WASHINGTON — Amazon founder and space entrepreneur Jeff Bezos unveiled Thursday a mock-up of a lunar lander from his Blue Origin rocket company.
Bezos, the world's richest person, who's worth an estimated $107 billion, also proclaimed his aspiration for humanity within generations to live in vast, glass-walled space colonies.
"We can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we would have 1,000 Mozarts and 1,000 Einsteins," said Bezos at his presentation in Washington, DC. The glitzy event featured a rock music intro, purple lighting, and a swinging camera on a crane for audience close-ups. "This would be an incredible civilization," said Bezos of his space colonies.
Bezos has invested billions into his private space company, Blue Origin, which plans to launch the first crewed flight of its suborbital "New Shepard" rocket later this year, and a very large (270 feet tall) "New Glenn" rocket in 2021. His moon lander, measuring more than 21 feet wide, would comfortably fit inside that large rocket, he noted. And it could serve as a lander for NASA's work-in-progress plan to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, a March directive made by Vice President Mike Pence.
Fellow space entrepreneur billionaire Elon Musk of SpaceX, however, immediately took a shot at Bezos with a photo-altered tweet.
The two space billionaires have previously jousted over whose rocket is bigger.
In his presentation, Bezos also took a few potshots at Musk's own space aspirations. Musk has famously said he wants to "die on Mars," but Bezos called that planet too far away for colonization. Bezos also decried "fake" reusable rockets that need lengthy refurbishment before their next launch, a complaint aimed at Musk's Falcon 9 rockets. So Musk was in a sense just responding to those jabs with his crude tweet.
Beyond Musk, other observers criticized Bezos's space aspirations, starting with his priorities.
One expert on water resources took issue with his vision of the future, premised on endless population growth and energy demand increases. (Bezos asserted in the presentation that covering the Earth's land surface with solar panels would need to happen to satisfy future energy needs, necessitating human migration to space instead.)
Still others asked why the owner of a super-wealthy internet company couldn't livestream his presentation.
NASA still hasn't come up with a price tag for landing astronauts on the moon by 2024, promising Congress at a hearing this week a budget outline still in discussion with the Office of Management and Budget. Ars Technica has reported that the space agency estimates it would need as much as an additional $8 billion a year over the next five years on top of its yearly $19 billion budget, but whether it will go to Congress with that request — already iffy in the current political environment — is still not clear.
If NASA does go back to the moon, it will likely need someone to build a lander, since it doesn't have one now and doesn't have any money in the budget for one. Blue Origin has a three-year head start on designing one, Bezos noted toward the end of his presentation.