A little less than half a century ago, a pair of NASA astronauts packed up their geological samples after three days of roving and returned to Earth in the Apollo 17 lunar module. It was the last time that a human walked on the moon.
Now the world’s wealthiest man, Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, and the other company he founded, Blue Origin LLC, want to chart the next chapter in humanity’s exploration of its tiny orbiting sibling. At a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Thursday afternoon, Bezos made his case for going back to the moon and showed off his private space company’s lunar lander.
“It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay,” Bezos said.
On stage at the event, Bezos dropped the curtain behind him to reveal Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander. The craft features a large internal spherical fuel tank and sits atop four landing pads. It’s powered by liquid hydrogen, in part so it can be refuel from ice water on the moon’s poles. Hydrogen fuel cells will power the device through the lunar night.
“This is an incredible vehicle,” Bezos said, “and it’s going to the moon.”
Bezos also showed off a new BE-7 engine, a high-performance liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine that powers the lander’s six minute descent. After it lands, Blue Moon will deploy a small rover. Bezos also displayed a photo of a version of the lander that can accommodate astronauts, and said he hopes missions can commence by 2024.
Blue Origin has been working on Blue Moon since at least 2017. Last October, the company signed an agreement with NASA to develop medium to large commercial lander systems for the lunar surface. In exchange for $50,000 payment from Blue, NASA agreed to share technical analysis and information on potential lunar landing sites.
In a March speech, Vice President Mike Pence called for a return to the moon by 2024 and said the Trump administration had directed NASA to “accomplish this goal by any means necessary.”
Bezos has been at odds with President Donald Trump over a number of issues related to Amazon. But he said of the Trump administration’s timetable to return to the moon: “I love this. It’s the right thing to do.”
The moon has always been central to Bezos’s space-faring dreams, as well as the vision of his former professor, the late Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill. O’Neill, an iconoclast who passed away in 1992, envisioned a future with millions of humans living in space inside giant orbiting space cylinders, growing crops and harnessing the energy of the sun. The physicist theorized that the moon, a repository of raw materials and free of the atmosphere and punitive gravitational forces of the Earth, could be the staging ground to construct and economically launch such habitats.
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