Nearly 50 years after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins completed the first human voyage to set foot on another world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his spaceflight company Blue Origin have announced a new vision: going back to the moon, this time to stay.
Lunar South Pole
In the permanent shadows of the moon’s south polar craters, water ice is known to exist.
Lunar topography (in feet)
*With no sea level, zero is set where a hypothetical 1,079-mile radius sphere would intersect the surface.
MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, NG STAFF
SOURCES: NASA, USGS ASTROGEOLOGY SCIENCE CENTER
At an invitation-only presentation today at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Bezos argued that to sustainably offer humankind the chance for growth, heavy industry has to move off the surface of Earth and rely on resources from the rest of the solar system, such as the minerals and water ice in the lunar south pole's Shackleton crater. (Here's why many space agencies and private groups are looking to visit the moon's south pole.)
“We get to preserve this unique gem of a planet ... There is no Plan B,” Bezos says. “We have to save this planet, and we shouldn't give up a future for our grandchildren's grandchildren of dynamism and growth. We can have both.”
In the short-term, Bezos says companies need to build the necessary space infrastructure, so Blue Origin is working on a robotic lunar lander called Blue Moon—as he revealed onstage, dropping a black curtain to reveal a full-size mockup of the lander.
According to Bezos, Blue Moon is propelled by liquid hydrogen and can precisely land up to 6.5 metric tons of cargo on the moon's surface in its largest configuration. A naval-inspired cargo system will let the lander deliver up to four rovers at once. The company has already signed deals with groups including MIT, the German aerospace firm OHB, and Airbus to develop the project.
Bezos and Blue Origin have not specified when Blue Moon will first take flight. Its launch vehicle, the company's New Glenn rocket, is slated for its first flights in 2021. But Bezos says that the lander's extended version could help take astronauts back to the moon by 2024, which is NASA's current stand goal.
“I love this; this is the right thing to do,” Bezos says. “We can help meet that time line, but only because we started three years ago.”
The company is hardly the only group bent on exploring—or exploiting—the lunar surface. Here are some of the biggest players looking to make their own moon shot in the coming years.