The billionaire space race is nothing new. For decades, those with an excess of cash have been battling to be the first to conquer the next frontier in human exploration. It’s currently a show-down between SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson. But this week, one took the unprecedented step of announcing that he would be taking the leap of actually flying to space on one of his company’s rockets. Jeff Bezos will be the first space-sightseeing billionaire. 

Bezos to Blast Off

Jeff Bezos

Bezos announced today that he would be hopping on a rocket ship to the stars. His Blue Origin company will be launching 60-foot tall rocket New Shepard on July 20th, marking its first crewed flight, and Bezos will be on it. Bezos’ younger brother Mark Bezos will also make the giant leap in space tourism, riding New Shepard with his brother. 

Bezos is resigning as CEO of Amazon, effective July 5th, so his first space flight will happen just two weeks after that – a heck of a way to start retirement. Bezos, ever the risk-taker, is looking forward to the monumental trip; per CNN, “‘Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,’ Bezos, 57, said in a Monday morning Instagram post. ‘On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.'”

The New Shepard has been developed in relative secret, with Blue Origin conducting multiple unmanned missions to test the rocket’s capabilities. CNN adds, “Bezos has called Blue Origin the most important work I’m doing,’ though he has not previously been open about whether he personally would like to travel to space.

‘I’m interested in space because I’m passionate about it,’ Bezos, who also made a cameo in 2016’s Star Trek: Beyond, said during an interview with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer. ‘I’ve been studying it and thinking about it since I was a five year old boy — but that is not why I’m pursuing this work. I’m pursuing this work because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing.'”

And if you want to head to outer space with Bezos, you may be in luck – depending on the size of your wallet. 6 seats are being auctioned off on the New Shepard, with the highest bid currently nearing $3 million. The auction will close June 12th for the 11-minute suborbital flight. 

Billionaires Vye to Conquer Next Frontier

If it seems weird to you that a retail CEO would jet off to the stars, you may not have been keeping up with the Billionaire Space Battles. What it boils down to is that three of the shrewdest businessmen in the world; Musk, Branson, and Bezos, have locked on to the clever concept that space will be the next area for human consumerism and tourism. If they can stake a claim to it first by making it accessible – relatively so, anyway – they’ll have an edge up on the competition. And they didn’t get to be billionaires by missing opportunities. So now the race is on to be the first big name making a splash in space. Musk has already managed to organize the first Martian colony expedition, as well as contract with NASA for the next Lunar mission. But Bezos is not to be outdone, keeping his eyes trained on the sky with his Blue Origin projects.

Branson, British billionaire and expert at the extravagant, is setting Virgin Galactic up to be in direct competition with Blue Origin, hoping to offer wealthy thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies a way to get a suborbital view for just a few million dollars. But let’s be honest – they’re not just in it for the money and the opportunity, although that’s enough of a reason for any of them. These three also happen to be geeks, and a love for space and all things tech drives their innovation and the directions for their companies.

Current State of the Billionaire Space Race

Space Hotel

There has been criticism that the price of progress towards space tourism is too high. And not just in cash. Many futuristic dystopian novels begin with the wealthy saving the best experiences in life for themselves and letting the wealth gap grow as working class people fall further and further behind – eventually splitting society into two disparate forces. With the first stages of space travel looking to cater to not just the wealthy, but the ultra-wealthy, this first step in the wealth gap fracturing down the center is becoming a reality. 

Earlier this year, an announcement was made that the solar system’s first space hotel would be ready for visitors in 2027. But this is no family travel spot – stays of a few days will run around $5 million or more, according to early spitballing by Gateway’s creator John Blincow

However, any human progress is progress and advocates for the hotel and Bezos’ grand gestures remind naysayers that wealthy people never go alone – riding along will be the hospitality staff, entertainers, and service industry workers who keep things running. So as they aim their wealthy pals for the stars – humanity rides shotgun. 

And at least one billionaire isn’t likely to make the launch himself. While Bezos is mere weeks from the first billionaire blast-off and Branson has signaled that he will be riding the first tourist rocket for Virgin Galactic, Musk has declined the opportunity. Ever the pessimist, Musk has warned that space travel is dangerous, and many people are likely to die on the first Mars expedition. Musk believes he has too much important work left on Earth, making the choice “imprudent.” 

Bezos, on the other hand, is going to get his gold watch, clock out for the last time, strap on a Hawaiian shirt – at least, in our version of events – and make his dreams a reality. Bezos may face a lot of criticism for things he’s done as the Amazon CEO, but he’s not afraid to put his life on the line for the next stage in human exploration.