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The Margin: Blue Origin’s bidding war for a trip to space is nearing $3 million

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Those bidding on a chance to go into space this summer are ready to burn through some serious cash. 

Blue Origin, Amazon
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CEO Jeff Bezos’s space venture, recently launched an online auction for a shot at scoring the first seat on its first suborbital sightseeing flight aboard the New Shepard spacecraft. And after the first round of auction, the highest bid was at $2.8 million late Thursday afternoon, according to the auction ticker on BlueOrigin.com.

The launch scheduled for July 20, which also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, will carry six passengers above the Kármán Line, aka the internationally recognized boundary of space more than 62 miles above the Earth. 

The initial announcement coincided with the 60th anniversary of astronaut Alan Shepard making history as the first American to go into space on May 5 — which came three weeks after the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin into the cosmos in 1961. Since then, only 579 people have voyaged into space or reached its edges, according to NASA.

But now the space tourism race is seriously heating up. 

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CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to launch its first all-civilian flight into Earth’s orbit this fall, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic
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plans to launch its tourist flights next year. Now Blue Origin is giving anyone with deep pockets a shot at becoming “one of the first 600 astronauts in history,” it claims in a video promoting the auction, by offering a place among the New Shepard’s first astronaut crew to the highest bidder. The money raised will benefit its Club for the Future foundation, whose mission is to inspire future generations to pursue STEM careers so that they can “do something extraordinary up there” in outer space some day.

The online auction is being conducted in three parts. Aspiring astronauts competed in a sealed online pre-bidding war from May 5-19, and their bids weren’t visible to the public. The company said that it received more than 5,200 bidders from 136 countries in the first round. Then bids became visible on Wednesday, and now participants must top the highest one to win. And this will all culminate on June 12 with a live online auction to determine the winner. 

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So how high are these bids expected to fly? Well, Blue Origin noted on its frequently-asked-questions page that anyone wishing to bid more than $50,000 would need to undergo a verification process and put down a refundable $10,000 deposit, if that gives you any idea. And a 2018 Reuters report noted that Blue Origin was planning to charge passengers at least $200,000 each, once its civilian trips to space took flight. So it’s safe to say that while this seat on the New Shepard is open for anyone to bid upon, actually landing the coveted spot is a moonshot for those with six or seven figures to spend. 

Indeed, Virgin Galactic has said it will charge $250,000 for its reservations, the Associated Press reported, although it has not announced final pricing.

You think that’s astronomical? The U.S., Canadian and Israeli entrepreneurs scheduled to fly in a 1½-week SpaceX mission early next year are reportedly paying $55 million apiece for the privilege.

This story has been updated now that the auction has headed into its second round.

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