Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin Team Launch into Space

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VAN HORN, Texas – Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, went into space on Tuesday. It was a short excursion soaring more than 65 miles into the sky above West Texas in a spacecraft built by Mr. Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin.

“Best day ever,” Mr. Bezos cried as the capsule settled in the dust near the launch site.

Although the flight did not enter orbit, Amazon founder Mr. It was a milestone for the company that Bezos started over 20 years ago, the first time a Blue Origin vehicle has transported humans into space.

The fact that Mr. Bezos sits in the capsule reflects his enthusiasm for the effort and perhaps his intention to give Blue Origin the focus and creative entrepreneurship that has made Amazon one of the strongest economic forces on the planet. But the short duration of the journey also highlighted the company’s slow pace of progress and how far Mr. Bezos is far from catching up with a significant slice of the burgeoning space economy, let alone fulfilling his vision of a large number of people living and working in space.

But on Tuesday, the launch went smoothly as planned.

At 8:11 am central time, the blunt rocket and capsule, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, rose from the company’s launch site in Van Horn as a fine jet of fire and exhaust from the rocket’s engine.

Over the past six years, Blue Origin has made 15 successful test flights without humans on board, and engineers have decided that New Shepard is finally ready for passengers – including its bosses.

The other three passengers are Mr. Bezos’ brother Mark; Oliver Daemen, a Dutch student who became Blue Origin’s first paid passenger; and pilot Mary Wallace Funk, who was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous astronaut selection criteria imposed by NASA in the 1960s, but didn’t get a chance to board a rocket until Tuesday.

At 18, Mr. Daemen was the youngest person to go into space. 82 years old, Passing by Wally, Miss Funk was the oldest.

Ms. Funk then said “Thank you” to Mr. Bezos.

When the booster exhausted its propulsion, the capsule separated from the rocket at an altitude of about 47 miles. Both tracks continued to travel upwards for 66.5 miles, crossing the 62-mile boundary often considered the beginning of space.

Mr. Bezos and the passengers untied and swam around the capsule in free fall for about four minutes.

The booster landed vertically, similar to the reusable Falcon 9 booster from rival spaceflight company SpaceX. The capsule then descended under the parachutes until it landed slowly in a cloud of dust.

It was over ten minutes and 10 seconds after launch. A few minutes later, the four of them enthusiastically exited the capsule.

The Amazon founder’s short journey was the end of one phase of the journey that began decades ago.

Bezos, a boy during the Apollo era of the 1960s and 1970s, I said In 2014, “Space is something I’ve been in love with since I was 5 years old.”

However, this passion remained in the background for a long time in his first commercial ventures. Mr. Bezos, now 57 years old, first worked on Wall Street and then founded Amazon in 1994. Six years later he founded Blue Origin. But building Amazon – as he once called his “day job” – consumed the vast majority of his time and transformed it into one of the most powerful and feared retail forces ever.

In recent years, he’d usually spend one day a week – usually Wednesdays – focusing on Blue Origin, and in 2017 he announced He said he would sell $1 billion a year in Amazon stock to finance his space venture.

In 2018, he became the richest person in the world, surpassing Bill Gates. Exploring space has topped the expense list.

“The only way to distribute that much financial resources is to turn my Amazon earnings into space travel,” he said. I saidexpresses its investment as a form of philanthropy.

Mr. Bezos described a vision influenced by the proposals of Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill, who proposed giant cylindrical space colonies that would support many more people and industries than was possible in the 1970s. on earth.

“The solar system could easily support a trillion people,” Bezos said. “If we had a trillion people, we’d have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts for all practical purposes, resources and solar power, and it would be unlimited.”

In contrast, SpaceX founder Elon Musk focused on the idea of ​​settling on Mars. Getting to Mars is an easier task than building one of O’Neill’s colonies, but making a cold and stuffy Mars hospitable to human civilization would be a huge undertaking.

