Categories
GeekWire

Five spaced-out designs for the Bezos Learning Center

The design selection process for the Bezos Learning Center planned at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum may sound a bit like “America’s Got Talent” for architects — but the $130 million prize is well beyond game-show proportions.

That’s how much money Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is giving to have the 50,000-square-foot center built as an addition to the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s part of Bezos’ record-setting $200 million donation for the National Air and Space Museum’s renovation, which was announced last summer.

The Bezos Learning Center would feature activities that inspire students to pursue innovation and explore careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math — or STEAM, for short. The Smithsonian stressed that the center wouldn’t just focus on aerospace, but connect to all of the institution’s museums.

In January, the Smithsonian put out the call for design firms to submit proposals for the center, which would replace a pyramid-shaped restaurant that was built on the museum grounds in 1988 but ceased operation in 2017. Last week, museum planners unveiled five design proposals. The architects behind the proposals are identified only as Firm A, Firm B, Firm C, Firm D and Firm E.

Categories
GeekWire

Where’s my jetpack? Check Amazon’s MARS meeting

Billionaire Jeff Bezos missed out on his usual chauffeuring duties at the West Texas launch orchestrated today by his Blue Origin space venture, but he had a good excuse: He was presiding over Amazon’s MARS 2022, an invitation-only conference held this week in California.

His successor as Amazon’s CEO, Andy Jassy, was there as well.

The hush-hush MARS conference had its first annual run back in 2016, and spawned a public event called re:MARS in 2019. The acronym stands for Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space — and it also evokes Bezos’ long-term goal of having millions of people living and working in space.

MARS is an opportunity for the compu-cognoscenti to rub elbows (but our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail … again). It’s also a photo opportunity for Bezos: Who can forget the shots of “Buff Bezos” striding alongside a robo-dog, or Bezos at the controls of a giant robot, or trying out a hexacopter?

The 2020 and 2021 conferences had to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, but based on the tweets and Instagram posts emanating from this year’s site in Ojai, Calif., MARS was back in full force in 2022.

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos plays up the Earth-space connection

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has been getting a lot of press lately, but the Amazon founder and chairman says he’s spending more money nowadays on Earth’s environmental welfare through his Bezos Earth Fund.

Four and a half years ago, Bezos told reporters that he was selling about a billion dollars’ worth of his Amazon stock on a yearly basis to put toward Blue Origin.

But at least for the time being, he says that’s trumped by his $10 billion, 10-year commitment to the Bezos Earth Fund, which distributes grants to projects around the globe. During this month’s U.N. climate summit in Scotland, the fund announced a $2 billion round of grants supporting land restoration and food production.

Bezos cited the funding during last week’s Ignatius Forum at the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. as evidence that he wasn’t just a starry-eyed billionaire with no concern about Earth’s welfare.

Categories
GeekWire

Late-night TV skit skewers space billionaires

You know that the billionaire space race has entered the nation’s mainstream when it’s skewered by NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

On tonight’s season premiere, guest host Owen Wilson played the starring role in “Star Trek: Ego Quest” as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who in July took a suborbital space ride on the New Shepard rocket built by his own Blue Origin space venture.

SNL’s writers even went so far as to write Wilson’s brother, fellow actor Luke Wilson, into the script as Mark Bezos (credited in the opening titles as “First Mate Jeff Bezos’ Brother, Whose Name Escapes Me”). Other prime-time players portrayed the Bezos brothers’ companions in what it called a “crew of random weirdos,” including Dutch student Oliver Daemen (“Science Officer Rich Kid From the Netherlands”) and 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk.

“Their mission: to just sort of fly around space, goofing off, in a ship that looks like a penis,” the narrator intones.

Naturally, Bezos and his crew get into a drag race with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, who in real life went on his own suborbital space journey on SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity just nine days before Bezos’ flight. The narrator calls it “A Midlife Crisis of Cosmic Proportions.”

But the race ends up going to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (played by Mikey Day), who blasts Bezos’ craft with photon torpedoes. “Space is only big enough for one weird white billionaire,” Musk says. “So you could say beating you is my … Prime objective.” (Or should that be “Prime Directive”?)

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin’s reputation comes under fire from within

A former employee of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has given up her anonymity to lead a campaign accusing the company of laxity when it comes to safety and sexual harassment.

The allegations from Alexandra Abrams, who served as Blue Origin’s head of employee communications until her dismissal in 2019, are detailed in an essay published on Lioness.co and in an interview with CBS News. Abrams said the Lioness essay was written in collaboration with 20 former and current Blue Origin employees who aren’t identified.

Abrams and her co-writers say that the types of gender gaps often seen in the aerospace industry “manifest in a particular brand of sexism,” that dissent is suppressed, and that Bezos’ competition with fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson “seemed to take precedence over safety concerns” in planning for crewed spaceflights.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith was portrayed as leading the push toward flying people on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft. Bezos and three crewmates rode on the first crewed New Shepard flight in July, and the second crewed flight is due for launch from Blue Origin’s West Texas spaceport in two weeks.

In response to an emailed inquiry, Blue Origin said it takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously and stands by its safety record.

