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Jeff Bezos is about to take an 11-minute flight to the edge of space. Here’s how his childhood obsession with the cosmos led to Blue Origin’s unprecedented spaceflight.

While the spaceflight is an unusual experiment, it's not a very surprising one: Bezos has been passionate about space since childhood. ...
jeff bezos blue origin blue moon
  • Jeff Bezos will be aboard Blue Origin's first human spaceflight on July 20.
  • The Amazon and Blue Origin founder has been a space enthusiast since childhood.
  • In 2013, he traveled out to sea for three weeks to retrieve pieces of the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

On July 20, Jeff Bezos will be among the first human passengers to fly aboard New Shepard, a spacecraft built by his space exploration company, Blue Origin.

While it's an unusual – and potentially risky – experiment, it's not a very surprising one: Bezos has been obsessed with space since childhood.

"You've been passionate about space your whole life, but this is not just a plaything for you," Mark Bezos said during an interview with his brother in 2017.

"No. God, no," Bezos replied.

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of democratizing human spaceflight. The company has grown slowly over the years, but in 2015, it completed a remarkable feat, one Bezos will soon attempt: Flying the New Shepard rocket 62 miles above Earth and landing it safely on the ground.

On Tuesday, Bezos will embark on his own 11-minute trip outside of the Earth's gravitational pull, decades after he first became obsessed with space travel. Here's where Bezos' passion for space began.

Bezos' interest in space stems from his maternal grandfather

The lore around Bezos' childhood is well-known by this point: Every summer, he would travel to the South Texas ranch belonging to his grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise.

According to Brad Stone's book, "Amazon Unbound," Gise had spent the 1950s and 1960s working on space technology and missile defense systems for the Atomic Energy Commission, a federal agency that was created in 1946 to manage the use of nuclear energy for both civilian and military applications.

Bezos, it seems, developed his passion for space during those summers with his grandfather. There, he would watch Apollo launches and read science fiction books from the library, according to Stone's book.

Bezos used his high school valedictorian speech to talk about colonizing space

By the time he was in high school in South Florida, Bezos had told his friends that he wanted to be a space entrepreneur, and already had big plans to make space travel a part of his career plans, according to a 1999 Wired profile.

He attended a space initiative for high schoolers at NASA's campus in Hunstville, Alabama, and later started a summer camp for elementary school students that had a heavy emphasis on science – including interstellar travel and space colonies, according to Wired.

When Bezos became valedictorian of his senior class in 1982, he delivered a speech about overpopulation and pollution. His solution to those existential threats, according to Stone's book, was to send civilization to space.

″[Bezos] wants to build space hotels, amusement parks, yachts and colonies for two or three million people orbiting around the earth," a write-up of Bezos' speech by the Miami Herald said. Then, it said, he would turn around and preserve Earth as one massive, national park.

Bezos has long been obsessed with science fiction about space travel

jeff bezos star trek
Jeff Bezos attends the premiere of "Star Trek Beyond" in 2016.

Bezos' love of science fiction – particularly "Star Trek" – is evident in many of his business pursuits. During the early days of Amazon, he considered naming the company "MakeItSo.com," a reference to a line from "Star Trek" character Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Bezos played the role of an alien in the 2016 film "Star Trek Beyond," and at Blue Origin's headquarters in Kent, Washington, there's a model of the Starship Enterprise, the spaceship in the original "Star Trek" movies, according to Stone's book.

To top it all off, Amazon's arguably most popular product was inspired by "Star Trek" too. According to Stone's book, beginning in the early 2010s, Bezos started talking about wanting to build a computer that worked like a personal assistant and could answer any question – that wish became Amazon's Echo devices, which are powered by the Alexa smart assistant.

Bezos has traveled to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve pieces of Apollo 11

In 2013, Bezos, his brother, his brother-in-law, and his parents spent three weeks at sea recovering pieces of the engine of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, which took the first humans to the moon.

"We've seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program," Bezos wrote of the experience.

After being sent to conservationists, the artifacts were installed at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Bezos stepped aside as Amazon CEO in favor of spending more time working on Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin

When Bezos announced in February that he would step down as CEO of Amazon, he said he planned to spend more time on philanthropy, as well as his two other major endeavors: The Washington Post, which he purchased 2013, and Blue Origin.

But Bezos had hinted years earlier that space travel was rapidly becoming his focus.

"I get increasing conviction with every passing year that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work that I'm doing," he said in 2018 during an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner. (Axel Springer is Insider's parent company.)

Bezos added that he believes if he doesn't pursue space travel, "we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis," which he said he finds "demoralizing." It's his generation's role, he said, to lower the barrier of entry to space travel.

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