Billionaires Are Helping the Ultra-Rich Live Out Their Space Fantasies
(Bloomberg) -- Venture investor Lane Bess credits his appetite for risk for a successful career in Silicon Valley’s cybersecurity startups. It’s also what’s sending him into outer space.
Bess is one of six passengers who’ll be soaring to the fringes of outer space thanks to Jeff Bezos’s space-exploration business, Blue Origin. Liftoff for the company’s third manned space flight is scheduled for Saturday from its launch facility in the West Texas desert.
“Part of who I am is seeking adventure and not being afraid to take risks,” Bess, 60, said in an interview. “It’s fulfilling a boyhood dream.”
Bess joins a small but growing group of ultra-wealthy adventurers who’ve bought their way into outer space thanks largely to competing ventures founded by billionaires such as Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk. Bess and his fellow paying passengers on the New Shepard mission -- space tech executive Dylan Taylor and Evan Dick, a former managing director at Highbridge Capital Management -- won’t even be the first space tourists this week: Japanese retail mogul Yusaku Maezawa blasted off early Wednesday for a 12-day trip to the International Space Station.
The founder of online clothing retailer Zozo Inc., Maezawa, 46, is the first space tourist to visit the ISS in more than a decade. He’s been tweeting for months leading up to the trip, posting photos of his training and even offering to pay for others to join him when he becomes the first paying passenger to fly around the moon, courtesy of Musk’s SpaceX, in 2023.
Space tourism has been around for two decades, but this year has seen a burst of activity due to a combination of soaring wealth, more rocket operators and technological advances. While wannabe astronauts have more options than ever for facilitating their space journey, that hasn’t translated to lower prices, according to Eric Anderson, chief executive officer of Space Adventures, the company that coordinated Maezawa’s trip to the ISS.
“The costs are labor, materials, infrastructure, and it’s all gone up over time,” Anderson said. “Imagine the cost of flying to Tokyo if you throw away the airplane after one flight.”
Bess, a former executive at Palo Alto Networks Inc. and Zscaler Inc. who now invests through his own fund, declined to say what he paid. Blue Origin auctioned off a ticket to its inaugural crewed flight in July for $28 million. Bess participated in the auction and, though he didn’t win, stayed in touch with Blue Origin’s sales team. The non-paying passengers on Saturday’s flight include Good Morning America co-host Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American in space.
Bess said physical preparation for the flight hasn’t been too arduous -- “they’ve really tried to make this as consumer-friendly as possible” -- though he did begin exercising and dropped 17 pounds from his 6-foot, 2-inch frame.
The flight will also serve as a bonding experience for Bess and his son, Cameron, a 23-year-old content creator and software developer who’ll also be on board. The pair used to shoot rockets together when Cameron was young, but their shared time lessened as Bess’s career grew more demanding. The flight, he said, was an opportunity to reconnect.
Aside from sating his curiosity about space and the thrilling 63-mile-high view of Earth, Bess said one thing he’s most looking forward to is meeting Bezos, who’ll be at the launch site. He said he intends to ask him about his longer-term vision for Blue Origin and to thank him for helping realize his dream.
“Unlike SpaceX, Jeff Bezos has funded this primarily at his own cost,” he said. “When you look at the facilities they’ve built and the engineering brilliance, it’s the kind of commitment very few people on Earth can make.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.