Blue Origin said Thursday an 18-year-old paying customer will fly to space on the company's maiden crewed spaceflight on July 20, becoming the youngest ever astronaut.
Oliver Daemen, who graduated from high school last year and holds a private pilot's license, joins Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, the tycoon's brother Mark and barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk as the fourth member of the crew.
He is not, however, the winner of a $28 million auction followed keenly by space enthusiasts, who has asked to remain anonymous and will fly on a future mission because of a scheduling conflict, the company said.
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 15, 2021
"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 Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.
New Shepard, named for the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, is Blue Origin's reusable rocket system.
Smith also thanked the auction winner for their support of Club for the Future, Blue Origin's foundation which this week announced it was donating $1 million to 19 nonprofits that promote science and engineering.
Flying on New Shepard will fulfill a lifelong dream for Daemen, who has been fascinated by space, the Moon, and rockets since he was four, a statement said.
He plans to attend the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management this September.
The company did not disclose Daemen's nationality, but his Instagram, which had pictures of him enjoying activities like surfing, kiteboarding and diving, features comments mainly in Dutch.
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The ticket price has not been disclosed.
At 18 and 82, Daemen and Funk will be the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space.
Space tourism lifts off
Bezos, the richest person in the world, is hoping to join Richard Branson in reaching space on a vessel built by a company he founded.
Branson achieved the feat on a Virgin Galactic spaceship on Sunday, a landmark moment for the nascent space tourism industry.
Though Bezos will go second, Blue Origin has boasted its experience is superior.
Blue Origin's rocket breaks the internationally-recognized boundary of space at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), while Virgin Galactic breached the 50-mile border that is recognized by the United States.
New Shepard reusable rockets, which launch vertically from the ground, are more eco-friendly than Virgin Galactic's air-launched spaceplane, which emits greenhouse gases and soot.
Blue Origin's ambitions also extend far beyond space tourism, with the company vying to become a major contractor for NASA missions.
Currently, NASA's leading private sector partner is Elon Musk's SpaceX, which began taking astronauts to the International Space Station in 2020 and is developing a deep space rocket for future missions to Mars. (AFP)