Kavya NarayananMay 13, 2019 18:27:40 IST
The wealthiest man on Earth, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, shared his vision for the future of humanity in an hour-long presentation on 9 May.
Animations of his space company Blue Origin's futuristic plans followed one after the other, followed by an unveiling of a model of the vessel that will inch humans closer to that vision in Bezos's view — the Blue Moon lunar lander.
Tidbits of this grandiose vision have been revealed to us over the years, but this might be the first time Bezos has come out with the larger picture.
.@JeffBezos spoke of his grand vision for humanity's future as space colonists. Reusable rockets, rockets powered by hydrogen fuel & giant O'Neill habitats are just a few pieces in his masterplan.
A little too sci-fi-inspired or are you impressed? @woman_rednow pic.twitter.com/4zwdmdWuu1
— Tech2 (@tech2eets) May 13, 2019
One thing less than futuristic about his big unveil, however, was the fact that Blue Origin, the company vying to deliver humanity its future, couldn't stream their grand vision live for the world to see.
Luckily they did decide to share a recorded version of his talk on YouTube several hours later.
Our planet is "the best planet in the solar system", claims Bezos. "Please...make no mistake about this... we do need to protect it...it is essential — our job. But we're now big enough to hurt this planet." Poverty, hunger, homelessness, overfishing, and many more worrying problems plague the human race here and now, he adds.
But there are also long-range problems, he added, like energy capacity, and resources. These will be nothing more than teething troubles if we become a space-faring species that can tap into the "unlimited resources" that the universe has to offer.
Bezos borrows the vision of Physics professor Gerard O'Neill to point out that expanding into the solar system will need innovation, and an answer to an important question: Is the Earth's surface really the best place for humans to be if they're hurting the Earth, and can we expand into space instead?
We may have been born on Earth's habitable surface, but we're under no compulsion to stay, especially since it looks unsustainable for us to stay on Earth AND survive.
"What happens when unlimited demand meets finite resources? The answer is incredibly simple: Rationing," said Bezos. Either we can stay on Earth and ration resources, or go out into space on a grand adventure to grow and expand, and it looks like Bezos, for one, has his mind made up.
"This is an easy choice. We know what we want. We just need to get busy."
Specifically, we need to get cracking on gargantuan, cylindrical habitats to house the trillion-or-so people, part of Bezos's envisioned space colony.
The concept of a giant "O'Neill colony" is something we're already familiar with from Interstellar and The Expanse: enormous spinning habitats that house anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand people at a time wandering through space on a space exploration continuum. These habitats could simply be replicas of cities we know and love on Earth, Bezos pointed out, except that there'd be different in two stark ways — one, it would bring a whole new dimension to architecture, and two, a futuristic climate control technology that can be optimized for human survival.
"No storms, no rain, no earthquakes."
With the basic concerns of shelter and natural disaster out of the way, we could be looking at whole new dimensions to existing human talents.
"What does the architecture even look like when it no longer has its primary purpose of shelter? We’ll find out," said Bezos.
This new and fancy space abode isn't a Plan B though, he clarified. It will serve as a space colony within visiting range of Earth, meant as an ex-situ haven for "heavy industry and all things polluting our planet." That leaves our home planet for "residential and light industry".
Bezos also declared that he knows fully-well just how "out-there" the vision is.
"This will take time... it's a big vision... there's no infrastructure," Bezos said. "(Besides,) the price of admission to do interesting things in space right now is just too high."
And yet, there he was, unveiling at the briefing the Blue Moon lunar lander and the much-awaited BE-7 engine, which has been three years in the making by Blue Origin engineers. The first of its kind liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engine is a leap in rocketry, and will be fired up in its first ever hot-fire test this year. The engine may be used in Blue Origin's first manned test flight of its suborbital launch vehicle, New Shepard, later this year, according to Bezos.
To be clear, the BE-7 engine for a test flight might be overkill. It's expensive, extremely powerful and runs on an experimental fuel. However, Bezos's idea is to power New Shepard's maiden manned flight as a proof-of-concept for a hydrogen-powered rocket to the Moon, where hydrogen in the form of ice water can be used to refuel it. One eye on the future throughout, huh?
On the Blue Moon lunar lander, hydrogen fuel cells were chosen to store energy over solar cells so it can operate even during the two-week long lunar nights on the Moon. The lander also has a star-tracker for space navigation, an optical communication system for super-high bandwidth to- and from Earth connectivity, plus the ability to launch tiny satellites mid-flight.
"This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the moon," Bezos said.
Blue Moon, New Shepard and the powerful New Glenn are among the first models in a multi-generational plan to ease humanity into space, in Bezos's view. The generation of future entrepreneurs will take over developing infrastructure from his generation of visionaries, and end up with what he hopes is a very literal "space industry."
With the array of existential concerns that humanity is staring at in the decades and centuries to come, Bezos's vision, which may look a little too dreamy at the moment, is still a big step in the right direction. It's a solid proposition to end some of the "long-term" problems we're facing (energy, extinction, climate change) for good and move towards solutions. Ambitious plans are only too welcome where mankind's survival is concerned. And hey, it'll be pretty cool if we can take some of Earth's flora and fauna with us.
It doesn't hurt that the man with the plan also has the money to ignite his grand vision for humanity. What have we to lose?
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