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Blue Origin's commercial flight: How risky is space tourism?

Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk represent the youngest and oldest to travel to space. 18-year old Oliver Daemen is the first paid tourist. 82-year old Wally Funk is an aviator who missed the bus over NASA's gender bias since the 60's. Apart from Jeff Bezos, the space team also includes his brother Mark. "Welcome to the crew, Oliver! We’re grateful to have you as our first customer to mark the beginning of commercial operations," Blue Origin tweeted. Experts differ on the risk factor involved in such commercial space flights.

NEW DELHI, July 19: Space company Blue Origin will fly its 16th New Shepard flight to space with a capsule in its first crewed space trip on July 20 at 8 am CDT (6:30 pm IST), and that will be the first-ever commercial flight into space.

The flight will carry its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. Riding along with Bezos will be Mercury aviator Wally Funk, whom he personally invited to join the crew, along with his brother Mark. The 82-year old woman aviator, who was refused a chance by NASA all along, will become the oldest astronaut. Bezos' brother, a firefighter, is Mark Bezos. A Dutch teenager, Oliver Daemen, will be the first paid space tourist and the youngest to go to space. He comes in place of the winner of the anonymous charity auction bidding $ 28 m but opted for a future flight.

Space flight is inherently a risky operation. And how risky is Blue Origin space flight? Unlike Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, whose spaceplane had two pilots and he did not cross the Karman line beyond the outer atmosphere, Blue Origin is set to enter space pilotless and will be in an autonomous mode.

After the 1986 Challenger disaster it is often calculated using mathematical models what is the risk involved in space flights. It is said space vehicles can expect a failure rate of 1 in every 120 launches. To be lenient to Blue Origins, vehicles having acquired quite a lot of experience in flying, the risk is set 1 in 1,000 flights. For Blue Origin it is the 16th with one minor failure.

Two issues come under focus. One set of failures involve the rocket. In the case of New Shepard, it is not entering the orbit, where the risk is, and will use a simple single engine called Blake Putney. It creates a thrust when it takes off far less than NASA's Space Shuttle boosters. To be on the safe side, in the Blue Origin crew capsule sits far from its engine and is able to separate and escape in case of a rocket failure, of any kind.

On descent level, if the weather is not favouravle and the winds are blowing hard, it can tilt the capsule and anything can happen. Besides, the descent is inherent with a remote chance of a parachute not opening up and a calm landing becoming difficult, prematurely dropping faster in the Bay or the Atlantic.

The New Shepard rocket and capsule will launch from Launch Site One, a remote area in the west Texas desert that will be closed to all spectators, even along nearby sections of State Highway 54, Blue Origin said.

Bezos of Amazon founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the hopes of eventually bringing rich space tourists to suborbital space.

Blue Origin bests Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic on many counts. Branson's space company, founded in 2004, just launched its flight on July 11. It was well piloted and did not have to cross the Karman line. Besides, Blue Origin reuses its New Shepard.

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