We knew Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was a space geek. Why else would the world’s third richest person spend years beating his head against the very hard problem of creating a reusable rocket that can take off and land vertically?
But we didn’t know just how deep the 52-year-old billionaire’s geekery ran until hearing his and others’ remarks the other night at the National Air and Space Museum, at a reception and dinner to honor him for receiving the 2016 Heinlein Prize for advancing commercial space activity.
Bezos was a science fiction fan as a kid—no surprise there. As a Princeton student in the early 1980s, he also was one of the original chapter leaders of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), a grass-roots organization dedicated to opening the space frontier. SEDS co-founder Peter Diamandis, who later went on to create the XPrize, told the reception audience how, having first met Bezos in the early 1980s, he met him again in Seattle 15 years later, and heard how the young entrepreneur intended to create an internet-based book business, then use the profits to invest in opening up space. “A simple, two-step plan,” joked Bezos.
The bookseller-turned-rocket designer said his motivation, then and now, was simple: “I love space.” He hopes that his Blue Origin rockets will be carrying tourists on suborbital trips by 2018, but couldn’t say when tickets will go on sale, or how much they’ll cost. Will he go himself? “Of course.” Bezos said that he’s received offers to fly into space on other vehicles, notably from the Russians, and has turned them down. “I want to go,” he said, “but I want to go on a Blue Origin vehicle.”
And even though he’s dedicated to opening up space, he’s in no rush to live on Mars. “No whiskey, no bacon, no swimming pools,” he said. In other words, it may be a while before we find a planet as nice as this one.