WASHINGTON - Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced plans on Monday to fly into space next month on a rocket built by his company Blue Origin, fulfilling what he said was a lifelong dream.
The 57-year-old billionaire said he and his brother Mark will blast off from Earth on July 20 on the first crewed flight of the company's New Shepard launch vehicle.
Blue Origin is auctioning off the third seat in the spacecraft and bidding is already at $3.2 million with thousands of participants from around the world.
"I want to go on this flight because it's a thing I've wanted to do all my life," Bezos said in a video statement. "It's an adventure."
He said he had invited his brother to join him "because we're closest friends."
"To see the Earth from space, it changes you," Bezos said. "It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It's one Earth."
The trip will last a total of 10 minutes, four of which passengers will spend above the Karman line that marks the recognized boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space.
After lift-off, the capsule separates from its booster, then spends four minutes at an altitude exceeding 60 miles (100 kilometers), during which time those on board experience weightlessness and can observe the curvature of Earth from space.
The booster lands autonomously on a pad two miles from the launch site, and the capsule floats back to the surface with three large parachutes that slow it down to about a mile per hour when it lands.
New Shepard has successfully carried out more than a dozen uncrewed test runs from its facility in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas.
The reusable suborbital rocket system was named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space 60 years ago.
The proceeds from the auction will go to Blue Origin's foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
After the auction for the first flight, Blue Origin will offer places for sale for future trips.
The automated capsules with no pilot have six seats with horizontal backrests placed next to large portholes, in a futuristic cabin with swish lighting.
Multiple cameras help immortalize the few minutes the space tourists experience weightlessness.
Blue Origin has not yet published its prices but its clientele is expected to mainly be wealthy individuals.
Virgin Galactic, the company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, is also developing a spacecraft capable of sending clients on suborbital flights. Some 600 people have booked flights, costing $200,000 to $250,000.
"Many congratulations to @JeffBezos & his brother Mark on announcing spaceflight plans," Branson tweeted. "Jeff started building @blueorigin in 2000, we started building @virgingalactic in 2004 & now both are opening up access to Space -- how extraordinary! Watch this space…"
Elon Musk's SpaceX is planning orbital flights that would cost millions of dollars and send people much further into space.
Bezos announced earlier this year that he is stepping down as chief executive of Amazon to spend more time on other projects including Blue Origin.
He has a very public rivalry with Musk, whose SpaceX has already begun to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and is a competitor for government space contracts.
© Agence France-Presse