wally-funk-space-bezos/
Morrow, Allison. “Someone spent $28 million for a seat on the Bezos space flight and now they’re bailing because they’re busy.” 15 July 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/15/business/nightcap-bezos-space-oatly-sunscreen-recall/index.html
Palmer, Annie. “Bezos sells nearly $2 billion worth of Amazon shares.” 5 May 2021. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/05/amazon-ceo-bezos-sells-nearly-2-billion-worth-of-amazon-shares.html
Taylor, Kiara. “How to Buy SpaceX Stock.” 14 May 2021. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/buy-spacex-stock-151215951.html
Virgin Galactic.https://www.virgingalactic.com. Stock ticker NYSE: SPCE.
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp