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Bezos and Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos shows off the concept for Blue Origin’s launch system during a news conference in Florida in September 2015. The rocket is named after John Glenn. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos accepted yet another award tonight for his Blue Origin space effort, but the prize he treasured the most is no doubt an accompanying letter from space hero John Glenn, who passed away 10 days after writing it.

The letter, dated Nov. 28, was made public as Bezos received a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award tonight in Washington, D.C. The first African-American woman to fly in space, Mae Jemison, read Glenn’s tribute to Bezos at the ceremony – only hours after Glenn died in an Ohio hospital.

Blue Origin has successfully sent its New Shepard suborbital rocket ship to outer space and back five times, duplicating Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard’s ride. And it’s gearing up to build New Glenn rockets that will send spacecraft into orbit, just as Glenn went into orbit in 1962.

Glenn wrote that he was “deeply touched” to have a rocket named after him.

“As the original Glenn, I can tell you I see the day coming when people will board spacecraft the same way millions of us now board jetliners,” the letter read. “When that happens, it will be largely because of your epic achievements this year.”

Earlier in the day, Bezos issued his own short tribute to Glenn via Twitter upon hearing of his death:

Jeff Bezos’ fellow Smithsonian honorees included space archaeologist Sarah Parcak; comedian Aziz Ansari; the multimedia performance group OK Go; Scholly CEO Christopher Gray; filmmaker David Lynch; medical researcher Anthony Atala; Flint water activist Leeanne Walters and Virginia Tech engineer Marc Edwards; and LIGO team leaders Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Ronald Drever. But it’s fair to say that John Glenn stole the show.

Here’s the full text of Glenn’s letter, as published by SmithsonianMag.com:

Mr. Jeff Bezos
Founder and Manufacturer
Blue Origin

Dear Jeff,

I’m really thrilled to congratulate you on winning the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for your historic achievement in rocketry with Blue Origin.

When I first orbited the earth, in 1962, you were still two years from being born. And when I returned to space, in 1998, Blue Origin was still two years in the future. But you were already driven by a vision of space travel accessible not only to highly trained pilots and engineers and scientists, but to all of us. And you understood that to realize that vision, we would have to be able to get to space more often and more inexpensively. So you and your Blue Origin team began designing rockets that can be reused over and over again.

I’m deeply touched that you’ve named the second generation of those rockets – the first reusable rocket to orbit the Earth – the New Glenn. As the original Glenn, I can tell you I see the day coming when people will board spacecraft the same way millions of us now board jetliners. When that happens, it will be largely because of your epic achievements this year.

Again, my congratulations and best regards.

Sincerely,
John Glenn

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