Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos received one of the spaceflight community’s richest honors, the Heinlein Prize, during a ceremony in the nation’s capital on Wednesday night. The prize includes a $250,000 cash award … and a sword that evokes one of Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi stories.
Bezos hung onto the sword, but he’s donating the $250,000 to an nonprofit group known as the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
The prize was handed out by representatives of the late science-fiction writer’s family trust to recognize Bezos’ work with Blue Origin, the space venture he founded. Past recipients include Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX; and Peter Diamandis, who co-founded the XPRIZE program as well as Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
SEDS, a 36-year-old student organization that promote global space efforts, tweeted that Bezos’ gift comes as “fantastic news”:
This is FANTASTIC news. Thank you Jeff Bezos! This will strengthen and grow SEDS for decades to come.
Look for a… https://t.co/YmFMvZw1rt
— SEDS (@sedsusa) September 15, 2016
Today Bezos, who served as president of Princeton’s SEDS chapter in the ’80s, tweeted his own round of thanks to the Heinlein Prize Trust and well-wishing moonwalker Buzz Aldrin:
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) September 15, 2016
The prize honors Heinlein’s vision of private enterprise in space exploration and development, as reflected in stories such as “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” Over the past year, Bezos’ Blue Origin team has successfully sent its New Shepard suborbital space vehicle to space and back four times during uncrewed test flights. The company is working on an innovative natural gas-fueled BE-4 engine and just this week unveiled the design for its New Glenn orbital rocket.
Bezos has hinted that a future New Armstrong rocket would be capable of going beyond Earth orbit, to the moon or elsewhere.
During Wednesday night’s ceremony, Bezos brandished a replica Lady Vivamus sword, which is inspired by the Heinlein novel “Glory Road” and traditionally comes with the Heinlein Prize. He also answered a few questions from the audience at Washington’s National Air and Space Museum. Here are some of the high points, as reported by The Washington Post (which is owned by Bezos):
- Unlike Musk, Bezos doesn’t want to move to Mars … at least in the near term. “Think about it: no whiskey, no bacon, no oceans, no hiking, no urban centers. Eventually Mars might be amazing. But that’s a long way in the future.”
- Bezos isn’t bothered by competition with SpaceX and other space ventures. “Great industries are never made by single companies. And space is really big. There is room in space for a lot of winners.”
- Bezos said his high school buddies wouldn’t be impressed by his rocket adventures if he met up with them at a reunion. “They’d be like, ‘Bezos, what happened to your hair?'”
The 52-year-old billionaire, who founded Blue Origin only six years after founding Amazon, also reflected on his future legacy.
“If I’m 80 years old and I’m looking back on my life, and I can say that I put in place, with the help of the teammates at Blue Origin, the heavy-lifting infrastructure that made access to space cheap and inexpensive so that the next generation could have the entrepreneurial explosion like I saw on the internet, I’ll be a very happy 80-year-old,” the Post’s Christian Davenport quoted Bezos as saying.