The lobby has a model of the Star Trek Enterprise that was used in the original motion picture. There is a Russian space suit on display and a proposed space station that was never built. Quotes, including one by Leonardo da Vinci, line the walls.
But the entrance is not the main attraction. As he approached the factory floor, where the company builds its New Shepard vehicle and rocket engines, Bezos said, “here’s where the magic happens.” (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
After some recent test flights that successfully flew to the edge of space, and then landed, Bezos said the company may be ready to fly passengers in 2018 if everything goes according to plan. It is aiming to begin test flights with humans next year.
Since the vehicle would fly autonomously, the test pilots would really be more like test passengers, there to pay attention to the customer experience, he said. Is the flight too noisy? Is it comfortable? Then, once the company is confident in the safety and reliability of the pilotless vehicle, paying passengers—Bezos did not reveal a price— could climb aboard to fly just past the boundary of space, see the curvature of the Earth through large windows, and then unbuckle from their seats to experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s company, also plans to take tourists to the edge of space. Virgin has said its goal is to become the world’s first space line. Asked if Blue Origin wanted to be first, Bezos said: “I want us to be safe. If we end up being first that would be fine. But that’s not the goal.”
But before those flights happen, he said, “We’ll test the every living day lights out of this thing.”
Last April, the company completed the first successful test flight of New Shepard, when it reached Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, and soared 58 miles high, very nearly to what’s considered the edge of space. Then, in November, it launched again. This time it passed the boundary of space, and it also was able to land the first stage of its rocket back on land. Then last month, it launched and landed the same first stage—showing that it could be flown more than once.
Bezos has called reusable rockets the “Holy Grail” of space flight. For decades the first stages of rockets, used to generate the massive thrust needed to escape Earth’s gravity, were ditched into the ocean after powering the spacecraft toward space, never to be used again. But Bezos and others, including SpaceX’s Elon Musk, have been working to develop rockets that would fly, and land, so that they could be reused. Only about 550 people have been to space, and if Bezos and others can successfully perfect the art of rocket recycling, it could lead to a dramatic reduction in the cost of space flight—and potentially open up the cosmos to the masses.
Asked why the company was finally opening up after all these years, Bezos said his motto was “we’ll talk about Blue Origin when we have something to talk about.”
“Space is really easy to overhype,” he continued. “There are very few things in the world where the ratio of attention you get to what you’ve actually done, can be extreme.”