Andy Jassy, ​​one of Mr. Bezos’ top aides, took over as Amazon CEO earlier this month, and Mr. Bezos said he wants to focus more on Blue Origin and other startups.

“I’ve never had more energy, and it’s not about retiring,” he told Amazon employees. “I’m very passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

To make such a powerful impact, Blue Origin will need much more than its tiny New Shepard vehicle.

In the short run, Blue Origin’s rivalry is Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company started by Richard Branson. When Mr. Branson made a similar suborbital trip last week, it was simple to emphasize that Mr. Branson beat Mr. Bezos into space.

For the first flight, Blue Origin auctioned off one of the seats, and the proceeds went to Mr. Bezos’ space-focused, non-profit, Club for the Future. The winning bid was $28 million, which stunned even Blue Origin officials.

The 7,600 attendees gave Blue Origin a list of potential paying customers, and the company began selling tickets to some of them.

When the unnamed auction winner decided to skip the first flight and board later, Blue Origin contacted Mr. Daemen, one of the people who had tickets for the second flight.

Blue Origin declined to say what the price was or how many people signed up, but a spokesperson said there was strong demand.

Yet Mr. Bezos has always had ambitions far greater than space tourism. And Blue Origin’s achievements pale in comparison to the rocket company led by one of the world’s richest people: SpaceX, which Mr. Musk founded a few years after Blue Origin started.

SpaceX is already a giant in the space business. It regularly takes NASA astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, has deployed more than 1,500 satellites in the Starlink constellation to provide ubiquitous internet service, and is developing a massive rocket called Starship for missions to Mars and elsewhere.

Blue Origin’s projects don’t seem ready to turn the space industry upside down the way SpaceX has.

The New Glenn, a larger reusable rocket to launch satellites, is more than a year away, and efforts to win major government contracts like launching Department of Defense satellites have so far been futile. A lunar lander that Blue Origin hopes NASA will one day use to transport astronauts hasn’t been chosen because NASA says it only has money for one design — SpaceXs.

Blue Origin’s mascot is the turtle. As in the fairy tale “The Tortoise and the Rabbit”, perhaps with constant and sustained effort Blue Origin can catch on.

Lori Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator during the Obama administration, recalled that Mr. Bezos went to Washington to meet with him and administrator Charles Bolden. Back then, Blue Origin was a mystery.

“We are delighted to hear about your plan,” said Ms. Garver. “It was: ‘I’m here because I invested in a space company. I am willing to invest a lot in the long run. And my goals are very aligned with NASA. So if I can be of any help in any way, let’s work together.’”

Blue Origin was working on a capsule that could transport astronauts to the International Space Station and won a modest $25.6 million development contract from NASA. But work on this vehicle stalled, and Blue Origin withdrew from competition for contracts that eventually went to Boeing and SpaceX.

“It was slow and steady, slower than anyone expected,” Ms. Garver said.

But comparisons to SpaceX’s outstanding achievements are somewhat unfair, he said.

“We’re really spoiled by SpaceX right now,” said Ms. Garver.

At any time during his career, he said, if a well-funded company like Blue Origin had emerged with the goal of building affordable, reusable rockets and spacecraft, “we’d all be blown up.”

Even if Blue Origin has yet to fulfill its lofty vision, more companies will mean more competition. “I really have not been as disappointed as some people are at their pace,” said Ms. Garver. “I feel like they’re going to get there. We need competition.”

Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of aerospace consulting firm Astralytical, was also positive. “Although their progress was slow, they did not experience major failures that showed me they were at risk,” he said. “Blue Origin still finds its way forward.”

Perhaps Blue Origin could emerge as a successful, profitable aerospace company more like Northrop Grumman or the United Launch Alliance. “They don’t have to be like SpaceX to achieve their goals,” said Ms Forczyk.

Whatever the future of Blue Origin, Mr. Bezos was pleased by the end of Tuesday’s flight.

“There’s a very happy group of people in this capsule,” he told ground control.

Karen Weise contributed to the reporting.

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