Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on The Charlie Rose Show Monday night, primarily to talk about the new electronic book reader that Amazon unveiled earlier in the day. However, at the very end of the show Rose did ask Bezos some questions about Blue Origin, Bezos’s spaceflight venture. A lot of the interview covered familiar ground for those have followed what limited information that the company has released, but there were a few new insights:
- Blue Origin has moved on from its original demonstration vehicle, Goddard, to a second vehicle currently under development. At least one more demo vehicle will follow that second one.
- Bezos said that they’re in no rush to bring a vehicle to market “because we’re trying to build a very safe, well-engineered vehicle.”
- He believes that there is a market for suborbital space tourism, but is skeptical of market studies that have been performed to date because “you don’t really know until you do it.” (That skepticism is not unique to Bezos: Eric Anderson of Space Adventures has expressed similar sentiments in the recent past.)
- Bezos not only had Charles Simonyi, the former Microsoft executive who went to the ISS in April, speak to his Blue Origin employees, Bezos talked with Simonyi while on the station.
The video of the show is available online. (Skip ahead to about the 50:30 point of the interview; the Blue Origin portion takes up the last three minutes or so of the show). I’ve included a rough transcript below as well:
Rose: You own 200,000 acres of land in Texas?
Rose: What are you going to do with it?
Bezos: Well, when you’re building rockets and launching rockets, it’s nice to have a bit of buffer. [laughter]
Rose: Yeah, what is that that just landed in our yard? [laughter] So, tell me what your dream is.
Bezos: Well, we’re building a vertical takeoff, vertical landing spacecraft that will take three or more astronauts to the edge of space — it’s a suborbital journey, so it’s like what Alan Shepard did. The program’s called New Shepard, paying homage to Alan. So it goes up and you have a few minutes in zero gravity, you can look out and see the limb of the Earth, how thin the atmosphere is of the Earth. People tell me, who have been in space, tell me that it’s a transformative experience. You get up there and, then, this vehicle is going to come back down and land on its tail — it’s reusable, which it very unsual for space vehicles, they’re almost all expendable rockets — and it’s going to come and land on its tail, sort of like a Buck Rogers rocket.
Rose: So what’s the stage of development today?
Bezos: Well, we have flown our first development vehicle. We flew it several times. We’re now working on —
Rose: It went up and came back safely.
Bezos: That’s right. It was this low-altitude demonstration vehicle. We’re now working on our second development vehicle. There will be at least one more development vehicle after that — at least, maybe there will be more. We’re not in any hurry because we’re trying to build a very safe, well-engineered vehicle. We don’t see any reason to rush on this.
Rose: Where does the revenue come on this from?
Bezos: Our motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” [Rose laughs.] It stands for “step by step, ferociously.” So we’re just going to do it one step at a time.
Rose: And so what’s the market for this?
Bezos: Well, this is basically kind of a tourism market.
Rose: Yes, I know.
Bezos: People would pay to go up into suborbital space. I don’t know how big the market is. People have done studies that have tried to size this market, but I’m highly skeptical of such studies, because you don’t really know until you do it. People, well-intentioned people, when they respond to the surveys, will say, “Oh, yeah, I will do that” but they don’t really know.
Rose: But are you more interested in space or more interested in the business?
Bezos: My passion is for space, for sure. But I do think this can be made into a viable business. I think that you have to be very long-term oriented. People who compained that we have invested in Amazon for seven years would be horrified by Blue Origin. [laughter]
Rose: Did you ever talk to Charles Simonyi?
Bezos: Yes, in fact, he came and spoke at Blue Origin and spoke to our employees.
Rose: What did he say about his experience?
Bezos: Actually, I called him while he was up there and talked to him on the phone while he was up there, while he was space shuttle, space station.
Rose: He loved it.
Bezos: He loved being in the International Space Station.
Rose: So why wouldn’t you do that?
Bezos: Well, I want to go on a Blue Origin vehicle, and that’s what we’re working on. I like to build, I’m into building the vehicle. I will go. I definitely will go. I can’t wait, actually.