At a surprise appearance during Wired's 25 anniversary summit Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that he has plans to spend over $1 billion yearly to support Blue Origin, according to a report on CNBC.
Blue Origin is Bezos' contender for the billionaire's race to space, which includes Elon Musk's SpaceX, and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.(Check out the wonderful parody of the Bezos Musk space wars that my friend and fellow Inc columnist Geoffrey James did recently.)
Much of the excitement over private space travel and exploration may appear to some to be strictly the playground of the super rich with tickets for space tourists rumored to be in the range of $200,000 - $300,000. And then there's the $250,000,000 that Yasuka Maezawa is reported to have spent to charter a trip on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy to the Moon and back.
But this is just the short dollar, the monetization of space travel in the near term by using it to shuttle supplies, satellites, and people into orbit or a roundtrip to the Moon. That's not to be discounted as it's likely to be one of the most lucrative frontiers of science for the next hundred years of progress and wealth creation. I have little doubt that the world's first trillionaire will have a hand in shaping that future. But more on that later.
For now, suffice it to say that Bezos' ambitions don't seem to be focused on the near-term prospects of Blue Origin but rather the longer-term objective of extending humanity's reach well beyond our terrestrial bounds.
"I won't be alive to see the fulfillment of that long-term mission," said Bezos at the Wired conference. "We are starting to bump up against the absolute true fact that Earth is finite."
The shift to private space transportation has been underway for some time. When I was at the launch of the last space shuttle STS-135 much of the buzz was about the handoff from NASA to private space flight. In my interviews with six former NASA astronauts, for a documentary on the space shuttle, there was nothing but enthusiasm for the prospects of continued space travel.
That was only seven years ago and yet we are already seeing advances that will likely have tourists in space within a few years and private missions to the Moon and Mars within the decade.
In large part that's due to the enthusiasm, gravitas, and ambition that folks like Musk, Bezos, and Branson are bringing to space travel and exploration. Something we haven't seen since the Apollo moonshots.
Adding to that are recent reports about how fast climate change is altering our prospects for a habitable Earth, which will only fuel interest in the long term need for extraterrestrial habitats for humanity.
"Ah, but that's so far fetched," you say, "We have bigger problems here at home." Yes, we do, but that's exactly why we need ambitions that stretch well beyond the practical and reasonable risk profiles of most enterprises, which live and die at the alter of quarterly earnings. Investing in space travel has risks that are far too great and reward that are far too distant to entice private industry. So, whatever ambitions are driving our billionaire super-heroes its a a god thing since there little chance any country or company would step up to the plate.
Clearly, for Bezos this appears to be about more than bragging rights and the short dollar. In his own words, "It's the most important work I'm doing, I think Blue Origin is incredibly important."
Of course, in the same speech Bezos gave to Wired's audience he also claimed that there may be one trillion humans in the solar system one day as the result of extending the propagation of our species to the stars.
So, lets do the math--the flight of fancy kind. At seven billion humans Bezos' net worth is about $150 billion. That means at 1 trillion humans Bezos net worth would be around $21,428,571,428,571.
Yeah, so maybe that has just a little bit to do with it.