People in Space: Jeff Bezos and Space Tourism20th Feb 2020
Jeff Bezos is an American businessman, investor, and innovator who founded the online retailer, Amazon and more recently, the aerospace company Blue Origin that is offering space tourism. At the age of 55, he hit the list of the five most influential people on Earth. According to Forbes, his fortune is valued around $140 billion.
Elon Musk’s major competitor founded his company two years before Musk’s SpaceX. However, Bezos has focussed on suborbital passenger flights, not cargo delivery. To date, people have already booked thousands of places aboard the New Shepard Blue Origin spacecraft, and the vehicle’s testing phases are almost at an end.
Space as a childhood dream
Space has fascinated Bezos since his early childhood. When he was five years old, he anxiously watched the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. According to him that’s exactly when his lifelong fascination with space exploration got started.
At school, Bezos was impressed by an interview with science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and physicist Gerard O’Neill. They spoke of a possible future when 90% of people would live on space stations far from planet Earth. Bezos still believes such a scenario is likely.
In high school, he was assigned a playground construction project, and his idea was to build one in low gravity. The future businessman added that someday he would open the first amusement park on the Moon.
After graduation, Bezos’s life priorities changed, and he went into business. That’s when Amazon was founded. However, the businessman’s thoughts kept coming back to space. At one of the dinner parties he attended, he met Neil Stevenson, a science fiction writer. They quickly found an area of interest that they both had in common – space. They went on to become very good friends.
Founding Blue Origin
In 1999, Bezos was impressed by the October Sky movie and told Stevenson about his dream of founding a space company. The writer supported his friend by asking: “Why not do it today?” A year later, Blue Origin was officially registered.
Bezos hired people who were passionate about space. All of them were thinkers rather than engineers, but this suited the company’s ideology. People needed to breathe new life into space travel and start a revolution – in the same way that the e-commerce revolution transformed the retail world.
In 2003, Bezos started hiring aerospace engineers who had previously worked on the DC-X project. That was a prototype of a rocket that could land vertically. Bezos loved the concept, but he wanted to make those rockets reusable. His logic was clear – it would not make any sense to dispose of the whole rocket after a single launch.
Bezos considered several landing options – parachutes, air cushions, even outriggers. Eventually, he settled on a vertical landing with a special support system. That’s how Charon, the first brainchild of Blue Origin, was invented. The invention was equipped with Rolls-Royce engines and looked like a small oil platform. In March 2005, Charon flew 100 meters above the ground and successfully landed on the supports. This was Bezos’s first success in his space endeavours, and it became a founding stone for building the first passenger spacecraft ever. In 2015, New Shepard (named after the legendary cosmonaut Alan Shepard) made its first successful touch-down. SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 eight months later.
Space tourism as an inevitable future
Bezos plans to send the first tourists into space within the next few years. He believes, such a space trip will become the first milestone in starting a suborbital tourism business and, eventually, relocating people to outer space. Bezos is confident that professional astronaut space flights are not bringing this future any closer. Space tourism, with ordinary people as passengers, will.