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Full Version: Despite flight, Jeff Bezos is running out of time to save Blue Origin (engineering)
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https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/07/...ue-origin/

EXCERPTS: . . . So after he returned from his spaceflight on Tuesday, what I most wanted to know is whether Jeff Bezos is all-in on space. He has the vision. He has the money. But at the age of 57, does he have enough years or willingness to ensure Blue Origin’s success? Or will he leave Blue Origin to flounder and instead mostly retire to his half-billion-dollar yacht after a suborbital joyride?

[...] SpaceX, by contrast, has ascended. ... Blue Origin has also lost out when it comes to large government contracts worth billions of dollars, something Bezos craves as he seeks to find some return on his massive investment in Blue Origin. In 2020, the Department of Defense said it would only allow United Launch Alliance and SpaceX to bid on national security launch contracts in the mid-2020s. Blue Origin protested and lost. Then, in April, NASA chose SpaceX alone for a prestigious Human Landing System. This came after Bezos showily unveiled his company’s “Blue Moon” lander in 2019. Blue Origin protested this, too, and a decision is expected in early August. It would come as a surprise if Blue Origin succeeds.

In short, a once-promising space race has become something of a damp squib. In late 2019, while reporting for my book on the origins of SpaceX, Liftoff, I asked Musk why he thought Blue Origin had fallen behind. “Bezos is not great at engineering, to be frank," Musk replied.

[...] As Blue Origin has fallen behind SpaceX in recent years, morale has declined, according to multiple sources. Bezos pushed the company further from its roots in late 2017 by sidelining long-time president Rob Meyerson and hiring a traditional aerospace veteran, Bob Smith, to become chief executive. Coming from Honeywell, Smith instituted a more bureaucratic management style, and Blue Origin’s progress seemed to slow significantly. Whereas Bezos' debut flight on New Shepard could have occurred as early as 2019, it slipped by months and eventually years. Critics of Smith’s plodding management style started referring to the company as “Blue Honeywell.”

The decline in morale at Blue Origin coincided with a period when Bezos was increasingly distracted by making visits to Hollywood for Amazon Prime video, the assassination of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi (who worked for the Washington Post), a divorce from his wife MacKenzie, and more. He spent less time at the rocket company, and it suffered as a result.

The question is, now that Bezos has tasted spaceflight, will he become reinvigorated and pursue his ambitions with abandon? “Losing to SpaceX cannot please him,” said Brad Stone, author of Amazon Unbound, a new book about Bezos and his retail empire. “What we know about Jeff Bezos is that he doesn’t like losing.”

However, Stone is not sure Bezos will take a strong hand at Blue Origin. Although Bezos seeded the company with principles, he also seeded dysfunction by installing a very different leader in Smith. Since 2017, Bezos has more or less let Smith run Blue Origin with freedom, and he may continue to do so. “It’s hard for me to see Bezos taking on a more prominent executive role at Blue Origin,” Stone said.

Both SpaceX and Blue Origin are about 20 years old now. Both companies were founded by brilliant men capable of being ruthless in their business practices. Both founders see humanity’s future among the stars. But so far, one company has prospered while another has dithered. The difference, I think, is that from the beginning, Elon Musk has been all-in on SpaceX. Even today, while Bezos is enjoying the billionaire life and planning voyages on his mega-yacht, Musk is living in a $50,000 house in rural South Texas to keep his Starship project on track.

What we cannot know is whether this spaceflight experience will change Bezos. Certainly, he seems to have come back from his space trip more concerned about climate change. Shortly after the flight, Bezos said of his priorities moving forward, “I’m going to split my time between Blue Origin and the Bezos Earth Fund.” He has already committed $10 billion to his climate charity.

Much of the spaceflight community would appreciate a renewed focus on space by Bezos. There is a hunger for an alternative to Musk, for a true competitor that everyone envisioned Blue Origin would become back in 2015. Quite simply, Musk rubs some people the wrong way. He does not always play well with others. Often, SpaceX looks to grind its competitors into dust rather than find partnerships...

[...] NASA, the US military, and other industry companies would welcome Blue Origin with open arms if the company could only execute on its programs. Lori Garver, a former deputy administrator of NASA who has known both Musk and Bezos for more than a decade, says such a competition would be tremendously helpful. [...] “Neither Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic appear to be much of a rival to SpaceX today, but the winner in the competition to expand the railroads and aviation weren't always obvious, either,” she said.

If Bezos thinks about this or reflects on how Blue Origin has so far fallen short of SpaceX, he does not talk about it publicly. Two moments on Tuesday, after his historic spaceflight, suggest he may not do a whole lot about it regardless.

Two hours after Bezos and his fellow passengers landed, they climbed onto a stage near the launch pad to receive their “astronaut” wings. The event, billed as a “press conference,” instead saw Blue Origin’s Ariane Cornell ask softball questions about the flight. [...] After all of that, Bezos allowed for just three actual press questions to be asked. Two came from TV networks and the other from Reuters.

Only one of the questions got near the troubles at Blue Origin, asking about timelines for future rocket development. Bezos simply didn’t answer the question. He welcomes no public scrutiny of Blue Origin, and in doing so, he only invites more.

After the sham “press conference,” the four newly minted astronauts drove over to the landing site where the New Shepard rocket landed. It looked sooty and slightly worn in the midday sunshine, but it was no less brilliant for the wear-and-tear. New Shepard is a fine piece of engineering and a reasonable place for a launch company to start learning about spaceflight. The problem is that by beginning his company with a focus on space tourism and flying on the very first mission himself, Bezos only plays into the hands of critics... (MORE - missing details)
Bezos Says He’ll Give NASA Billions of Dollars If It’ll Just Give Him a Contract
https://futurism.com/bezos-nasa-offer-contract

INTRO: In an open letter published today, Amazon founder and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos offered NASA billions of dollars to give his space tourism company a Human Landing System (HLS) contract.

“Blue Origin is committed to building a future where millions of people live and work in space to benefit the Earth,” the letter addressed to NASA’s Administrator Bill Nelson reads. “We are convinced that, to advance America’s future in space, NASA must now quickly and assuredly return to the Moon.”

It’s yet another sign that Jeff Bezos is unhappy about his space company playing second fiddle to SpaceX. And now, Bezos is willing to throw his weight — and incredible amounts of wealth — behind his space company’s efforts... (MORE)