Will the Blue Origin Flight Make Jeff Bezos an Astronaut?

4th Jul 2021
Jeff Bezos - Blue Origin

In July, Jeff Bezos will take to space on the first manned flight of his Blue Origin company, heralding the arrival of commercial space tourism. However, as the door opens for the ultra-rich to engage in space travel, will these paying customers be defined as astronauts? The debate is becoming more controversial as the advent of space tourism gets closer. This ties into a bigger ongoing discussion: where does “space” really begin?

Blue Origin Founder to Make Space Tourism History

According to NASA, space begins at an altitude roughly 50 miles above sea level. By proxy, then, any individual who has passed this altitude could technically be considered an astronaut, according to the US government. This would mean that anyone onboard the VSS Unity shuttle launched in May by Blue Origin’s rival Virgin Galactic could call themselves astronauts. However, there exists an alternative metric that’s generally more widely used in scientific circles. The Kármán Line, as it’s known, rests roughly 100 kilometres (62 miles) above the surface of the Earth. At distances beyond this limit, normal lift systems and aerodynamics don’t work for conventional aircraft due to the lack of atmospheric density.

Blue Origin Flight to Pass Kármán Line

In the interests of impressive PR sound bites, it’s easy to see why many space tourism providers are keen to lowball the altitude at which space begins to make their own operations sound more accomplished. In Bezos’ case, Blue Origin insists that the New Shepard rocket launching in July will take the Amazon founder beyond the Kármán Line. If that happens, Bezos may well have some justification in calling himself an astronaut. So too, will the anonymous bidder paying Blue Origin $28 million to become the world’s first space tourist.

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