Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man on the planet, gave an hour-long presentation yesterday about his plans for humanity’s future living on the Moon and in space colonies. It was a bit like watching a monologue from a sci-fi movie in a lot of ways. And now you can finally view the entire presentation online for yourself.
Fellow billionaire Elon Musk generally makes a point of offering a live video stream whenever he announces something important and futuristic like this. But Bezos and his space company Blue Origin didn’t post a video of yesterday’s event until later. It’s a fascinating talk, but maybe livestream the thing next time, Jeff? This is the future we’re talking about, after all.
The entire presentation has been uploaded to YouTube, and we have a TLDR (or TLDW?) version below, complete with screenshots and animated GIFs.
Bezos started his presentation by saying that the “Earth is the best planet” and presenting quotes from people such as the late astronomer Carl Sagan.
Bezos stressed that as humans we can both “work on the here and now” and “get started on the large scale problems”.
Bezos claimed that “we will run out of energy on Earth” and that “this is just arithmetic”. Bezos says that humanity’s energy use is unsustainable.
Bezos says that we can focus on energy efficiency but that the problem with that idea is that “it’s already assumed”.
Bezos laid out various examples of improved efficiency, from the amount of work that was required 200 years ago to create artificial light, to the amount of fuel that was required to get one human around in an aeroplane.
“What happens when unlimited demand meets finite resources? The answer is incredibly simple: Rationing,” said Bezos.
“The good news is that if we move out into the solar system, for all practical purposes, we’d have unlimited resources,” said Bezos.
“So, we get to choose. Do we want stasis and rationing or do we want dynamism and growth?” said Bezos. “This is an easy choice. We know what we want, we just have to get busy.”
Bezos goes on to say that if humanity moves out into the solar system we could have “a trillion humans” which means “we could have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins”. Bezos never really explains what he means by that, but it sure sounds good!
Bezos then introduced the audience to the ideas of Gerard O’Neill, the late physicist and a big proponent of building artificial habitats in space.
Bezos said that a scenario in which humans live on other planetary surfaces isn’t ideal since places such as Mars are a great distance away, don’t have Earth-like gravity and aren’t that big.
“What O’Neill and his students came up with, was the idea of manufactured worlds, rotated to create centrifugal force,” Bezos said.
Bezos says that these artificial space habitats would be many kilometres long and hold a million or more people each.
“This is a very different colony” than the International Space Station.
Bezos said that his new space colonies would have “high-speed transport, agricultural areas”, and says that “we added a little drone there” while showing the animated video of his space colony idea.
“Some of them would be more recreation,” Bezos said while an image of a space colony filled with wildlife appeared on the presentation screen.
“These are really pleasant places to live,” said Bezos. “Some of these O’Neill colonies might choose to replicate Earth cities. They might pick historical cities and mimic them in some way.”
“There’d be whole new kinds of architecture,” said Bezos. “These are ideal climates. These are shirt-sleeve environments.”
“This is Maui on its best day, all year long. No rain, no storm, no earthquakes. What does the architecture even look like when it no longer has its primary purpose of shelter? We’ll find out.”
Bezos then played a clip of an interview from 1975 with Isaac Asimov and Gerard K. O’Neill.
Bezos goes on to say that with his space colonies not far from Earth, our home planet will be “zoned residential and light industry”.
Heavy industry and “all the things polluting our planet” will be done off Earth, Bezos explains.
“There is no Plan B. We have to save this planet,” Bezos said in the middle of his presentation that was ostensibly about a Plan B.
Bezos said “this is going to take a long time, this is a big vision” while acknowledging that “the price of admission to do interesting things in space right now is just too high”.
“There’s no infrastructure” for space travel Bezos said, while elaborating that if Amazon had needed to build the US Postal Service it wouldn’t have been able to work and Amazon would have had to invest billions of dollars to get off the ground.
Bezos also explained that they didn’t have to invent payment systems such as credit cards, which are also part of the infrastructure that has allowed Amazon to succeed.
“Infrastructure lets entrepreneurs do amazing things,” said Bezos.
“The kids here, and your children, and their grandchildren, you’re going to build the O’Neill colonies. This generation’s job, my generation’s job is to build the infrastructure so that you’ll be able to,” said Bezos. “We’re going to build a road to space and then amazing things will happen.”
Bezos says that there are two important things that are required to get humanity living in space. First, there needs to be a radical launch cost reduction, and second, there needs to be an exploitation of in-space resources since it’s incredibly expensive to move things from Earth into space.
Bezos then went into a pitch on his reusable spacecraft such as the New Shepard from Blue Origin. The New Shepard is a suborbital vehicle designed for space tourism.
“We’re going to be flying humans using the New Shepard this year,” said Bezos. “That’s incredibly exciting.”
“New Shepard is powered by liquid hydrogen. It’s the highest performing rocket fuel, but it’s also the most difficult to work with,” Bezos said.
“And it’s not needed for a suborbital mission. So why did we choose it? Because we knew we were gonna need it for the next stage and we wanted to get practice with that hardest-to-use but highest performing propellant.”
Bezos said that it was the same reason they developed vertical landing for the New Shepard.
“I can’t wait to start sending humans up in New Shepard later this year. It’s a big deal.”
Bezos said that he often gets asked what things will change 10 years from now but that the “more important question” is what won’t change.
