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New Shepard liftoff
Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship lifts off for a 2019 test flight. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says the beneficiary of the $28 million auction for a spot on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship is Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands.

Daemen is due to take a trip to the edge of space next Tuesday, sitting alongside Bezos and his brother Mark — as well as female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, who at the age of 82 would become the oldest person to go to space. Daemen would become the youngest.

The actual winner of last month’s auction is still anonymous. Blue Origin said the winner had to forgo the milestone flight due to scheduling conflicts, and will instead go on a future flight. (Although there may be more to it than that: Couldn’t someone reschedule things to make history in the company of the world’s richest person?)

A spokesperson for Blue Origin told GeekWire that Daemen was a participant in last month’s auction. After the sale, Blue Origin followed up and arranged for him to go on the second New Shepard flight. His reservation was moved up when the seat on the first flight became available, the spokesperson said.

Oliver Daemen
Oliver Daemen (Blue Origin Photo)

The $28 million went toward Blue Origin’s educational foundation, the Club for the Future, and $19 million of that sum is being distributed to 19 space-focused nonprofit organizations.

“We thank the auction winner for their generous support of Club for the Future and are honored to welcome Oliver to fly with us on New Shepard,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said today in a news release. “This marks the beginning of commercial operations for New Shepard, and Oliver represents a new generation of people who will help us build a road to space.”

Blue Origin said the flight “will fulfill a lifelong dream for Oliver, who has been fascinated by space, the moon and rockets since he was 4.”

He graduated from high school last year, and took a gap year before continuing his studies to obtain his private pilot’s license. In September, he’s due to attend the University of Utrecht to study physics and innovation management.

Daemen’s LinkedIn page indicates that he’s from Tilburg in the Dutch province of North Brabant, not far from the Belgian border.

Oliver Daemen’s Instagram account includes a photo that shows him alongside Joes Daemen, the founder and CEO of a Dutch investment firm called Somerset Capital Partners. Blue Origin confirmed that Joes is Oliver’s father and played a role in last month’s bidding.

“This is a dream come true!” Oliver Daemen said in a Dutch press statement. “I didn’t expect this at all, until last week that surprising phone call from Blue Origin came. This is so unbelievably cool! The flight to and into space only takes 10 minutes, but I know already that these will be the most special 10 minutes of my life.”

RTL Nieuws reported that Daemen left for Texas today.

New Shepard has gone through 15 uncrewed flight tests at Blue Origin’s West Texas suborbital spaceport over the past six years, but the upcoming flight will be the first to have people on board.

The rocket would push the Bezoses, Funk and Daemen to a height beyond 62 miles (100 kilometers), the widely used international standard defining the boundary of space. At that altitude, they would experience a few minutes of weightless and see the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space. Then the capsule would descend at the end of its parachutes back to the Texas rangeland. The whole flight is expected to last a little more than 10 minutes.

The flight will usher in passenger space trips for Blue Origin, which received the Federal Aviation Administration’s clearance just days ago.

Blue Origin’s first crewed flight is scheduled on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s coming a little more than a week after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and five crewmates took a suborbital space flight to a height just beyond 50 miles, which fits the Federal Aviation Administration’s standard for spaceflight.

In the months ahead, the fact that New Shepard flies somewhat higher than Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket plane is likely to become a marketing point for Blue Origin as it works to build up a customer base. The fare for future New Shepard flights hasn’t yet been announced, but Blue Origin said it would be contacting the bidders in last month’s auction to offer future spots on a confidential basis.

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