Bezos’ company has known since it was founded in Kent, Washington in 2000, that it is about much more than bringing tourists into space for a few minutes of weightlessness. It’s about “building a road into space”.
“To preserve the earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity must expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that pollute the earth into space,” the company’s vision states.
The New Shepard flight came just a week after Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, traveled to the edge of space aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. The flights are fueling a new industry that hopes to bring more and more tourists into space, starting mostly with wealthy individuals who can afford the tickets.
But Bezos, a billionaire who made his fortune building Amazon into a global online marketplace but dreamed of space travel since childhood, has said that he believes, almost religiously, that the preservation of mankind means building space colonies requires – starting on the moon – where millions live and work and develop new resources to meet the growing demands on earth.
He has described these as “very large structures, miles at the end, and they each hold a million people or more”.
Bezos took much of his vision from the influence of the works and writings of the late Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton University physicist whom Bezos met as a student.
O’Neill argued in the 1970s that “we can colonize space without robbing or injuring anyone and without polluting anything” and developing a vision of how “almost all of our industrial activities could be removed from Earth’s fragile biosphere in less than a century”.
For Bezos, “this is about industrializing space, moving all polluting industries into space,” said Howard Bloom, a member of the National Space Society’s board of governors presented Bezos with the Gerard O’Neill Memorial Award in 2018.
O’Neill’s vision is, “Where does Bezos’ idea come from to turn the earth into a petting zoo for plants, animals and people – and take all industry off the earth -” added Bloom, founder of the Space Development Steering Committee, one Coalition, plus space leaders and astronauts.
Ultimately, that means permanent settlements in space. “Bezos is keeping alive the idea of the O’Neill colonies, which can be 20 miles in one direction and 1 mile in radius, and which can include 500 square miles of forest, parks, farms and pooches, and cities,” Bloom continued.
However, there is considerable debate over whether what Bezos envisions is feasible in the near future. If any.
“Bezos wants to get people off this planet, so it’s kind of a visionary, altruistic perspective,” said Mir Sadat, who served as the director of defense and space policy on the National Security Council. “Some people who don’t like his view say he’s foolhardy or that it could never happen,” he added. “Others say, ‘The earth has been around for a gazillion and there will be another gazillion years, so why is this guy doing this?'”
But Sadat, the editor of the scientific Space Forces Diary, thinks a lot is possible in the not too distant future.
“If the economy and the scarcity of earth minerals and the ability to safely maneuver in space move in the right direction, we will be living on the moon for the next 10 years,” he said.
In addition to the New Shepard, Blue Origin is building a number of other spacecraft and rocket engines to advance Bezos’ vision.
For example, the New Glenn, a heavy-lift rocket, is said to travel much further and carry people into orbit and beyond. “New Glenn will build a road into space,” says the company.
It also directs the development of a number of vehicles that operate on the lunar surface and deliver cargo to the moon to support a more permanent human presence.
The New Shepard’s flight on Tuesday took just 10 minutes, including a brief period of zero gravity, after the capsule passed the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space.
The crew of four included Bezos’ brother Mark and Wally Funk, 82, one of the original Mercury 13 astronauts who were trained by NASA and were never allowed to go into space before the program was canceled. She is now the oldest person to travel into space.
After all, crew member Oliver Daemen (18) from the Netherlands was the youngest person to travel into space.
The flight was the first in a series of human missions Blue Origin is planning, including at least three more this year, as the New Shepard rocket and space capsule keep bringing more civilians into space.
Proponents hope the Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights will increase public confidence in private space travel. Blue Origin repeatedly urged viewers during the flight’s broadcast on the company’s website to purchase tickets, which now run into the millions but are expected to be reduced to $ 100,000 as more customers line up.
In the near future, “we hope to reach thousands of passengers,” said Gary Lai, senior director of program management at Blue Origin, ahead of the flight on Tuesday.
Those who have closely followed Bezos’ space ambitions over the past two decades also see Tuesday’s milestone as a huge step toward his ultimate vision. He is known for thinking long term and has built a. commissioned 10,000 year clock.
Bezos and other private space pioneers are “harnessing the mystique and exclusivity of space to eventually become routine,” said Jamie Morin, executive director of the Center for Space Policy and Strategy at The Aerospace Corporation, a government-funded think tank.
“They believe the frequent launches that can come with safe space tourism for the rich will help build safe and reliable industry and infrastructure to support a much greater human destiny,” he added. “And maybe a profitable business too.”