Categories
GeekWire

Elon Musk jokes about Jeff Bezos’ rocket envy

In the latest chapter of a long-running space spat, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took aim at his billionaire rival Jeff Bezos today with a barrage of double entendres that were delivered from the stage at this week’s Code Conference.

The jests he shared with journalist Kara Swisher, host of the Beverly Hills event, focused on the phallic shape of the New Shepard suborbital rocket ship built by Blue Origin, Bezos’ space venture.

“It could be a different shape, potentially,” Musk noted.

“Could you explain from a technological point of view why it’s that shape?” Swisher asked.

“If you are only doing suborbital, then your rocket can be shorter, yes,” Musk joked.

More seriously, Musk said Bezos and Blue Origin should spend less time contesting NASA’s $2.9 billion award to SpaceX for a Starship lunar lander and more time getting the company’s New Glenn rocket to orbit. New Glenn’s first launch is currently scheduled for late 2022.

“You can’t sue your way to the moon, no matter how good your lawyers are,” he said. When Swisher asked whether Musk ever talked with Bezos about the dispute, he said, “Not verbally … just subtweets.”

Categories
GeekWire

Bezos Earth Fund pledges millions for climate justice

The Bezos Earth Fund today announced $203.7 million in grants and pledges aimed at advancing climate justice, supporting climate-oriented economic recovery projects and spurring innovation in pathways to decarbonization.

The pledges are part of a 10-year, $10 billion initiative backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to fund scientists, activists, non-governmental organizations and other actors who can address the challenges posed by climate change.

“This funding is just the next step in the Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment to creating catalytic change during this decisive decade,” Andrew Steer, the recently appointed president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a news release. “With each grant, we are helping organizations unblock progress and create pathways to a more sustainable future.”

Today’s announcement covers $73.7 million in immediate donations to 12 organizations, as well as a pledge of another $130 million to be given out by the end of 2021 to organizations supporting the Biden administration’s Justice40 climate initiative. Justice40 is aimed at delivering at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate in clean energy to disadvantaged communities.

Categories
GeekWire

Elon Musk goads Jeff Bezos as space spat escalates

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has fired a fresh volley of tart tweets at Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the Blue Origin space venture, in the midst of a regulatory tussle over SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation and Amazon’s competing Project Kuiper concept.

And this time, space lasers are involved.

The spark that lit Musk’s latest flame war came after SpaceX sought the Federal Communications Commission’s approval to amend plans for sending up tens of thousands of Starlink satellites to provide global broadband service. The amendment would let SpaceX use its Starship mega-rocket, currently under development, to put its Gen2 satellites into an assortment of orbits.

In response, Amazon urged the FCC to turn back SpaceX’s request, saying that the amendment proposes “two mutually exclusive configurations” for the Starlink constellation and leaves too many details unsettled. And in response to thatSpaceX told the FCC that Amazon’s filing was “only the latest in its continuing efforts to slow down competition.”

SpaceX also complained that Amazon was neglecting to resolve the FCC’s concerns about Project Kuiper. The FCC gave conditional approval to Amazon’s plans more than a year ago — provided that the Kuiper satellites didn’t interfere with previously approved satellite systems, including Starlink. SpaceX noted that Amazon hasn’t yet filed documents showing how it planned to avoid interference and ensure safe satellite operations.

More than 1,700 first-generation Starlink satellites have already been launched in accordance with previous FCC approvals, and the internet service is currently in expanded beta testing.

The Starlink spat comes amid the backdrop of legal protests that Bezos’ other big brainchild, Blue Origin, has filed against NASA for awarding a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to SpaceX. Because of Blue Origin’s lawsuit, NASA and SpaceX have suspended work to adapt Starship as the landing system for a crewed mission to the moon, which is currently set for as early as 2024. (That date seems increasingly unlikely, however, and not just because of the lawsuit.)

In today’s tweets, Musk touched on the FCC filings as well as the lunar lander dispute, referring to Bezos without mentioning him by name.

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos sweetens the deal for NASA lunar lander

In an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture will waive up to $2 billion in payments as part of a deal to build a second lunar landing system for NASA’s use.

The offer comes just days after Bezos rode Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship to the edge of space and back. It appears aimed at addressing one of the factors that led NASA in April to issue only one contract for a landing system capable of carrying astronauts to the moon’s surface by as early as 2024.

That $2.9 billion contract went to SpaceX, in part because NASA said Congress didn’t award enough money for two providers. NASA also gave its highest technical rating to SpaceX’s proposal to use a version of its Starship launch system, which is currently under development.

Blue Origin and its industry partners ⁠— including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper ⁠— bid $6 billion to design and build a competing landing system. After SpaceX won the award, Blue Origin’s team and Dynetics, the third competitor for a NASA contract, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is due to rule on those protests by Aug. 4.

Categories
GeekWire

Who’s an astronaut? The FAA weighs in

Hundreds of deep-pocketed tourists are likely to take suborbital space trips as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, as well as the Virgin Galactic venture founded by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, ramp up their commercial operations.

But will they all get astronaut wings?

The answer appears to be no, if you go by the Federal Aviation Administration’s newly issued guidelines for its commercial space astronaut wings program. Those guidelines suggest that astronaut wings can go only to crew members on a licensed spacecraft who contribute to flight safety and rise above the 50-mile altitude mark.

Which leaves a big question: Where exactly will the line be drawn?