Between the shipping and handling, the web servers, the groceries, and the newspapers, Jeff Bezos never stopped thinking about the moon. He was 5 years old when Americans first walked on the lunar surface, and he remembers the grainy black-and-white footage from that historic moment.
“It had a huge impact on me,” Bezos said. “And it hasn’t changed.”
Bezos, in addition to leading Amazon and owning The Washington Post, runs a spaceflight company called Blue Origin. Blue Origin has been working on something for the past three years, and on Thursday, Bezos unveiled it: a giant spacecraft designed to touch down gently on the lunar surface, plus a small rover with droopy camera eyes, like WALL-E.
“This is an incredible vehicle,” Bezos said, beaming. “And it’s going to the moon.”
If this news seems like it’s coming out of, well, the blue, that’s because Blue Origin is not the flashiest company. It has conducted much of its work in secret and rarely holds press events. But the company, Bezos has said, is “the most important work that I’m doing.” He spends about $1 billion on it each year, collected from selling off his Amazon stock.
So far, the work has stayed close to the ground. Blue Origin has carried out nearly a dozen successful flights of its New Shepard rocket, named for Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. The rocket hurtles upward until it reaches the edge of space, then descends and lands vertically on the ground. Bezos wants to use New Shepard to fly space tourists, perhaps as early as this year.
That’s one dream. The moon is another kind, and requires different technology.
The lander revealed on Thursday, a mock-up, is called Blue Moon. It’s sleek, hulking, and insect-like, with spindly legs to cushion the landing. Here’s the plan, or at least part of it: Before touching down on the lunar surface, Blue Moon will dispatch a bunch of tiny satellites, depositing them into an orbit around the moon, where they can collect scientific data. Then it will fire its engines and begin its approach. Less than a mile from the surface, it will rotate itself to land upright. The underbelly is equipped with lasers to guide the spacecraft to its target landing zone. Once it’s on the ground, robotic arms will lower a rover, perhaps as many as four, onto the dusty, slate-colored ground.