With NASA floundering a bit due to funding and direction, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has offered up his take on how the U.S. space agency can recapture the magic.
While speaking at the John H. Glenn Lecture in Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, Bezos said he believes NASA should focus on developing “hard technology goals” that are too ambitious for private space firms to tackle. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can develop smaller crew capsules to reach orbit, sure, but Bezos told Space he believes NASA should tackle projects such as in-space nuclear reactors and hypersonic passenger aviation.
To help spur the private market to develop new space tech, Bezos recommended NASA also consider a prize for the first mission to bring back Mars samples. It’s worth noting NASA already does smaller prizes, but Bezos is advocating something much more massive and ambitious:
"I think big prizes would be an interesting thing to do. One thing that the government could do is just offer a very large prize to whoever first brings back some Mars samples. It would be very interesting. That kind of horserace would create lots of attention. People would compete for it."
In regard to an eventual mission to Mars, Bezos didn’t seem terribly interested in trying to reach the Red Planet via Blue Origin (SpaceX is already planning its own Mars missions in the next decade). But he said he’d love to see someone take the plunge and do it just for the “cool” factor:
“I don't think you can justify sending men to Mars for science reasons. I think we have reached a state where robots can do that task, probably better than people can. I hope somebody goes to Mars because I want to watch it. I think it would be glorious.”
Bezos certainly brings some interesting ideas to the table, and it’s hard to argue with the hard technology goals concept. Hopefully as more companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX help pick up the slack, NASA can start looking a bit more at the big picture.