- Axel Springer/Blue Origin/ Business Insider
- Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, is slated to give a mysterious talk in Washington, DC on Thursday afternoon.
- Bezos will be speaking about his spaceflight company, Blue Origin, to provide “an update on our progress and share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth.”
- Two photos that Blue Origin shared ahead of the announcement suggest Bezos will discuss a moon-mission concept.
- NASA said in April that it wants to fund a large, private lunar lander to get its astronauts to and from the moon, ideally as soon as 2024.
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Jeff Bezos is in Washington, DC, where he’s supposed to deliver a relatively rare and as-yet mysterious talk about Blue Origin, the Amazon billionaire’s spaceflight company.
The event kicks off on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, and it’s slated to last about 90 minutes. Invitations sent to journalists say Bezos and his company “will give an update on our progress and share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth.”
“We’d have 1,000 Mozarts, and 1,000 Einsteins. Think how incredible and dynamic that civilization will be,” he said in March.
But there are some telling clues as to what Bezos’s talk might be about: a moon mission, or at least the hardware designed to pull it off.
Why Bezos might present an updated ‘Blue Moon’ lunar lander concept
Bezos is practiced at keeping secrets about Blue Origin, as are his employees. Until several years after its founding in 2000, few people outside the company even knew it existed. The ensuing years brought few details about what it was toiling over in the deserts of West Texas. (Even members of a fire department near the company’s launch site were reportedly asked to sign nondisclosure agreements.)
Blue Origin’s motto is “gradatim ferociter,” which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously.” If SpaceX’s Elon Musk is a noisy hare in the new space race, then Blue Origin’s Bezos is something of a taciturn tortoise.
In recent years, Bezos has opened up much more about Blue, as space industry insiders often call the company. He’s primarily spoken at ticketed private events, niche spaceflight conferences, and other relatively controlled environments. His talks typically cover the same ground, with some occasional news and unmistakable ribbing of competitors like Musk.
Thursday’s event looks to be something different and potentially significant. The company has invited an unknown number of media outlets, but an informal count by Business Insider suggests dozens.
Two photo clues that Blue Origin shared are also noteworthy. To its emailed invitation, the company attached an “Earthrise” photo taken by NASA astronauts during Apollo 8, with overlaying promotional text. About a week earlier, on April 26, Blue Origin also issued a cryptic tweet that said only “5.9.19” and shared an image of a ship sailing amid a raft of jagged sea ice.
The photo symbolizes the spirit of human exploration: It was taken during the expedition of Earnest Shackleton circa 1915, as his crew attempted to reach Antarctica. (The ship got stuck in ice for months and later sank, though the crew survived.)
- Public domain
Shackleton is also the name of a crater at the lunar South Pole. Recent studies suggest water may exist as ice there, perhaps under a thin layer of lunar soil, exposed to the surface in permanently shadowed regions (where the sun can’t warm it up and evaporate the water into space), or maybe both.
Lunar water is seen as a game-changing resource not just because it might help support a moon base. With a little solar or nuclear energy, water molecules can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, which can fuel a rocket’s rapid flight to other destinations in the solar system.
Then there is the curious timing: NASA recently updated its space exploration plans at the behest of Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump. NASA originally hoped to test a moon lander in 2024, then try for crewed landings in 2028.
In a surprising shift, NASA is now attempting to attract private industry – an increasingly ballyhooed strategy of agency administrator Jim Bridenstine – to design and build a spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon in 2024.
The agency posted a notice about the program, called NextSTEP appendix H, saying it seeks an all-in-one solution from private space companies to take people from NASA’s gateway (a planned lunar space station), down to the moon’s surface, and back again.
More details on this program, plus a formal solicitation, are expected toward the end of May. In the meantime, Blue Origin has received millions of dollars in grants from NASA to develop critical lunar-lander systems.
NASA officials almost certainly try not to let publicity sway their decision-making, but familiarity with a system tends to garner its acceptance. This might explain Blue Origin’s new push for positive publicity. This is especially true as it looks to be fighting a losing battle to have the US Air Force consider its yet-to-launch New Glenn rocket system for years’ worth of lucrative contracts.
Still, almost nothing is publicly known about what Bezos will say, and he may present something else. It could be an update about the New Glenn rocket, which is slated to launch by 2021; he may revisit New Shepard, a smaller rocket and spacecraft that’s supposed to launch its first passengers past the edge of space this year; or perhaps a more secretive effort will be revealed that hasn’t yet been covered by the press.
If you’re hoping to watch live video of Bezos’ talk, good luck: Blue Origin is not hosting a feed, and the company says attendees are “not permitted” to broadcast the talk.
Fortunately, Business Insider will be on the event floor to bring you the news.