Oliver Daemen rocketed away from Van Horn, Texas, along with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Bezos’ brother Mark, and Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk, a female aviation pioneer who became the oldest person in space at age 82. The four passengers traveled aboard the New Shepard, a commercial launch vehicle from Blue Origin.
Blue Origin is a sub-orbital spaceflight services company owned by the former Amazon CEO. Blue Origin’s first human space flight came a little over a week after space-tourism rival Virgin Galactic successfully sent a crew including its founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, to space and back.
Oliver Daemen was born on August 20, 2002, in Oisterwijk, Netherlands. He was fascinated by space, the moon, and rockets at a young age. He first dreamed of becoming an astronaut when he was just 4 years old. During high school, Oliver continued his space research and read many books about it. In addition to space exploration, he enjoys more down-to-earth adventures like traveling, scuba diving, wakeboarding and surfing.
Oliver attended the Odulphuslyceum in Tilburg and received his high school diploma in 2020. After graduating from high school, Oliver took a gap year to obtain his private pilot’s license. Oliver is now enrolled at the University of Utrecht, one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands, to study physics and innovation management. He is set to begin his studies in September 2021.
Oliver secured his seat on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket through a charity auction for 19 space education and advocacy groups, making him the first paying customer and space tourist. According to an Associated Press report, a different person (who still remains anonymous) actually won the bid by paying $28 million, but opted to take a future flight due to a scheduling conflict.
Oliver’s father Joes Daemen, the founder and CEO of investment firm Somerset Capital Partners, had bid the next highest amount on behalf of his son. The teen tourist was originally going to be on the second launch for paying customers, but once the auction winner dropped out, Bezos’ company seized on the idea of flying the oldest and youngest people in space on the same flight, a family spokesperson noted.
The offer came in a surprise phone call from Blue Origin only a week before the launch. “This is so unbelievably cool!” Oliver said in a statement. “The flight to and into space only takes 10 minutes, but I already know that these will be the most special 10 minutes of my life.” He added in a video posted by Dutch broadcaster RTL Nieuws: “I am super excited to experience zero-g and see the world from above.”
Oliver Daemen and the other passengers were launched above the Karman line – an imaginary boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space – for 10 minutes and 3 seconds of weightless time before the capsule parachuted back down to Earth.
The Associated Press reported that Oliver was given some good space-traveling advice from Dutch astronaut and two-time space flier Andre Kuipers. In a statement, Kuipers told him “not to make the classic mistake of taking pictures in the short time he is up, but to fully enjoy the view of our beautiful planet.”
“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 CEO Bob Smith said in a statement. As the first teen in space, Oliver says he feels a “responsibility” to get young people interested in space “and not even just space — but science” and sees his role as an amazing opportunity to do so.
When Blue Origin was auctioning off space flights for charity, an age requirement was not listed. The winning bidder just had to commit to three days of training and meet several physical requirements. For example, the Terms and Conditions stated that the winning bidder had to weigh between 110 – 223 pounds, have a height between 5’0″ and 6’4″, and be able to climb seven flights of stairs in 90 seconds, among other things.
Soviet cosmonaut Ghermon Titov previously held the record for the youngest to fly in space. He was 25 when he blasted into orbit four months after Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space. American astronaut John Glenn previously held the record for the oldest to fly in space. He was 77 when he flew aboard the Discovery space shuttle in 1998, 37 years after becoming the first American to orbit Earth. The new recordholder, Wally Funk, was one of 13 female pilots who went through the same tests in the early 1960s as NASA’s Mercury 7 astronauts but never made it into space because only men were allowed at the time.
Astronaut or Not?
The definition of “astronaut” and the criteria for determining who has achieved human spaceflight vary. That’s because it’s hard to say exactly where “air space” ends and “outer space” begins.
The US Air Force, NASA, and FAA award astronaut wings to military, professional, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 50 miles (80 km). The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale defines spaceflight as any flight over 100 kilometers (62 mi) of altitude. They call this the Karman line, even though Hungarian physicist Theodore von Kármán himself determined the boundary of space to be 80 km above sea level.
With the first suborbital passenger flight by Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo on July 11 followed by Blue Origin’s New Shepard on July 20, and with SpaceX’s first orbital private spaceflight planned for October, the year 2021 marks a new era of space tourism.
This means the criteria for the designation “astronaut” has become open to broader interpretation. For example, should an untrained paying passenger who travels above an altitude of 50 miles be considered an “astronaut” or simply a space tourist?
In an Axios article, space historian Robert Pearlman explained it this way: “When ‘astronaut’ is no longer a bragging status, then it will resume being used only by those people who are going into space for exploration or if it’s their job.”
Real astronaut or not, Oliver is a dedicated and talented teen who has been given the gift of seeing Earth from an astronaut’s perspective. He said the flight was a life-changing experience.
“Every second of this flight was indescribably intense. The mighty effect of the G-forces on your frame, the epic moment you leave the atmosphere. The view of the earth from space is unforgettable,” Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad quoted him as saying.
“Back on the ground, you realize how extremely vulnerable our planet is in the vast galaxy. I realize now more than ever that we have to be extremely careful with the earth. I want to contribute intensively to that.”
In the years ahead, we look forward to Oliver Daemen reaching new heights in physics innovation and inspiring the next generation of space explorers. 🙂
Photos Courtesy of Blue Origin.