The answer is not what you would expect. Space travel is historically fraught with danger. Although the risk is not necessarily astronomical for Bezos’ excursion into the cosmos, as his space company Blue Origin has spent the better part of the last decade driving the suborbital New Shepard rocket he runs on through a series of successful test flights. (Being in space is also Bezos’ lifelong dream.)
Here’s what Bezos’ flight will look like and to what extent people take their lives in their hands when they go to outer space these days.
What the plane looks like
When most people think of space travel, they think of an astronaut orbiting the Earth and floating in space for at least a few days.
That’s not what the Bezos brothers and their fellow passengers want to do.
They come up and come straight down again, and they do it in less time – approx. 11 minutes – than it takes most people to get to work.
Suborbital flights are very different from orbital flights of the type that most of us think of when we think of space travel. Blue Origin’s New Shepard flights will be short, up-and-down flights, though they will travel more than 100 km above the ground, which is widely considered to be the edge of outer space.
Suborbital flights require far less power and speed. This means less time required for the rocket to fire, lower temperatures burning out of the spacecraft, less force and compression tearing at the spacecraft and generally fewer opportunities for something to go very wrong.
The New Shepard capsule then uses a large parachute to slow the descent to less than 20 miles per hour before hitting the ground.
How big are the risks?
Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, which is fully autonomous and does not require a pilot, has never had an explosive accident in 15 test flights. And the nature of Bezos’ flight means it has some inherently lower risks than more ambitious space travel experiments. But that does not mean the risk is zero either.
Yet there is no way to guarantee safety absolutely if New Shepard is malfunctioning.
Although suborbital flights are less risky than orbital missions, they can still be deadly.
One of Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spacecraft, for example, broke apart in 2014 when one of the vehicle’s co – pilots prematurely deployed the spring system designed to keep the vessel stable as it made its descent. The extra drag on the plane tore it to pieces and killed one of the pilots.
Blue Origin has not encountered similar tragic accidents during its testing phase, although the space – as an old saying from the industry – is tough.
However, Bezos has suggested that the risk is worth it.