Jeff Bezos asked about the ’emotional’ rocket ride and the economics of space flight

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WASHINGTON (RNS) – Jeff Bezos was a surprise guest at a Washington National Cathedral forum on “Our Future in Space” Wednesday night (November 10), giving an interviewer the chance to grill the founder of Amazon and entrepreneur of spaceflight on extraterrestrial colonies, extraterrestrial life and its own wealth.

The Dean of the Cathedral, The Right Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith, opened the event, which also included the NASA Administrator and the Director of National Intelligence, noting that one of the stained glass windows in the building contained a collected moon rock. during the Apollo 11 mission.

“We have to be careful not to take too small a view of God,” Hollerith said. “I believe in the great mystery that lies at the heart of existence – the God who is, we say, the very foundation of our being – that God invites us into the great mysteries of the universe, where we can discover, I believe, divine footprints everywhere we go.

Half an hour later, Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review, interviewed Bezos, who was billed as a “astronaut, ”In front of the sprawling crowd on his trip to space this summer aboard a rocket built by Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company Bezos founded in 2000.

Bezos, 57, spoke of the “big picture effect,” a deep and sometimes spiritual feeling many astronauts experience when they view Earth from above.

Amazon Founder and Director of Blue Origin Jeff Bezos, center, sits on the benches at Washington National Cathedral on November 10, 2021. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

“The magnitude of this experience was so much greater than I could have imagined,” he said. “It really is such a shift in perspective that shows you, in a very powerful and emotional way, how fragile this Earth is.”

Bezos argued that the effect has the potential to cause Blue Origin customers who purchase (the very expensive) tickets on the four-seater “Earth Ambassadors” rockets.


RELATED: Bishops and astronauts gather in Washington to remember Apollo 8


The Tech Titan’s 11-minute trip above the clouds was one of the first three private space flights launched this year by a trio of wealthy business owners: Bezos, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and Space X President Elon Musk. Musk and Bezos – respectively the richest man and the second richest man on the planet – are fighting over government contracts to build ships that can travel to the moon and beyond.

Ignatius urged Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, on whether the money spent on a privately funded space race could be better used to address more earthly concerns.

“I actually spend even more money on the Bezos Earth Fund than I spend on space,” Bezos said, referring to his $ 10 billion fund designed to fight climate change. Even so, Bezos insisted that humanity should “look to the future,” saying, “If we are to continue to grow as a civilization, using more energy as a civilization, most of this, in the future, will have to be done outside the planet ”.

Bezos then detailed an “off-planet” vision of moving “heavy industries” and solar power farms into space. He also promoted the idea of ​​building massive space colonies capable of housing around a million people each, with residents living in artificial gravity.

However, he rejected calls to make Mars habitable for humans – a “terraforming” dream long championed by rival Musk – describing such an effort as “very, very difficult”.

Difficult or not, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, former US Senator and former Space Shuttle crew member, has expressed his enthusiasm for visiting the Red Planet. Nelson participated in the event via pre-recorded video due to an unexpected scheduling conflict: a delayed launch of four astronauts from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket. (The launch, which took off right at the end of the event, was to success.)

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines speaks at the Washington National Cathedral on November 10, 2021 (RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins)

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, left, speaks at the Washington National Cathedral on November 10, 2021. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

“We go to the moon to learn what we need to do as humans to survive when we travel millions and millions of miles to the planet Mars,” Nelson said in reference to NASA’s new Artemis program. , who aspires to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon.

Nelson, who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, also spoke about the impact of the bird’s-eye view effect while in orbit.

“I watched the Earth as we spun it in orbit every 90 minutes,” he said. “I didn’t see a racial divide. I did not see a religious division. I did not see a political divide. From that point of view, thinking back to our house, I saw that we were all in the same boat.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, whose office issued a preliminary assessment in June on “Unidentified aerial phenomena“which did not exclude the existence of extraterrestrials, we asked to clarify.

“The main issues that concern Congress and others are primarily flight safety issues and counterintelligence issues,” she said. “But of course there is always the question: is there something else that we just don’t understand that could be coming from (the) aliens?”

When it comes to national security concerns, however, Haines and Nelson seemed more suspicious of other countries putting weapons into orbit – especially those designed to disrupt or destroy satellites – than visitors from another planet.

“The threat is real,” Haines said. “China and Russia are building more and more space in their military capabilities.”


RELATED: 5 facts of faith about the moon landing: space fellowship and its own prayer league


Nelson said Russia has continued to cooperate with the United States in space exploration, but China has taken a different stance.

“We don’t have that success with the Chinese government,” he said. “They have been secret, not transparent. They did not want to cooperate. And yes, we can have some concerns in the space vis-à-vis the Chinese.

The Dean of Washington National Cathedral, The Right Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith, chats with Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb and Durham University professor David Wilkinson on November 10, 2021 (RNS photo by Jack Jenkins)

From left to right, the Right Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, chats with Durham University professor David Wilkinson and Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb at the cathedral on November 10, 2021. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

The profound social and theological implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life – whether on Earth or elsewhere – were the subject of the event’s final panel, in which Hollerith spoke with Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb and the Professor David Wilkinson of the University of Durham in England.

Wilkinson, who is also a Methodist minister, questioned whether finding extraterrestrial life more advanced than humans would challenge the notion common in many religious traditions that humanity has a privileged position with God.

Wilkinson argued: “You are special not because you are the center of everything, but because you are loved – the belief that God loves us.”

“The God that I see in Jesus Christ, I think, is a God of love and grace, and this God would not only love human beings, but would love all of creation – the planet itself,” he said. -he declares. “If there is (alien) life, intelligent or not, that would be the basis of a loving relationship.”

Hollerith said the impact of encountering aliens – like the big picture effect – “would humiliate us about our place in the cosmos.”

This humiliating experience, according to Loeb, could change humanity for the better.

“Suppose we find the smartest kid in our neighborhood: then the little differences between us don’t make sense,” he said. “Showing off in space is an oxymoron. I hope that once we discover intelligence, we will treat each other with more respect as equal members of the human species.

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