The world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, is preparing to launch his business Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle for a suborbital flight as part of a record-breaking crew on Tuesday.
The flight represents a watershed moment in the billionaire's plan to bring in a new era of private space travel.
He'll take out from a desert site in West Texas on an 11-minute journey to the edge of space, only nine days after British billionaire Richard Branson was aboard Virgin Galactic's successful first suborbital trip from New Mexico.
Branson was the first to reach space, but Bezos will travel higher – 62 miles (100 kilometers) for Blue Origin vs. 53 miles (86 kilometers) for Virgin Galactic – in what analysts are calling the world's first unpiloted space trip with an all-civilian crew.
Two others will join Bezos, the founder of eCommerce business Amazon.com Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos, a private equity executive. Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneering female aviator, and Oliver Daemen, a recent high school graduate, are on track to become the oldest and youngest individuals to reach space.
“I'm ecstatic, but not worried. On Monday, Bezos told Fox Business Network, "We'll see how I feel once I'm strapped into my seat. We're all set. The car is all set.”
The journey takes place on July 20, 1969, the same day that Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.
Funk was one of the "Mercury 13" women who prepared to be NASA astronauts in the early 1960s but were passed over due to their gender.
Daemen, Blue Origin's first paying customer, is going to the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management. His father, the founder of financial management firm Somerset Capital Partners, was on hand to see his son's space flight.
Members of the Bezos family, Blue Origin personnel, and a few spectators waiting along the roadway before sunrise will all be present for the launch.
New Shepard is set to launch about 8 a.m. CDT (1300 GMT) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One site about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural Texas town of Van Horn, barring any technical or weather-related delays.
New Shepard is a 60-foot (18.3-meter) tall fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combination that cannot be piloted from within the spacecraft. It will be entirely computer-piloted, with no Blue Origin astronauts or trained employees on board.
A spaceplane with two pilots was utilized by Virgin Galactic.
New Shepard will fly at speeds of up to 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) per hour to an altitude of around 62 miles (100 kilometers), the so-called Kármán line, which was established by an international aeronautics body as the border between Earth's atmosphere and space.
The crew will be able to unbuckle when the capsule separates from the launcher for a few minutes of weightlessness. The capsule then lands softly in the Texas desert beneath parachutes, thanks to a last-minute retro-thrust technology that expels a "pillow of air."
The reusable launcher has already made two trips to the edge of space.
The launch is another milestone in the drive to develop a space tourism industry, which UBS thinks will be worth $3 billion per year in ten years.
Elon Musk, another billionaire tech entrepreneur, plans to launch an all-civilian crew into orbit aboard his Crew Dragon capsule in September.
The first of two more passenger flights are expected to take place in September or October this year, according to Blue Origin.
To become the first paying client, more than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries competed in an auction. The auction winner, who placed a $28 million bid, canceled Tuesday's flight, allowing Daemen to board.
According to Virgin Galactic, 600 affluent would-be citizen astronauts have also reserved tickets, which cost around $250,000 each.
Branson has stated that the price will eventually be reduced to around $40,000 per seat.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos is worth $206 billion. He stepped down as Amazon's CEO this month, but he remains the company's executive chairman.