“We need a space-faring civilization,” Bezos said at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, D.C.
Bezos is also the founder of Blue Origin, a private space company. The company’s main focus has been on creating reusable rockets for space tourism.
Most of the costs of space travel come from the hardware, not the propellant, Bezos said. If more parts could be reused, that could dramatically lower the cost and make the technology available for tourism.
That’s important because many practical technologies started as recreational technologies, Bezos said. Early airplanes, for instance, were used to sell tickets to barnstorming spectator events, Bezos noted. And the chips that Nvidia designed for video games now power technologies like self-driving cars.
“The tourism mission is very important,” Bezos said. “There are many historical cases where entertainment drives technologies that then become very practical for other things.”
In the case of Blue Origin, the company’s smallest vehicle can be used to practice flying and landing techniques that can then be applied to larger rockets that can launch satellites, Bezos said. Eventually, that could mean that the satellite industry could reach a new equilibrium where costs are much lower and companies can take more technology risks, Bezos said.
Bezos said he has been inspired to create a space company since watching the moon landing as a youngster. He said he has a framed letter in his office from Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. Bezos named after Glenn, who died in December at age 95.
Blue Origin, which is separate from Amazon, faces a growing field of rivals in the race for privatized space travel. Elon Musk‘s SpaceX, for instance, recently announced plans for a flight beyond the moon for two private customers.
Bezos said he’s committed to working on incremental, step-by-step, steady improvements — not a space race.
“There’s a very real sense in which Amazon, which is an amazing, fun, interesting company to have started and lead, is a lottery winning for me,” Bezos said. “And so I’m taking those lottery winnings and investing them in Blue Origin, and I’ve been doing that for 15 years.”