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Last week, Jeff “Amazon” Bezos unveiled a model of his lunar lander Blue Moon. With it and his company Blue Origin, he plans to send astronauts (back) to the moon by Vice President Pence’s goal of 2024. But lunar landing is just a small part of his vision for the future: he sees humans moving into rotating paradise satellites and mining the solar system for resources. Before any of that, however, Blue Origin wants to send people into space via their rocket New Shepard.
What is Blue Origin and why did they name their rocket that?
It was the year 2000: the new millennium had just started and the future was on the mind. Six years had passed since Jeff Bezos started Amazon, so now he was thinking back to a dream he’d had in the 80s. He wanted to move to space. Or rather, he wanted millions of people to move to space. It may seem like a lofty, impossible goal, but as a first step, Bezos started a new aerospace company called Blue Origin.
For the past couple of years, Blue Origin has been a part of the 21st-century space race: the one taking place between private companies rather than two entire countries. Blue Origin has completed 11 test flights with their rocket New Shepard, which is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space.
With that namesake, you can guess what New Shepard was built to do: bring tourists to space. Is that not what you guessed? In theory, space tourists will blast off in New Shepard and spend a few precious, weightless minutes in sub-orbital spaceflight later this year. Sounds amazing, right?
Blue Origin is racing against SpaceX and Boeing to be the first private company to put people in space. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has had a few issues with their Crew Dragon capsule recently, but all three companies intend to do it this year.
However, popping into space to snap a killer Insta photo isn’t Bezos’ grand dream. Blue Origin is meant to build the infrastructure for future space colonies.
The 1970s science fiction dream of Bezos and co.
Back when Bezos was in college, he had a dreamy professor. Physicist Gerard O’Neill was rethinking how people could live in space. He saw Earth as finite; it would never be able to supply the amount of resources humanity would need and desire. And so despite our blue dot origins, he asked, “Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?”
To O’Neill (and Bezos) the answer was no. Instead of colonizing Mars (looking at you, Musk), O’Neill wanted to make huge, contained colonies that float in space near Earth. Ideally, they’ll rotate to provide a gravitational pull for those living in them. Their proximity to Earth will make communication and transportation much easier than the finnegaling and timing required to do the same with Mars.
Bezos resurrected this idea last week in a Blue Origin presentation. He showed illustrations of national parks, historical Florence, and futuristic cities happily existing in Intersteller-esque space structures. This is the answer to Earth’s limited resources, Bezos said. He believes we can mine the solar system for energy sources, rather than continuing to destroy our unique planet. Hopefully, ruining the moon (or Venus, or Mars) is not part of that plan.
Bezos is talking about building enormous, rotating habitats in space that can hold upwards of a million people. Some would be cities, some would be natural parks, he said. pic.twitter.com/QHeqN0gz7M
— Jacqueline Klimas (@jacqklimas) May 9, 2019
People will want to move to these O’Neill Colonies, Bezos said. They will be perfect paradises, like Maui on its best day. But who decides the temperature in these things? You thought thermostat wars with your family or roommates were bad, but now imagine one million people having to agree on the same temperature. No longer would the weather be safe small talk.
So how does Blue Origin fit into this future? Well, Bezos said he was able to start Amazon because the infrastructure (the postal service, credit cards, the Internet) already existed. Blue Origin is meant to build the infrastructure for future generations to make these O’Neill Colonies a reality.
But the real question is: would it still take two days for an Amazon delivery to an O’Neill Colony?
Once in a Blue Moon
In March, Vice President Mike Pence announced the administration’s goal to get astronauts (back) to the moon by 2024, which is four years earlier than NASA’s original target. But honestly, the whole thing feels a little… 1961. Hasn’t anyone told him we’ve already been there, done that?
1961 was the year President John F. Kennedy told the world that American astronauts would set foot on the moon by the year 1970. And they did, with six months to spare, in July 1969. But now, NASA wants to do it again. This time, they intend to build a space station to orbit the moon, like the International Space Station currently orbiting Earth. Ideally, astronauts will be able to travel between the space station and the moon.
NASA’s next step for going back to the moon is the launch of its rocket Space Launch System with the crew capsule Orion in 2020. Orion, with astronauts inside, is supposed to orbit around the moon for three weeks. But time will only tell if that happens by 2020.
Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin are thinking a little further ahead. Bezos unveiled a life-size model of their moon lander Blue Moon, declaring that they’ll be able to meet the 2024 goal because they started three years ago. Blue Moon is huge, bigger than the original Apollo lunar lander and capable of deploying four lunar rovers. As for NASA’s plan with it, that remains to be seen.
At this point, it just feels like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are duking it out for the future of humanity while the rest of us are sitting ringside. Sure, it’s great that Bezos’ passion is for space, but where’s the rich guy with a passion for good warehouse working conditions? That only happens once in a blue moon.