Blue Origin

Will Jeff Bezos return America back to the Moon?

It`s been decades since the last man walked on the lunar surface, several upstart space entrepreneurs are looking to capitalize on NASA’s renewed interest in returning to the moon, offering a variety of proposals with the ultimate goal of establishing a lasting human presence there.

The latest to offer a proposal is Jeffrey P. Bezos, whose space company Blue Origin has been circulating a seven-page white paper to NASA leadership and President Trump’s transition team about the company’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 memo 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.

Anticipating that the Trump administration is focusing on the moon, the space agency recently announced it is considering adding astronauts to the first flight of its Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule. That flight, scheduled to fly without humans in 2018, would also circle the moon. But as the space agency seeks to move faster under the Trump administration, it is now studying the feasibility of adding crew for a mission that would then occur by 2019.

Obama didn`t approve plans for a lunar mission, saying in 2010 that “we’ve been there before.” But the administration’s Mars plan was still far from actually delivering humans there, and critics grew frustrated that NASA has not been able to fly humans out of low Earth orbit since the 1970s. Blue Origin’s proposal, dated Jan. 4, doesn’t involve flying humans yet, but is rather focused on carrying out a series of cargo missions. Those could deliver the equipment necessary to help establish a human colony on the moon – unlike the Apollo missions, in which the astronauts left “flags and footprints” and then came home.

Robert Bigelow, the founder of Bigelow Aerospace, a maker of inflatable space habitats, said his company could create a depot that could orbit the moon by 2020, housing supplies and medial facilities, as well as humans. A smaller version of the possible habitats, known as the BEAM, is docked to the International Space Station, where astronauts have been testing it. In an interview, Bigelow said he was glad the administration seems to be refocusing on the moon. “Mars is premature at this time. The moon is not,” he said. “We have the technology. We have the ability, and the potential for a terrific business case.”

After remaining quiet and obsessively secretive for years, Blue Origin’s attempt to partner with NASA is a huge coming out of sorts for the company, which has been funded almost exclusively by Bezos. The paper urges NASA to develop a program that provides “incentives to the private sector to demonstrate a commercial lunar cargo delivery service.”

Blue Origin could perform the first lunar mission as early as July 2020, Bezos  claimed this could “only be done in partnership with NASA. Our liquid hydrogen expertise and experience with precision vertical landing offer the fastest path to a lunar lander mission. I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen.”

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