Amazon founder, and in some ways the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos will audition his version of space tourism in front of a wider audience on Tuesday (9am ET), when he and three others jump aboard a Blue Origin rocket.
It comes just after Virgin Galactic showman Richard Branson arguably stole the thunder from Bezos by taking a ride on a Virgin Unity spaceplane on July 11 that was approaching the edge of space.
But there’s reason to believe that Bezos is taking his space dreams more seriously.
Branson made his intentions known only after Blue Origin revealed Bezos’ date, exactly 52 years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
Although Branson’s Virgin Orbit has sent spacecraft into space to launch satellites, the rousing event was all about promoting the possibility of regular, albeit expensive, sub-orbital space tourism.
To American Bezos, space tourism often seemed like a means to much more ambitious goals, including sending humans to the moon.
Both Bezos and Branson have claimed that watching the Apollo 11 milestone ignited their space ambitions, but the British entrepreneur only said this in retrospect, including in his memoir. Branson certainly wasn’t asked about his designs in space when his one major company, Virgin Records, ran the Sex Pistols.
Meanwhile, Bezos’ grandfather Lawrence Gise’s career has included stints at the US Atomic Energy Commission and in space technology and ballistic missile defense for the Department of Defense. Bezos has often grown nostalgic about the summers he spent at Gise’s ranch, where the couple repaired and rebuilt all kinds of machines.
WATCH A previous launch of Blue Origin, without passengers:
There is also documentation of Bezos’ aspirations as far back as 1982, when he was one of those featured in a Miami Herald profile of local high school graduating students. The Palmetto High grad aimed to “build space hotels, amusement parks, yachts and colonies for two or three million people orbiting the Earth,” according to the Herald. “His ultimate goal is to get all the people off the earth and make it a huge national park.”
“The whole idea is to conserve the Earth,” Bezos told the paper.
Long-term spatial vision
What’s remarkable, given current and former Amazon executives’ penchant for rapping in interviews about Bezos’ ability to strategically align with his most famous company, is how little his space visions have changed.
At a 2019 event to introduce Blue Origin’s lunar module, Bezos insisted that the population growth and associated energy consumption that humans require will make the Earth an increasingly miserable place to live for future generations, a situation that is being identified. characterized by scarcity and rationing of natural resources.
“We must save this planet and we must not give up a future for our grandchildren’s grandchildren of dynamism and growth,” he said.
Unlike SpaceX’s Musk, who is animated by the prospect of colonizing Mars, Bezos imagines miles of climate-controlled structures in free space propelled by rotating gravity. Much heavy industry and mining will one day take place in space, he says, helping to preserve Earth, a vision inspired in part by the late Princeton futurist Gerard O’Neill.
On social media, Bezos, Branson and Musk have received criticism and even disdain for their space efforts given their immense personal wealth. They appear to have taken advantage of loopholes to limit their tax exposure, with ProPublica recently reporting, after obtaining numerous IRS filings, that Bezos paid no federal income tax in 2007 and 2011.
Moreover, even semi-regular flights in space tourism would have a harmful impact on the environment. But the three men have each made significant commitments on climate change, which will no doubt be heavily researched in the coming years, and it’s important to note that NASA conducted 135 space shuttle flights from 1981 to 2011, regardless of the pre-shuttle activities involved. go back nearly two decades before that.
In the case of Bezos, he praises the reusability of Blue Origin’s missiles. Otherwise, he said, it would be like “driving your car to the mall and throwing it away after one trip.”
Billionaires in space powered by US government
Some of the criticism is separate from how we got to this point.
After an extensive review of NASA operations, U.S. President Barack Obama decided it was no longer feasible for the revered space agency to tackle any U.S. ambition without a heavy dose of private sector involvement. Although Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic had all been founded by this time, it helped boost their operations.
Notably, Blue Origin and SpaceX have competed for a large number of NASA and Department of Defense contracts, and on a smaller scale, Canadian companies have a vested interest in expanding the private space industry.
The Bezos launch will miss the flash of the Branson show and will be significantly different in form. Blue Origin’s 18-foot-tall New Shepard takes off from a standing position on a launch pad, like traditional rocket launches. With Virgin Galactic, a rocket-powered spaceplane was dropped into the sky from a carrier aircraft, placing a heavy burden on the two pilots of the jetliner.
New Shepard will carry passengers for approximately 100 kilometers where it is programmed for capsule separation, deploying parachutes as the capsule re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. Virgin Galactic’s flight reached 86 kilometers above Earth.
Although both passengers take the same amount of time in regard to weightlessness, Blue Origin’s capsule has more expansive windows for the view, and the rocket boost makes its flight duration, at about 12 minutes, a fraction of the Galactic time span.
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Bezos is part of a full civilian team that includes his younger brother Mark, 82-year-old Wally Funk – a female aviation pioneer in an age of unequal opportunity – and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen.
In the end, Bezos goes for a sort of trifecta. After Amazon built the e-commerce platform most loved by customers and third-party merchants, Amazon Web Services established the infrastructure to serve a range of network, cloud computing, and data service needs for organizations as diverse as Netflix, Shell and Airbnb.
Bezos has stepped down from a daily Amazon role and says Blue Origin will pave the way towards the goal of building space colonies during his lifetime. While Bezos has pledged to spend much of his Amazon-earned wealth — Forbes estimates his net worth at US$208 billion — on Blue Origin operations, the company needs an income stream from well-paid customers.
As for the rest?
“I don’t know,” Bezos said. “That’s for future generations to figure out the details.”