Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, has won the prestigious Heinlein Prize for his efforts to advance space commercialization at another company he founded, Blue Origin.
Bezos follows in the footsteps of SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis, who played a lead role in creating the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight. Diamandis was the first award-winner in 2006, and Musk was honored in 2011.
The prize serves as a tribute to the late science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, who championed private enterprise beyond Earth in such stories as “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” and “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” The Heinlein Prize Trust is funded by the estate of Robert and Virginia Heinlein.
This year’s award was announced today in conjunction with the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle, and comes only a few days after Blue Origin put its reusable New Shepard spaceship through its fourth suborbital test flight to outer space and back. Blue Origin is also making progress on its BE-4 rocket engine, which is due to be used on future orbital launch vehicles.
“Under Jeff’s visionary leadership, Blue Origin has developed launch vehicles and a commercially financed line of engines that pave the way to reusability in space transportation,” Art Dula, trustee of the Heinlein Prize Trust, said in a statement. “As a recipient of the Heinlein Prize, we recognize Jeff and the efforts of the Blue Origin team in its development of technologies that could revolutionize the industry and provide commercially-available launch capabilities to a variety of customers.”
Bezos welcomed the award in his own statement: “Robert Heinlein inspired millions with his visionary — and incredibly entertaining — stories, and it’s an honor for all of us at Blue Origin to receive this award. Heinlein foresaw a thriving future with humans throughout the solar system. We won’t stop working to make that vision come true.”
When Musk received the award, its cash value was $250,000. This time around, the prize amount was not released, but Dula told GeekWire that the money would be given to charity at Bezos’ request. Not that Bezos needs it: His net worth is estimated at more than $60 billion.
The prize also traditionally involve the award of a Lady Vivamus sword inspired by the Heinlein novel “Glory Road.” Dula said Bezos would be getting a surprise gift, and hinted that it’d be a space artifact.
“We have something to give him that’s very special,” Dula said.
The goodies will be presented during a Sept. 14 ceremony in Washington, D.C.