WASHINGTON - Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos says he's going to send a spaceship to the moon, joining a resurgence of lunar interest half a century after people first set foot there.
Bezos says his space company, Blue Origin, will land a robotic ship the size of a small house, capable of carrying four rovers and using a newly designed rocket engine and souped-up rockets. It would be followed by a version that could bring people to the moon along the same time frame as NASA's proposed 2024 return.
Bezos offered the lander to NASA to meet that five-year goal.
Bezos, who was dwarfed by his mock-up of the Blue Moon vehicle at his presentation Thursday, said "This is an incredible vehicle and it's going to the moon."
The Blue Moon mock-up presented at the private event looked different from the rendering Bezos revealed last year.
Blue Moon, not to be confused with the beer made in Colorado, can carry 6.5 tons, deploy small satellites and be versatile enough to carry humans. Blue Origin already has several paying customers who want to use the lunar lander for science, according to Bezos.
Ahead the big news, Blue Origin kept the plan tightly under wraps.
On April 26, the company tweeted the date of the announcement with a photo of Arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance. There also happens to be an icy crater on the lunar surface called the Shackleton Crater named for the explorer.
Bezos revealed on Thursday that Shackleton Crater was selected for a future mission for its resources.
While Bezos was making his announcement, University of Central Florida planetary scientist Phil Metzger was at a robotic moon mining competition in Alabama. UCF is known for its research into space resources found on asteroids and other planetary surfaces.
"We’ve been, for a decade, having this competition to develop mining robots in order to mine the resources on the moon," he said. "We are currently working on rovers that can specifically mine ice on the moon."
Metzger said the Shackleton Crater is filled with water and other organic compounds, or volatiles, which can be turned into propellents to reduce space travel costs.
“That spot is really the most valuable real estate in the solar system because you’ve got the volatiles and the energy in the same spot," Metzger said. "All the chemistry we need to move industry of planet Earth is right there on the moon."
It makes sense for Blue Origin to want to set up camp at the crater, Metzger said, because mining and energy collection can be within a short drive of each other.
The end goal is to "start reducing launch costs, having cheaper of exploration of Mars and building industry to save planet Earth," Metzger said.
Can’t wait to hear @blueorigin’s announcement today! We’re all assuming the Shackleton reference is to Shackleton Crater, a source of lunar water and other volatiles, the ability to mine & make rocket fuel, & further lunar industry. We are learning to mine the Moon, now! pic.twitter.com/lffG7m9Q3Y — Dr. Phil Metzger (@DrPhiltill) May 9, 2019
Blue Origin will begin launching its heavy lift rocket the New Glenn from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 36 in 2021. Bezos did not provide a detailed timeline of when Blue Moon will launch.
The Amazon billionaire also said he has bigger plans for colonies in space.
Bezos announced "O'Neill Colonies," which will allow up to 1 million people to live in space.
However, Bezos also said he recognized that this goal is very long-term and has laid out steps needed to take to build the infrastructure now, so future generations can build these colonies.
The space communities would include high speed transport, agricultural areas and full cities, Bezos said.
"People are going to want to live here," he said, adding visitors could make a "day trip" to and from Earth.
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