Trending: Amazon expands Bezos’ elite ‘S-team,’ adding 6 execs from emerging branches of the company
A mockup of the crew capsule for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship is laid out beneath the sparkling lights of the Aria Resort Hotel in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — One of the big attractions at this week’s Amazon re:MARS conference is a mockup of the crew capsule for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship — but chances are that few of the attendees lining up to try out the seats know who their tour guide is.

And that’s just fine with Jimmy Shane, who’s an engineer and manager at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture as well as a prize-winning hydroplane driver for the U-1 Miss HomeStreet team.

I recognized Shane at the capsule, and he recognized me, thanks in part to GeekWire’s stories about his passions for fast boats and fast rockets back in 2017. Shane won hydroplane racing’s national championship that year, but suffered some tough breaks during the 2018 racing season.

Shane told me he was sent to Las Vegas because he works on the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., and because he’s used to working with media types and the general public in his racing role. Check out his spiel in this off-the-cuff video I recorded when it was my turn to sit in one of the crew capsule’s six seats:

Most of the subject matter covered at this week’s inaugural re:MARS conference focuses on Amazon’s turf: machine learning, automation and robotics. But the “S” in MARS stands for space, and Shane isn’t the only space expert showing up in Vegas.

Patrick Zeitouni, Blue Origin’s head of advanced development programs, is due to discuss the 19-year-old company’s off-world aspirations at one of today’s sessions. Several other speakers will be addressing spacey subjects, ranging from Red Planet rover technology to the prospects for doing cloud computing in orbit. And it wouldn’t be surprising if Bezos himself touched on his outer-space vision during a keynote on Thursday.

By all accounts, the New Shepard program is still on track to start launching people to space and back later this year — at first on a test basis, most likely with Blue Origin employees in the seats.

Will Shane eventually get a turn? It’s way too early to say, but riding a roaring boat should be good preparation for riding a roaring rocket.

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