Nobody thinks that customers are going to be asking for higher prices of Amazon 10 years from now, and he said that similar things apply to the space industry.
Bezos explained that the first stage of the New Glenn is designed to be reused 25 times and has a 7m fairing.
The New Glenn will lift 45 metric tonnes to lower earth orbit (LEO) and 13 metric tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).
“It’s designed for human rating right from the very beginning,” said Bezos of the New Glenn. “We’ll fly it in 2021 for the first time.”
Bezos touted the fact that New Glenn uses an inexpensive fuel saying that “the cost to fuel New Glenn is less than a million dollars”.
“The reason that launching things into orbit is so expensive today is because you throw the hardware away,” said Bezos. “It’s like driving your car to the mall and then throwing it away after one trip.”
“One of the most important things we know about the Moon today is that there’s water there. It’s in the form of ice.”
Bezos also touts the fact that the Moon is nearby and that you don’t have the constraints of a “22-month launch window” to get to Mars. The window is actually 26 months but even billionaire space nerds get things wrong sometimes.
Bezos also cites the lack of gravity on the Moon as a huge benefit for getting things there.
“But guess what, the Moon also needs infrastructure,” Bezos said. At that point, Bezos said that he wanted to show the audience something, and a curtain was pulled up to reveal “Blue Moon”, a lunar lander that Bezos says they’ve been working on for three years.
“It will soft land in a precise way 3.6 metric tonnes onto the lunar surface. The stretch tank variant of it will soft land 6.5 metric tonnes onto the lunar surface,” said Bezos.
“The deck is designed to be a very simple interface so that a great variety of payloads can be placed onto the top deck and secured,” said Bezos.
The davit system, which Bezos says was inspired by a naval system, is designed to lower things from the deck to the Moon’s surface.
The davit system is comprised of those triangular walls behind Bezos in this GIF:
Bezos then talked about the rover to his right, and he said that the Blue Moon lander can store up to four of them.
Bezos then instructed his producers to return to the shot of the top deck where he explained some of the features of the Blue Moon lunar landers.
“On the left-hand side you can see our star tracker so that this vehicle can autonomously navigate in space,” said Bezos.
“On the right-hand side you’ll see an optical communication system that gives us gigabit bandwidth back to Earth,” Bezos explained. “It’s a laser that transmits data back to Earth. We also have X-band for 10 megabit radio.”
“Why are we using liquid hydrogen? This is not how Apollo did it,” Bezos said. “One, it’s very high performance, and so that helps a lot when you’re landing on the Moon.”
“Second reason we’re using liquid hydrogen is because ultimately, we’re going to be able to get hydrogen from that water on the Moon and be able to refuel these vehicles on the surface of the Moon and use them.”
Bezos said that the reason they chose hydrogen fuel cells over solar cells is that they want to operate during the lunar night, which is two weeks long and “gets very cold”.
Bezos notes that “there’s no GPS on the Moon” so if you want to land precisely you use features on the Moon to navigate.
“Now that we’ve mapped the entire Moon in great detail, we can use those pre-existing maps to tell the system what it should be looking for and it navigates relative to that.”
“This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the Moon,” said Bezos.
Bezos then brought on a young girl to help unveil a new BE-7 engine that his team has been working on for three years. It uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and will be hot-fired for the first time ever this winter.
Bezos explains that the Blue Moon lander weighs 15,000kg. But as it’s just about to land it weighs less than 3175kg because of all the fuel that’s been expended. The ability to throttle in that scenario is very important.
Bezos then played an animation that showed other things the lander can do on its mission around the Moon, including launching little satellites.
He also showed what the lunar would look like as it landed on the Moon. “The primary burn is six minutes long,” Bezos said.
The video then shows how the davit system works, deploying a rover from the top deck of the lander onto the lunar surface.
Bezos went on to recognise the science advisory board of six people that he was working with on the project, though he didn’t mention any of them by name.
Bezos said that there were plenty of other things that you could deploy to the Moon using his system, including a pressurised human rover such as the one below.
Bezos then quoted Vice President Mike Pence’s desire to return American astronauts to the Moon within the next five years.
“I love this, it’s the right thing to do,” Bezos said, without mentioning his many public confrontations with US President Donald Trump.
Bezos said that he can meet that timeline and get humans to the Moon by 2024 because they started three years ago.
“It’s time to go back to the Moon, this time to stay,” Bezos said before scattered applause from the audience finally turned into sustained applause.
“What I’m laying out here today is obviously a multi-generation vision. This is not going to get done by any one generation, and one of the things that we have to do is inspire those future generations.”
Bezos then announced that Blue Origin was launching the “Club for the Future” which will do a series of activities for kids. The first activity is for kids to write or draw their own vision of the future on a postcard which will be sent into space on the New Shepard. Those postcards are then going to be returned to the kids.
“Please make no mistake about this, Earth is the best planet,” Bezos said. “We do need to protect it, it’s essential, it’s our job. We’re now big enough to hurt this planet.”
“We have to use the resources of space. We must have a future for our grandchildren and their grandchildren of dynamism. We can’t let them fall prey to stasis and rationing.”
“If this generation builds the road to space, build that infrastructure, we will get to see thousands of future entrepreneurs building a real space industry.”