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Bezos and Aldrin
Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos receives the Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award from Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin during a gala at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Buzz Aldrin via Twitter)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin space venture have picked up a good number of awards over the past year, but this weekend’s award was the first of its kind.

The Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award was created by the famed Apollo 11 moonwalker, who gave Bezos his weighty glass trophy during a Saturday night gala at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In a day-after tweet, the 87-year-old Aldrin said he was “delighted” to have Bezos and Blue Origin as the award’s first honorees. Bezos tweeted his thanks in return.

Bezos also passed along a picture showing him in the midst of his trademark laugh as Mike Collins, Aldrin’s Apollo 11 crewmate, entertains the crowd:

Apollo astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Walt Cunningham joined Aldrin, Collins and Bezos on stage.

Aldrin established the Apollo 11 Anniversary Gala to commemorate his moon mission, which blasted off from Kennedy Space Center 48 years ago today. The event at the Apollo-Saturn V Center raised more than $190,000 for Aldrin’s educational charity, the ShareSpace Foundation. It also gave Aldrin an opportunity to turn a spotlight on his vision for Mars exploration.

America could send astronauts to the Red Planet by 2040, Aldrin said, but he added that the cost of getting to space has to be trimmed back.

“The programs we have right now are eating up every piece of the budget, and it has to be reduced if we’re ever going to get anywhere,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Bezos voiced a similar perspective. “We can have a trillion humans in the solar system. What’s holding us back from making that next step is that space travel is just too darned expensive,” he said.

Blue Origin, headquartered in Kent, Wash., is Bezos’ vehicle for solving that problem. In April, he said that he’s selling a billion dollars’ worth of Amazon stock every year to put toward Blue Origin’s development of reusable suborbital and orbital spaceships.

The suborbital spaceship, New Shepard, already has gone through five successful uncrewed test flights to space and back, flying from Blue Origin’s West Texas facility. Passengers could start taking a ride as early as next year.

Blue Origin is also building a factory in Florida for its orbital-class New Glenn rocket, and has plans to manufacture its next-generation BE-4 rocket engines in Alabama. Orbital launches are slated to begin by 2020.

If Bezos is able to follow through on his space ambitions, Blue Origin may well help make Aldrin’s vision for 2040 a reality by sending payloads and people beyond Earth orbit.

“We should build permanent settlements on the moon’s poles, where we can get water and solar power,” Techradar quoted Bezos as saying. “We know things about the moon we didn’t know back in the 1960s and 1970s, and with reusable rockets we can do it affordably. We can get that done today.”

SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, has a similar vision, focused on Mars – and it wouldn’t be surprising if Musk wins a future space innovation award from Aldrin.

Mae Jemison, who became the first African-American woman to go into space in 1992, received the Buzz Aldrin Space Pioneer Award at Saturday’s gala.

In an AP interview, she paid tribute to Aldrin in return.

“When Buzz says, ‘Get your ass to Mars,’ it’s not just about the physical part of getting to Mars. It’s also about that commitment to doing something big and audacious,” Jemison said.

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