Blue Origin donates New Shepard auction proceeds to space nonprofit groups

WASHINGTON — With less than a week before its first crewed suborbital spaceflight, Blue Origin is distributing some of the proceeds from an auction for one of the seats on that flight to a group of space-related nonprofit organizations.

Blue Origin announced July 14 it is awarding $1 million each to 19 organizations through its foundation, Club for the Future. The organizations include a wide range of educational and advocacy groups, from the Challenger Center and Space Camp to The Planetary Society and the International Astronautical Federation.

“This donation is enabling Club for the Future to rapidly expand its reach by partnering with 19 organizations to develop and inspire the next generation of space professionals,” Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said in a statement.

For some of the organizations, the $1 million award far exceeds their annual budgets. The Mars Society, for example, reported annual revenue of less than $400,000 in its most recent publicly available filing with the Internal Revenue Service, while the Space Frontier Foundation reported an annual revenue of less than $430,000.

The organizations welcomed the awards but offered few specifics about how they would spend the money beyond support for some kind of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education projects. “This incredibly generous grant from Blue Origin will allow us to expand our educational and career development programs to countless young people,” Anita Gale, chief executive of the National Space Society, said in a statement.

Space Center Houston, which operates a visitor complex adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said it will use the grant to expand programs to reach disadvantaged students in the Houston area. “With Blue Origin’s support, we can empower students with hands-on STEM learning opportunities through the wonders of space exploration,” William Harris, president and chief executive of Space Center Houston, said in a statement.

The funding comes from the auction Blue Origin completed June 12 for a seat on the first crew New Shepard suborbital flight, which sold for $28 million. The remaining proceeds from the auction will be used by Club for the Future for its own space education programs.

The company has not disclosed the winning bidder, even though the flight is scheduled to take place in less than a week. Blue Origin confirmed July 12 that launch will take place July 20 from its West Texas test site, with liftoff scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has updated its license for New Shepard launches to allow the company to carry spaceflight participants on board.

Joining the auction winner on that flight will be Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and Wally Funk, one of the “Mercury 13” women who passed astronaut medical exams six decades ago but never received an opportunity to become NASA astronauts.

Bezos overshadowed Blue Origin’s awards with a much larger one of his own July 14. He is giving $200 million to the National Air and Space Museum that will go towards renovations of the museum and a new educational center. The Smithsonian Institution called the donation the largest single gift it received since its founding by James Smithson in 1846.

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