Billionaire Bezos Has Big Ambitions In Space

It’s become increasingly clear that Jeffrey P. Bezos, who in the last several months has been talking much more openly about his once secretive space company, has some really big ambitions in space.

As Blue Origin moves toward its goal of having “millions of people living and working in space,” the company has launched and landed the same rocket four times in a row, an unprecedented feat aimed at ultimately lowering the cost of space travel. By 2018, it plans to soon fly tourists on short jaunts past the edge of space in capsules designed with large windows. And earlier this week, Bezos announced plans to fly a new massive rocket, capable of getting to orbit, by the end of the decade.

For his achievements, Bezos, the founder of and the owner of The Washington Post, was awarded the prestigious Heinlein Prize Wednesday evening at an event at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The honor came with a $250,000 award that the multi-billionaire pledged to donate to Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, a nonprofit.

During a half-hour-long question-and-answer period, he offered some additional insights into his vision for how humans will eventually spread out into the solar system, what he hopes his legacy will be and how he competes against other billionaire space enthusiasts such as Elon Musk and Richard Branson. He also talked briefly about what it’s like to go back to his high school reunions, and the day The Post opens a bureau on Mars. He didn’t mention whether an assignment there would be a promotion or a banishment.

Here’s an edited transcript of his remarks.

On humanity’s future in space:

“I wish there were a trillion humans in the solar system. Think how cool that would be. You’d have a thousand Einsteins at any given moment—and more. There would be so much dynamism with all of that human intelligence. But you can’t do that with the resources on Earth or the energy on earth. So if you really want to see that kind of dynamic civilization as we expand through the solar system, you have to figure out how to safely move around and use resources that you get in space.”

On what new technologies are needed for deep space travel:

“I think NASA should work on a space-rated nuclear reactor. If you had a nuclear reactor in space– especially if you want to go anywhere beyond Mars, you really need nuclear power. Solar power just gets progressively difficult as you get further way from the sun. And that’s a completely doable thing to have a safe, space-qualified nuclear reactor.”

On his legacy:

“If I’m 80 years old and I’m looking back on my life, and I can say that I put in place, with the help of the teammates at Blue Origin, the heavy-lifting infrastructure that made access to space cheap and inexpensive so that the next generation could have the entrepreneurial explosion like I saw on the Internet, I’ll be a very happy 80-year old.”

On what it’s like to go to his high school reunions now that he’s been launching and landing rockets:

“If you knew my high school friends, they wouldn’t be impressed with that. They’d be like, ‘Bezos what happened to your hair?’ ”

On living on Mars:

“Sometimes my friends say, ‘Would you move to Mars?’ Not in the near term. Think about it: no whiskey, no bacon, no swimming pools, no oceans, no hiking, no urban centers. Eventually Mars might be amazing. But that’s a long way in the future. This planet is incredible. There are waterfalls and beaches and palm tress and fantastic cities and restaurants and parties and events like this. And you’re not going to get that anywhere but Earth for a really, really long time.”

On competing against Musk and other commercial companies:

“Competition is super healthy…Great industries are never made by single companies. And space is really big. There is room for a lot of winners…At Blue Origin, our biggest opponent is gravity. The physics of this problem are challenging enough..Gravity is not watching us and saying, ‘Uh-oh those Blue Origin guys are getting really good, I’m going to have increase my gravitational constant.’ Gravity doesn’t care about us at all. ”

On achieving the impossible:

“I believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second. A lot of the dreamers are science fiction authors, they’re artists…They invent these ideas, and they get catalogued as impossible. And we find out later, well, maybe it’s not impossible. Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.

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