Amazon is the world’s fourth-most valuable company, and founder Jeff Bezos ranks as the fifth-richest person in the world. So what’s left when you and your company reign supreme among the planet’s retailers?
Apparently, the answer is to take your business off Earth.
According to a report from TechCrunch, Bezos wants his space flight venture Blue Origin to supply goods, equipment, and eventually people to a hypothetical moon colony, and he wants to get started by 2020.
Blue Origin was founded way back in 2000, and began test flights in 2015, reaching space with their second test flight and managing a full recovery-and-reuse flight in early 2016 – rather a better record than rival venture SpaceX, which, as per the Guardian, made headlines worldwide with a very public failure to achieve liftoff in September, 2016, blowing up their rocket only 4 feet off the launchpad.
Bezos and Blue Origin have plans to start manned test flights this year, with tourist flights (if all goes well) in 2018. But Bezos has his sights set on bigger things, as revealed by a confidential seven-page white paper sent both to NASA and the Trump administration, regarding Blue Origin’s plans to develop a lunar lander able to drop cargo on the moon and return to Earth. Bezos wants flights to start by mid-2020, and the letter urges officials to make plans to establish a “permanently inhabited lunar settlement.”
It’s a bold move, trying to bring NASA and an administration which seems dedicated to sweeping cuts on board with establishing a permanent American presence on the moon. NASA hasn’t sent a shuttle into space since 2011, and the Trump administration recently revealed plans to practically eliminate the NOAA’s satellite budget in favor of an expanded military, alongside other government and research cuts. Bezos is seeking a commitment both in funding and expertise from NASA, although he plans to invest his own funds alongside them.
In spite of the current outlook for American research and space travel, Bezos is adamant. “It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay,” he told the Washington Post (which he also owns) after the letter, marked “proprietary and confidential,” was leaked to the press. It urges the space agency and the government to back an Amazon-like shipment service to the moon.
“A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”
The plan is to land a spacecraft at the moon’s south pole, where there is a constant source of light for solar panels and nearby water ice which can be used both for drinking water and in the creation of rocket fuel. The design would allow for shipments of up to 10,000 pounds at a time, and is intended to be compatible with NASA’s existing launch craft, Boeing/Lockheed Martin’s United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, and Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket, still in development.
Bezos, Blue Origin, and NASA itself anticipate that, unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration will make returning to the moon a focus. Many have suggested that establishing a permanent moon base will have serious military implications, making it an attractive target for Trump’s intent to enhance American military capability.
Obama rejected plans for a return to the moon in 2010, saying “we’ve been there before,” shortly before NASA’s shuttle program was suspended. But their counter-proposal for a manned mission to Mars never came close to fruition, and critics quickly became frustrated that NASA hasn’t been able to take humans further than low Earth orbit in four decades. A moon shot isn’t at all unfeasible, and could revitalize public interest in manned space exploration.
In light of that, NASA has stepped up plans to resume manned space flights, aiming for a manned mission in 2019. Bezos, and other companies, want to be there to meet them.
“Blue Moon is all about cost-effective delivery of mass to the surface of the Moon. Any credible first lunar settlement will require that capability.”
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]