Bezos launches to space: Rewatch the flawless first crewed Blue Origin flight here

The billionaire former Amazon CEO did it -- he's now an astronaut. You can rewatch the livestream here.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
6 min read

Away it goes! The New Shepard rocket takes off for the NS-15 mission.

Blue Origin

Editor's note: Jeff Bezos has made it to the edge of space and back. You can read all about it here or rewatch the livestream below. 

It's almost a week since Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson earned his astronaut wings and another extremely wealthy human being is gearing up to do the same. On July 20, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will strap himself into a rocket built by his spaceflight company, Blue Origin, and blast off to space. Alongside him will be his brother Mark and -- should the flight be successful -- the oldest astronaut ever, aeronautics pioneer Wally Funk, and the youngest astronaut ever, 18-year-old Oliver Daeman

The mission is the culmination of almost two decades of rocket science. Blue Origin officially emerged in 2015 after over a decade of silence, revealing its reusable rocket, New Shepard, to the world. Fifteen test flights later, New Shepard is ready to carry humans to the cosmic shoreline, have them stare into infinity and bring them safely back to Earth. And Bezos is first in line to test the experience.

On July 12, the company cleared one of its last hurdles, receiving the official blessing of the US Federal Aviation Administration to carry passengers to space. So this is happening -- and you can follow along.

Here's when and how you can watch the historic first crewed Blue Origin launch.

How to watch Bezos launch on Blue Origin's New Shepard 🚀  

The flight is scheduled for Tuesday, July 20, and Blue Origin's coverage will begin at 4:30 a.m. PT (7:30 a.m. ET). For those who need a little extra sleep in on the US West Coast, liftoff is targeted for 6 a.m. PT (9 a.m. ET).

You can watch live at BlueOrigin.com, but we'll have it right here for you, too. CNET Highlights, on YouTube, is carrying a livestream from West Texas, where the launch will occur -- it's just below.

What about other time zones across the globe? Here's when you can catch liftoff:

  • Rio de Janeiro: 10 a.m. 
  • London: 2 p.m.
  • Johannesburg: 3 p.m.
  • Moscow: 4 p.m.
  • Dubai: 5 p.m.
  • New Delhi: 6:30 p.m.
  • Beijing: 9 p.m.
  • Tokyo: 10 p.m.
  • Sydney: 11 p.m. 

And CNET's main YouTube channel will have live commentary of Tuesday's launch with Eric Mack, Claire Reilly and Stephen Beacham.

The New Shepard rocket

Named for the first American astronaut to head into space, Alan Shepard, Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket has completed 15 flights to date. This, the 16th mission, is known as NS16. 

The rocket has seen two major iterations since it first flew on April 29, 2015, but it will be New Shepard 4 that flies Bezos to the edge of infinity.  

Bezos and crewmates, including Funk, who went through astronaut testing in the early 1960s, will be lying inside a crew capsule, shaped like a gumdrop, for their ascent to space. The pressurized crew capsule boasts the "largest windows in space," according to Blue Origin, and has space enough for six astronauts. It does not require any pilots -- all of the flying work is done by onboard computers.

In the event of an emergency, the crew capsule can separate at anytime from the booster rocket, deploy parachutes and glide safely back to Earth. Here's hoping such a separation isn't required.

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin: A journey to space takes flight

See all photos

'Battle' of the billionaires

Richard Branson, the 70-year-old billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic, launched beyond the stratosphere inside VSS Unity, Galactic's space plane on July 11. The headlines said it all: "Branson Beats Jeff Bezos to space," read one in The New York Times. 

Both Branson and Bezos are selling the dream of spaceflight to private citizens, attempting to open up a space tourism sector that will see "everyone" able to take short suborbital trips. However, the trips aren't cheap. Tickets on Virgin Galactic's space plane cost $250,000 before sales were suspended after a crash in 2014. According to The New York Times, when sales reopen, they could be more expensive. It's not clear how much a ticket aboard Blue Origin's rocket will cost at this point, but one seat sold for $28 million at auction. 

The tagline for many space tourism missions seems to be about opening space access to everybody, but the six- and seven-figure ticket prices aren't exactly in the realm of your everyday space fan. It remains to be seen how these prices will fluctuate. 

While a petty battle and space tourism are front and center in the coverage of the Branson and Bezos flights, there are opportunities for science, too. Both companies will offer scientists the opportunity to have payloads taken on flights, with Blue Origin noting astronauts on board can tend to experiments in microgravity in real time. New experiment techniques could be developed in suborbital space before being sent to the International Space Station for longer-duration tests.

But perhaps before we even get there, we need to answer a more pressing question. It's one that Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have had to wrestle with this week: Where does space start? 

Space or the edge of space?

There's been a bit of billionaire bickering over where, exactly, space begins. That's why you've likely heard Branson's flight described as reaching "space" or the "edge of space" almost interchangeably -- where Earth's atmosphere "ends" and space begins is not perfectly defined. 

The US Federal Aviation Administration gives astronaut wings to anyone who flies above 50 miles (around 80 kilometers). Some scientists have argued this is fairly reasonable based on the distance at which satellites are able to orbit the Earth, and NASA uses a similar number when defining where space begins for crewed missions. Branson's Virgin Galactic flight saw him reach an altitude of around 53 miles, so he gets his wings. 

But that isn't necessarily where "space" begins, according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. The FAI's Astronautic Records Commission, which "appraises and administers manned spaceflight record activities," uses something known as the Kármán line to define where space starts.

That "line" sits at around 62 miles (100 kilometers) up. But the FAI's descriptor isn't a legally binding one, and there have been claims space should start even further out -- at 1.5 million kilometers! With the FAA and NASA saying one thing and the FAI saying another... it all gets a little messy. 

The discrepancy means Branson's flight to space is seen by some as requiring an asterisk. Blue Origin took a thinly veiled swipe at the Galactic flight on Twitter. "New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name," the company tweeted.

What does all this mean? Well, Bezos and his crew are definitely going to "space," as defined by crossing the Kármán line -- and Blue Origin is keen to make a big fuss about that. Does it really matter? No. Is it an extremely spicy and pointless discussion for the purposes of space tourism? Probably.

As far as Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic might go with space tourism, another company has even more ambitious plans for 2021: Elon Musk's SpaceX.

SpaceX factor

That's right, there's another insanely rich man who also has space in his sights. The SpaceX head honcho with plans to establish a colony on Mars? Yes, SpaceX does have plans to take private citizens into the cosmos, too -- and much farther than Branson or Bezos will be able to achieve with their spacecraft. A moon mission, scheduled for 2023, will take eight people "further than any human has ever gone" from the Earth, making a short loop around our natural satellite before returning.

Another mission, with a much closer departure date, will take four private citizens around the Earth in a Crew Dragon spacecraft. There are plans for it to launch before the end of 2021 on a multiday journey along a custom flight path.