Rockets And People (Rockets and People, Volume 1)

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We leave the Blue Origin base and travel to the top of the 6,foot mountain that contains his 10,year clock.


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The gigantic timepiece sits in a deep shaft, encircled by a steep spiral staircase. Descending into the cavelike quiet and viewing the exquisite metal gears in that quasi-monastic setting is almost a holy experience.

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But to his critics, these lofty pursuits seem disregardful of all-too-pressing earthly concerns. They say the richest man in the world should be more invested in tackling climate change or extreme poverty or the diseases ravaging human lives—or just about anything else. Bezos acknowledges that there are pressing needs. In the long run, Blue is the most important.

Sara Walker, an astrobiologist at Arizona State University, balks at the ecological engineering it will require. That Princeton woman incensed about the rape of the universe was ahead of her time. Bezos buys none of this. He sees it with the certainty of mathematics. So we might as well get started, long before we exceed the energy resources available to us and face catastrophe.

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Bezos, in a Stetson and his lucky cowboy boots, checks out the New Shepard after its landing. Only Blue Origin and SpaceX have sent used rockets back into space. On the other side is a capsule with six tortoises painted between the windows, to mark each of its sorties. Its seven engines put out 3. So far Blue Origin has signed deals with four companies, including Eutelsat, a French communications company that wants New Glenn to deliver a satellite.

The company also plans to sell the engine that powers New Glenn to the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between more traditional government contractors. Though not enough primo launchpads, apparently—when SpaceX got a year lease to use the historic 39A launchpad where Apollo 11 took off, Blue Origin unsuccessfully challenged NASA on the decision.

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Blue will launch from the less storied Launch Complex Meanwhile, the company is deep into the design of a lunar lander called Blue Moon, which is meant to haul 10, pounds of stuff roughly equivalent to two Ford pickup trucks , perhaps by Within minutes of returning from space, the Blue Origin capsule is trucked back to the West Texas control center. At nearly 10 am on July 18, New Shepard is about to launch in the Texas desert. My fellow gawkers include observers from the European Space Agency, plus-ones of Blue employees, and the Southwest Airlines pilot who safely landed a plane in Philadelphia after her engine blew up.

On the horizon, we see smoke pouring from a distant spot partially obscured by haze. A yellow-orange tail of fire pushes a needle into the sky, the low rumble of engines surfing through the plains and into the canyons. The rocket is on track for its kilometer ascent. Minutes pass. Suddenly, out of the empty sky comes the thin needle of the descending rocket. It appears to be just plain falling. Because it remains vertical, it seems like an illusion, like a liftoff video played backward.

Then suddenly, just as the rocket has decelerated to a hover, we see a bouquet of fire. But the flames are simply the rocket slamming on the brakes, firing its engines to gently lower New Shepard onto its landing pad. A few seconds later, the capsule floats down on three parachutes, kicking up a small plume of dust as it lands. A group of us pile into vehicles and drive to the headquarters. Bezos has gone ahead, leading a convoy to unite with the capsule and booster, which have landed only a quarter-mile apart.


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The nearest road ends a few hundred feet from the capsule, and we make our way on foot through the brush, with an eye out for rattlesnakes, to the cluster of Blue-sters already surrounding it. A crane is preparing to lift it by the nose for the ride back to the barn. As the capsule comes off the ground, someone spots a remarkable thing: a living creature underneath the capsule. This article appears in the November issue. Subscribe now. Let us know what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor at mail wired.

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Bezos sees tourism as something bigger—the best way to make space travel seem routine. Those colonies again. Only or so were rocket engineers and their families—the rest worked primarily for the aircraft and nuclear industries. Continue or Give a Gift.

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