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Live shopping and auction platform Whatnot took home the coveted dot.LA Startup of the Year, so clearly the company was destined for greatness. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the company has announced a massive Black Friday shopping event this year with a truly one-of-a-kind grand prize. (And note that we’re not using the cliche “out of this world” to describe the prize, because puns are beneath us as an organization.)
That’s right: through November 28, Whatnot shoppers can enter for a chance to win an actual flight to outer space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. (Blue Origin, of course, is the aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company founded by Amazon mastermind Jeff Bezos in 2000.) Of course, the lucky winner will have to undergo a number of qualification screenings, and agree to strict flight standards, before they can formally claim the prize. It is space, after all.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved Blue Origin to ferry humans into the cosmos via its New Shepard system just last year, immediately prior to Bezos’ maiden voyage on July 20, 2021. The CEO and his fellow astronauts – which included his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen (though not, unfortunately, Pete Davidson)– trained together for just 14 hours prior to their space voyage in the two days prior to launch.
The training itself consists of classroom instruction, some live demonstrations, and then a few practice runs in a specialized training capsule. At the end, astronauts go through a few different timed simulations – basically recreating how they’ll enter, exit, and move about the capsule while in space – and take a final exam. The New Shepard itself is fully automated and controlled by the flight crew on the ground, so the on-board astronauts don’t need to learn how to actually operate it in any way. They can just sit back and enjoy the flight.
There are a few physical requirements that the FAA and Blue Origin will also need winners to meet. Perhaps most significantly, astronauts experience around 5.5 Gs of pressure for a few seconds during their final descent into Earth’s atmosphere, which can take a significant physical toll on the human body. As well, they have to be able to climb the launch tower – the equivalent of about seven flights of stairs – in 90 seconds, and they have to be able to easily navigate uneven surfaces, such as ramps or decks with steps. Remaining strapped to a set for between 40 and 90 minutes without having to get up, move around, and use the restroom is also essential, for obvious reasons. Plus Blue Origin passengers have to be able to fasten and unfasten their own safety harness in under 15 seconds, which the company compares to fastening a seatbelt in an unfamiliar car in the dark. Finally, all participants have to be able to hear and understand instructions in English.
It’s a far cry from the era of films like “The Right Stuff,” “Space Camp,” and even “Armageddon,” which depicted preparations for outer space travel as both physically taxing and significantly time-consuming. “Armageddon,” specifically, makes a major plot point of the drilling team getting just two weeks – not nearly enough time! – to complete training before departing Earth bound for an incoming asteroid. Still, if commercial space travel and space tourism are ever going to take off as viable industries, cutting down on prep time is essential. A lot of people might want to experience the wonder of orbiting the Earth, but can’t necessarily take 3 months off of work to completely familiarize themselves with the sensation of weightlessness.
For those Whatnot shoppers who aren’t lucky enough to land the Full Bezos and touch the heavens, a number of other prizes are also on offer. This week’s runner-up giveaways include crystalized Pikachu figures created by artist Daniel Arsham; a “Cosmos” bag from Birkin valued at $20,000; Nike Air Mags as featured in the film “Back to the Future”; and a set of Michael Jordan collectibles taken from the set of 1993’s “Space Jam,” collectively valued at around $10,000.
The promotion caps off a big year for Whatnot, which now ranks as the largest independent live shopping platform in the US. In July, the company closed a $260 million Series D funding round led by DST Global and Alphabet’s independent growth fund, CapitalG, bringing their overall value to around $3.7 billion. The company offers a live auction platform and specializes in collectibles, from sneakers to trading cards and memorabilia to rare toys. The new investment will help them expand into more collectible categories, including diecast cars, stamps, and action figures.
And hopefully one day, cowboy hats, in case Bezos needs to stock up.— Lon Harris
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