Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin Team Launch into Space


VAN HORN, Texas – Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, went into space on Tuesday. It was a short excursion soaring more than 65 miles into the sky above West Texas in a spacecraft built by Mr. Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin.

While Mr. Bezos was beaten into space last week by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who flew a rocket plane from his company Virgin Galactic, some analysts say Blue Origin, founded more than 20 years ago by Mr. The company has ambitions for space tourists on a scale far beyond short flights and is backed by the entrepreneur who has turned the Amazon into an economic powerhouse.

Lori Garver, who served as NASA’s deputy administrator during the Obama administration, said Mr. Bezos had “a big, long-term vision, multi-generational.” He added that his intention for Blue Origin is to “compete for even higher stakes” in its growing space business.

Mr. Bezos in 2017 announced It will sell $1 billion a year of Amazon stock to fund its space venture, and Blue Origin has already pursued a number of business opportunities, including trying to win contracts for a moon landing for NASA astronauts and launching satellites for the Department. Defense over large reusable rockets.

In the last years before stepping down as CEO of Amazon, Mr. Bezos would often spend one day a week – usually on Wednesdays – focusing on Blue Origin. The fact that Mr. Bezos is sitting in the capsule for Tuesday’s space trip makes it clear that he puts spaceflight at the top of his spending list.

“The only way to distribute that much financial resources is to turn my Amazon earnings into space travel,” he said. I said a few years ago, he showed his investment as a form of philanthropy.

Mr. Bezos described a vision of the future of humanity influenced by the suggestions of Gerard K. O’Neill, a Princeton physicist. In the 1970s, Dr. O’Neill proposed giant cylindrical space colonies that, if large enough, could support many more people and industries than is possible on Earth.

“The solar system could easily support a trillion people,” Bezos said. “If we had a trillion people, we’d have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts for all practical purposes, resources and solar power, and it would be unlimited.”

In contrast, SpaceX founder Elon Musk focused on the idea of ​​settling on Mars. Getting to Mars is an easier task than building one of O’Neill’s colonies, but making a cold and stuffy Mars hospitable to human civilization would be a huge undertaking.

And despite Tuesday’s successful flight, Blue Origin still has a long way to go. To make an impact on the future of humanity that Mr. Bezos describes, Blue Origin will need much more than the tiny New Shepard vehicle that Mr. Bezos and three other passengers flew to the edge of space on Tuesday.

While private enterprise has always worked with governments on space travel, it has only been in recent years that private companies have begun to create business opportunities from touristic spaceflights.

Blue Origin’s achievements pale in comparison to the rocket company led by one of the world’s wealthiest: SpaceX, which Mr. Musk founded a few years after Blue Origin started.

SpaceX is already a giant in the space business. It regularly takes NASA astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, has deployed more than 1,500 satellites in the Starlink constellation to provide ubiquitous internet service, and is developing a massive rocket called Starship for missions to Mars and elsewhere.

By contrast, Blue Origin’s upcoming projects don’t seem poised to disrupt the space industry the way SpaceX has, at least in the near future.

New Glenn, the larger reusable rocket for launching the satellites Mr. Bezos’ company is working on, is more than a year away, and efforts to win major government contracts, such as launching Department of Defense satellites, have so far been futile. A lunar lander that Blue Origin hopes NASA will one day use to transport astronauts hasn’t been chosen because NASA says it only has money for one design — SpaceXs.

Blue Origin’s mascot is the turtle. As in the fairy tale “The Tortoise and the Rabbit”, perhaps with constant and sustained effort Blue Origin can catch on.

Ms. Garver remembered that Mr. Bezos had gone to Washington to meet with himself and NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Back then, Blue Origin was a mystery.

“We were thrilled when we heard about your plan,” he said. “It was: ‘I’m here because I invested in a space company. I am willing to invest a lot in the long run. And my goals are very aligned with NASA. So if I can be of any help in any way, let’s work together.’”

Blue Origin was working on a capsule that could transport astronauts to the International Space Station and won a modest $25.6 million development contract from NASA. But work on this vehicle stalled, and Blue Origin withdrew from competition for contracts that eventually went to Boeing and SpaceX.

“It was slow and steady, slower than anyone expected,” Ms. Garver said.

But comparisons to SpaceX’s outstanding achievements are somewhat unfair, he said.

“We’re really spoiled by SpaceX right now,” said Ms. Garver.

Even if Blue Origin has yet to fulfill its lofty vision, more companies will mean more competition. “I really have not been as disappointed as some people are at their pace,” said Ms. Garver. “I feel like they’re going to get there. We need competition.”

Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of aerospace consulting firm Astralytical, was also positive. “Although their progress was slow, they did not experience major failures that showed me they were at risk,” he said. “Blue Origin still finds its way forward.”

As Blue Origin awaits the path that Mr. Bezos will take him down, Tuesday’s flight marked a milestone, the company’s first flight to carry humans into space despite not going into orbit.

At 8:11 am central time, the blunt rocket and capsule, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, rose from the company’s launch site in Van Horn as a fine jet of fire and exhaust from the rocket’s engine.

Over the past six years, Blue Origin has made 15 successful unmanned test flights, and engineers have decided that the pilotless-flying New Shepard is finally ready for passengers – including its bosses.

The other three passengers are Mr. Bezos’ brother Mark; Oliver Daemen, a Dutch student who became Blue Origin’s first paid passenger; and pilot Mary Wallace Funk, who was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous astronaut selection criteria imposed by NASA in the 1960s, but didn’t get a chance to board a rocket until Tuesday.

At 18, Mr. Daemen was the youngest person to go into space. 82 years old, Passing by Wally, Miss Funk was the oldest.

“I want to thank you, honey,” Ms. Funk told Jeff Bezos at a press conference. “I’ve been waiting a long time.”

When the booster exhausted its propulsion, the capsule separated from the rocket at an altitude of about 47 miles. Both tracks continued to travel upwards for 66.5 miles, crossing the 62-mile boundary often considered the beginning of space.

Passengers did somersaults and tossed Ping-Pong balls and Skittles candies, unbuckled and glided around the capsule, in freefall for about four minutes.

The booster landed vertically near the launch site, similar to SpaceX’s rival reusable Falcon 9 rocket. The capsule then descended under the parachutes until it landed slowly in a cloud of dust.

It was over ten minutes and 10 seconds after launch. Moments later, the four of them exited the capsule enthusiastically, being embraced by their friends and family.

Two more passenger-carrying flights are planned for this year, with the company hoping to accelerate the pace of operations next year. Blue Origin declined to say how much initial customers paid or how many signed up. But Mr. Bezos said: “We’re already approaching $100 million in private sales. And the demand is very, very high.”

In addition to the cost of the high tickets to ride the New Shepard, Mr. Bezos also pointed to the enormous wealth at his disposal when he outlined how it was possible for him to fund Blue Origin.

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer,” Mr. Bezos said at his post-flight press conference, “because you paid for all this.”

The phrase received a number of condescending responses from critics. Perhaps only to dampen the attacks of those who say they are using his wealth, Mr. Bezos, who creates entertainment for the rich, announced that he has created a reward for individuals that he says are exemplary of both kindness and courage.

The prize offered $100 million to two individuals – CNN political commentator Van Jones and chef and restaurateur José Andrés – to be donated to charities chosen by each recipient.

Whatever the future of Blue Origin, Mr. Bezos was satisfied on Tuesday. Would he make another trip?

“Hell yes,” he said. “How fast can you refuel that thing? Let’s go.”

Karen Weise and Neil Vigdor contributed to the reporting.


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