Billionaire Jeff Bezos leaves Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. Dutch time - if all goes well - for a short trip to the edge of space.

Earlier this month, businessman Richard Branson also made such a trip.

The flights mark the start of a new kind of aviation attraction, for which a ticket costs tons.

Branson and Bezos have been working for years to enable suborbital flights for space tourists.

They do this with their companies Virgin Galactic (Branson) and Blue Origin (Bezos).

Lately it became a kind of competition to see who would go first.

It became Branson, who left on July 11.

Bezos goes nine days later.

"You can't really call it a space race," says astronaut André Kuipers.

"It's essentially a marketing race with the goal of selling as many tickets as possible."

Kuipers also does not talk about a space journey.

"It's a new form of aviation. A space trip takes place in orbit around the Earth. For that you have to go a lot higher and a lot faster."

Whether both billionaires really make it to space also depends on who you ask.

"Virgin Galactic's journey reaches an altitude of about 90 kilometers, Blue Origin goes higher than 100 kilometers," says astronomer Nancy Vermeulen, who also trains astronauts.

"According to the American aviation authority, the space starts above the 80-kilometer limit. Yet most of them stick to the 100-kilometer limit."

The Journey of Jeff Bezos Tuesday Afternoon.

The Journey of Jeff Bezos Tuesday Afternoon.

Photo: NU.nl/Bart-Jan Dekker

'Beautiful attraction'

Suborbital flights have been around for years. In 1961, American astronaut Alan Shepard (after whom the Blue Origin rocket is named) took such a ride. He was the first American in space. You can also experience weightlessness for longer, with so-called parabolic flights. With these aircraft, people on board are weightless for twenty seconds at a time.

But Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights go higher, leaving passengers weightless for about five minutes. "As an attraction it is beautiful", says Kuipers, who calls it an exciting adventure. "You know it's pretty safe, but you're still not quite prepared for exactly how it's going to go and what you're going to feel. You're pushed into your seat, because the rocket has to win over gravity. Outside it's getting darker and darker. eventually you see the black universe and the curvature of the blue earth, which you cannot experience on earth."

Training is not necessary to get on board, say Kuipers and Vermeulen, as long as you have enough money (about 250,000 dollars) and are physically and physically healthy.

The passengers can, for example, go into a centrifuge to get used to the G-forces during launch.

"It wouldn't be nice if you stiffen, because you don't know what's coming your way," says Vermeulen.

"They also receive an introduction to the device in advance, so that they know how to fasten the belts and what to do in an emergency. Just like on an airplane."

Such was the journey of Richard Branson.

Such was the journey of Richard Branson.

Photo: NU.nl/Bart-Jan Dekker

Risks are always there

Still, the journeys are not without danger, says Kuipers.

"But that applies to any form of transport. There are also aircraft and shipping disasters. These are test flights."

Both companies must comply with strict safety regulations.

"Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic cannot afford to make any mistakes," says Vermeulen.

"That could mean the end of the companies. I think we can assume that no shortcuts have been taken and that all protocols are met."

Kuipers is concerned about the impact on the environment, should these trips be made more often in the future.

"Hopefully there will be no lasting damage from the ozone puncture," he says.

"We need to know whether it causes problems and ask ourselves to what extent that outweighs the pleasure of a few rich people. But if it can be done cleanly: fine."

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Businessman Richard Branson goes to the edge of space: 'Not harmless'