American billionaire Jeff Bezos is to blast off to space on Tuesday.
The Amazon founder will fly to space in a New Shepard rocket, built by his Blue Origin space tourism company.
The flight will launch at 13.30 CET from Texas and will be streamed live.
The billionaire will be accompanied by his brother, Mark, 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen, and 82-year-old Wally Funk, a retired professional aviator who trained in a privately-funded “Women in Space” programme back in the 1960s which was later cancelled. She will become the oldest person to go into space.
The Blue Origin flight comes eight days after British billionaire Richard Branson went to space for a short flight.
But unlike Branson’s Virgin Galatic rocket, which required two pilots, the New Shepard is entirely automated. It has so far undertaken 15 suborbital test flights but Tuesday’s flight will be the first with a human crew.
Speaking to NBC News on Monday, Bezos dismissed any jealousy towards Branson for beating him to into space, saying: “You know there’s one person who was the first person in space. His name was Yuri Gagarin and that happened a long time ago. I think I’m going to be number 570 or something.”
“You know, that’s where we’re going to be in this list. So, this isn’t a competition. This is about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things in space,” he added.
Bezos caught the space bug at age 5 while watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing on July 20, 1969.
He chose the 52nd anniversary for his own launch.
Enamored by space history, Bezos named his New Shepard rocket after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and his bigger, still-in-development New Glenn rocket after John Glenn, the first American in orbit.
It is a reusable rocket designed to go beyond the Karman Line — the internationally recognised boundary for space — defined to be 100 kilometres above Earth’s mean sea level.
The capsule separates from its booster three minutes into the 11-minute flight and remains above the Karman Line for two to three minutes. The parachute activates about nine minutes into the flight and eventually lands in the West Texas desert.