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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Amazon’s Bezos invests in space travel, time

SEATTLE – While founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos made two of his first large, publicized donations to charity last year, he is better-known for putting a chunk of his fortune – estimated at $18 billion – toward more out-of-the-box ventures.

He created a private aerospace company called Blue Origin in 2000 with an aim to make space travel more affordable, and he’s spending millions to build a clock that’s supposed to last 10,000 years in the desert wilderness of West Texas.

Since 2010, NASA has committed nearly $26 million for Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin, which is competing with Boeing and two other companies to create a new generation of vehicles that can take U.S. astronauts to the international space station.

“My passion is for space, for sure, but I do think this can be made into a viable business,” Bezos said in a 2007 TV interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose. “You have to be very long-term oriented.”

His interest in space goes way back. As high-school valedictorian, Bezos aspired to develop space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people orbiting the Earth.

Last summer, Blue Origin suffered a setback when an unmanned test rocket exploded over the West Texas desert. Only after a report in The Wall Street Journal, which said the mishap “dealt a potentially major blow” to Bezos’ space plans, did he confirm the test failure.

In a short note on Blue Origin’s website, Bezos said that while it was “not the outcome any of us wanted,” he had “signed up for this to be hard.”

Bezos also is spending $42 million on a 10,000-year clock – an actual clock meant to run for 10 millennia inside a mountain in West Texas – to encourage people to be less shortsighted and to focus on the long-term.

Even if it means being misunderstood.

“If you take the long view,” he said last year to Wired magazine, “you can solve problems you can’t solve any other way.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services.