Jeff Bezos was so triumphant he was practically beaming at a press conference after Blue Origin’s first crewed mission to space, 21 years after he founded the company in 2000. The billionaire spoke about the future of the company and its role in it, then carelessly gave a few hundred million dollars.
Bezos was one of four who climbed into the RSS First Step capsule; the others were his financial brother, Mark; Wally Funk, aviation legend and Mercury 13 veteran; and Oliver Daemen, 18, the son of the second bidder of the Blue Origin seat auction. (The $ 28 million winner has postponed his seat due to scheduling conflicts.)
The company now joins a very small circle of companies that have sent private citizens into space, in the biggest boost to date for the nascent space tourism industry. Tuesday also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the next leg of space travel paying homage to the very first.
The press conference opened with the smiling quartet pinned with astronaut “wings”, a badge traditionally granted to those who have been to space. “I’m so happy,” Bezos said at the press conference, donning the same cream cowboy hat he wore moments after stepping out of the pod just over two hours earlier.
Bezos also thanked the town of Van Horn, acknowledging that Blue Origin had “made a dent in it,” and then thanked every Amazon employee, as well as their millions of customers, “Seriously, you paid for this.”
They also showed a brief video of the four crew members cavorting in four minutes of microgravity, including footage of the crew members grabbing floating pins in their mouths.
This is the second suborbital mission piloted entirely by private citizens this month alone, a first in history. The first was carried out by Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, a rocket-propelled space plane, on July 11; its founder, billionaire Richard Branson, was on board, which helped to stir up a real petty quarrel between the two ultra-rich founders. That aside, both flights have helped make space tourism a reality more than ever before.
The flight will also likely be a boost for Blue Origin’s commercial heavy rocket launch arm, which is currently largely occupied by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The same technologies that are used to perfect the reusability of New Shepard could be useful for the development of New Glenn, the company’s massive orbital launch. Bezos said in February that the company was pushing the inaugural launch of New Glenn from late 2021 to the last quarter of 2022.
“The point is, the architecture and technology that we have chosen is completely over the top” for space tourism, Bezos said. Instead, Blue Origin chose it “because it fits [ … ] the goal is to train “for larger and heavier missions.
On why Blue Origin chose liquid fuel, he reiterated that it is a practice for future launches. “Every time we do this sightseeing mission, we practice piloting the second stage of New Glenn.”
In December 2020, NASA added Blue Origin to its list of eligible space companies to compete for contracts under its Launch Services II program. While this does not guarantee that New Glenn or any other Blue Origin rocket would be awarded a launch contract, it is the first step in getting there.
Jeff Bezos has confirmed that Blue Origin will make two more crewed launches this year alone, but he has yet to announce the price per seat. “We want the pace to be very high [ … ] We are already approaching $ 100 million in private sales. When asked how to reduce the cost per seat, Bezos said the space tourism industry will follow the trajectory of commercial space travel, now widely used by millions of travelers every year.
At the end of the conference, Bezos announced he was launching a $ 100 million Courage and Civility Award, with CNN contributor Van Jones and Michelin-starred chef José Andrés as the first two recipients. The winner will donate this money to charities of their choice. The award is given to people who seemingly demonstrate civility and resist ad hominem attacks. Read between the lines (frankly, you don’t even really have to), it sounds like a commentary on contemporary political discourse, especially the emphasis on civility in disagreement.
Looking to the future, the Amazon founder said he would split his time between Blue Origin and the Bezos Earth Fund, a $ 10 billion investment fund focused on climate change.
“It’s not about escaping Earth. The point is, it’s the only good planet in the solar system, ”Bezos said. “We have to deal with it. “
Watch the press conference here: