When Barack Obama was president, NASA’s sights were firmly set on conquering Mars.
President Trump’s new team has other priorities, and they’re taking shape in a series of partnerships with private companies to colonize the moon. Before we can inhabit Earth’s only satellite, quite a few steps need to be taken, the first of which is figuring out how to transport equipment up there. NASA wants a commercial company to help achieve that goal, and Amazon is a likely candidate.
At the beginning of May, NASA announced it would like to sign up with a company to help transport equipment to the moon. A few weeks later, Amazon.com AMZN, +0.64% CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, outlined his goal of setting up a lunar settlement via Blue Origin — the aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight-services company he owns.
Coincidence? Not really. A Washington Post article uncovered a “proprietary and confidential” white paper that shows Blue Origin’s “interest in developing a lunar spacecraft with a lander that would touch down near a crater at the South Pole where there is water and nearly continuous sunlight for solar energy.”
“The [document] urges the space agency to back an Amazon-like shipment service for the moon that would deliver gear for experiments, cargo and habitats by mid-2020, helping to enable “future human settlement of the moon,” according to the Washington Post article.
Before we can establish a settlement there, Bezos believes we should first do something about the Earth’s heavy industry.
Relocating to the moon
“The Earth is not a very good place to do heavy industry,” he said in an interview with GeekWire, insinuating it should be relocated to the moon. Earth will be zoned for residential and light industrial use, while heavy industry will be moved off-planet and powered by 24/7 solar power, he said to the interviewer. “In the not-too-distant future — I’m talking decades, maybe 100 years — it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space … because we’ll have so much energy.”
At this point it’s quite clear his goal is for Blue Origin to transport goods to the moon. Once Blue Origin produces an unmanned lunar spacecraft, the vehicle will carry up to 10,000 pounds of cargo to the moon’s surface and support NASA’s activities in cislunar space. Bezos proposes that the first mission be a 2020 lunar South Pole landing.
Before that can happen, the cost of frequent space travel needs to be reduced, and Blue Origin is already on it. The company is optimizing performance of its New Shepard recyclable rocket, especially its thruster system, which will enable a landing on the lunar surface. While New Shepard’s purpose is to fly passengers to space as early as the end of this year, Blue Origin’s other rocket is being developed with a far loftier goal. As the company’s website puts it: “New Glenn [the rocket] is a major step toward achieving our vision of millions of people living and working in space. … New Glenn will carry people and payloads routinely to Earth orbit.”
Having said all this, a partnership with NASA, although likely, doesn’t yet exist in any formal way. But that won’t stop Bezos, who said Blue Origin will develop its lander “even if NASA doesn’t do it.”
“We’ll do it eventually. We can do it a lot faster through a partnership,” Bezos said.
Finally, Blue Origin isn’t the only company looking for a piece of space action. As the space race intensifies, we can expect even more privately owned companies to lend NASA a hand, as well as come up with their own solutions that could facilitate space travel.
In a few (dozen) decades, we might be able to order products from the Moon Colonies, and Space Amazon will deliver them to our doorstep via its space drone delivery service. I need to know one thing, though.
Would you live and work on the moon? It doesn’t sound too appealing to me, but I’d love to hear what you think. Please let me know in the comment section below.