Bezos’ company has made it clear since its founding in 2000 in Kent, Washington, that it is about much more than bringing tourists into space for a few minutes of weightlessness. It is about “building a road to space”.
“In order to preserve the Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will have to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources and move industries that stress Earth into space,” according to the vision statement of the society.
The New Shepard flight came just a week after Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, traveled to the outer reaches of space aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. Flights are propelling a new industry that hopes to attract growing numbers of tourists to space, starting primarily with the wealthy who can afford the tickets.
But Bezos, a billionaire who made his fortune making Amazon a global online marketplace but dreams of space travel since childhood, said he almost religiously believes that sustaining the human race will require building. of space colonies – starting with the moon – where millions of people can live and work and develop new resources to meet growing demand on Earth.
He described them as “very large structures, for miles around, and they are home to a million people or more each.”
Bezos attributed much of his vision to the influence of the work and writings of the late Gerard O’Neill, a physicist at Princeton University, whom Bezos met as a student.
O’Neill argued in the 1970s that “we can colonize space, and do it without stealing or harming anyone and without polluting anything” and presented a vision of how “almost all of our industrial activity could be removed from Earth’s fragile biosphere in less than a century.
For Bezos, “it’s about industrializing space, moving all polluting industries into space,” said Howard Bloom, a board member of the National Space Society, who awarded Bezos the Gerard O’Neill Memorial Award in 2018.
O’Neill’s vision is “where did Bezos’ idea come from to turn Earth into a zoo for plants, animals and humans – and remove all industry from Earth -” added Bloom, founder of the Space Development Steering Committee, a coalition of space industry leaders and astronauts.
This ultimately means permanent settlements in space. “Bezos keeps alive the idea of the O’Neill colonies which can be 20 miles in one direction and 1 mile around and which can have 500 square miles of land with forests, parks, farms and puppies, as well as cities, ”Bloom continued.
There is, however, a significant debate over whether what Bezos is considering is practical in the near future. If not at all.
“Bezos wants to take people away from this planet, so it’s kind of like a very visionary and altruistic prospect,” said Mir Sadat, who was director of defense and space policy at the National Security Council. “Some people who don’t like his point of view say he’s reckless or that it could never happen,” he added. “Others say” Earth has been around for billions of years and will be there for billions of years, so why is this guy doing this? “”
But Sadat, who is the editor-in-chief of the scholar Space Force Journal, believes a lot is possible in the not-so-distant future.
“If the economy and the scarcity of Earth’s minerals and the ability to maneuver safely in space evolve in the right direction, we will have homes on the moon within the next 10 years,” he said. .
In addition to the New Shepard, Blue Origin is building a series of other spacecraft and rocket engines to further Bezos’ vision.
For example, the New Glenn, a heavy transport rocket, is designed to travel much further and carry people into Earth orbit and beyond. “New Glenn will build a road to space,” the company said.
He is also leading the design of a suite of vehicles to operate on the lunar surface and deliver goods to the moon to support a more permanent human presence.
The New Shepard’s flight on Tuesday lasted only 10 minutes, including a brief period of weightlessness after the capsule crossed the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized space border.
The four-person crew included Bezos’ brother Mark, as well as Wally Funk, 82, one of the first NASA-trained Mercury 13 astronauts who was never able to travel to space before the cancellation. from the program. She is now the oldest person to have traveled in space.
Finally, crew member Oliver Daemen, 18, from the Netherlands, was the youngest person to travel in space.
The flight was the first of what Blue Origin plans to be in a series of human missions, including at least three more this year, as the New Shepard rocket and space capsule regularly take more civilians into space.
Advocates hope Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights will boost public confidence in private space travel. Blue Origin has repeatedly urged viewers during the flight’s airing on the company’s website to purchase tickets, which now number in the millions but are expected to be reduced to $ 100,000 as more customers line up. .
In the near future, “we hope to be in the thousands” of passengers, said Gary Lai, senior director of program management at Blue Origin, before the flight on Tuesday.
Those who have followed Bezos’ space ambitions closely over the past two decades also see Tuesday’s milestone as a big step towards his ultimate vision. He is known to think long-term and commissioned the construction of a 10,000-year-old clock.
Bezos and other pioneers of private space “are exploiting the mystique and exclusivity of space to eventually make it routine,” said Jamie Morin, executive director of The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy, a government funded think tank.
“They believe that the frequent launches that can accompany a secure space tourism market for the rich will help build a safe and reliable industry and infrastructure in support of a much greater human destiny,” he added. . “And maybe a profitable business, too.”