Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC. Photograph:( AFP )
'This is Blue Moon,' the world's richest man said at a presentation in Washington, as curtains lifted to show a mock-up of a huge vessel weighing many tons and able to carry four self-driving rovers.
Jeff Bezos, who heads both Amazon and space company Blue Origin, unveiled a lunar lander Thursday that he said would be used to transport equipment, and possibly human beings, to the south pole of the Moon by 2024.
"This is Blue Moon," the world's richest man said at a presentation in Washington, as curtains lifted to show a mock-up of a huge vessel weighing many tons and able to carry four self-driving rovers.
"It's an incredible vehicle, and it will go to the Moon," he declared.
Bezos didn't announce a specific date for the project's first launch, but said the lander would be ready in time to make President Donald Trump's announced timeline to return people to the Moon by 2024.
"We can help meet that timeline, but only because we started three years ago," he said. "It's time to go back to the Moon, this time to stay."
Fifty years after American astronauts first walked on the Moon, the United States is among countries showing renewed interest in Earth's natural satellite.
The vehicle has been under development for the past three years, Bezos said. It will be capable of carrying scientific instruments, the four small rovers, and also a future pressurized vehicle for humans.
The goal is to land on the Moon's south pole, where ice deposits were confirmed in 2018. Water can be exploited to produce hydrogen, which in turn could fuel future exploration of the solar system.
Fully loaded with fuel, Blue Origin will weigh about 33,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms), which will decrease to around 7,000 pounds when it is about to land, he said.
The White House's intention to return to the Moon in 2024 has sent NASA into a frenzy of activity since the end of March because that particular mission was originally anticipated for 2028.
Nothing is ready: not the powerful rocket necessary to transport vehicles and astronauts. Not the components of the future mini-station in lunar orbit, which will act as a rest-stop between Earth and the Moon. And not the lander or rovers needed by astronauts, among whom will be the first woman to set foot on Earth's natural satellite.
But Bezos, who rarely speaks about the projects at Blue Origin, which he founded in 2000 and finances with more than $1 billion per year, clearly suggested he wants to help NASA.
Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, did not talk to journalists at the event.
The lander's unveiling came as Bezos outlined his broader vision to build an infrastructure that would sustain the colonization of space by future generations of humans and shift polluting industries of the Earth.
This would involve the construction in space of artificial worlds inspired by designs first proposed by the late physicist Gerard K. O'Neill, one of Bezos's heroes, intended to give humanity an escape route in case of limited resources on Earth.
"My generation's job is to build the infrastructure," said Bezos. "We're going to build the road to space."
Blue Origin is working on two other major projects: New Shepard, a suborbital rocket to fly tourists into space; and New Glenn, a heavy lift, partly reusable launch rocket.
Bezos confirmed his commitment to fly the first people in New Shepard this year, and New Glenn in 2021.
The New Shepard rocket first reached space last year, achieving a height of 66 miles (106 kilometers) in April 2018.