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New York Times: Add to Your Shopping Cart: A Trip to the Edge of Space

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Jan 18, 2005 12:34 am
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nytimes.com By JOHN SCHWARTZ: Jeff Bezos sells books and practically everything else through Amazon.com, the company that made him a multibillionare. Will space be his next commercial frontier?

Mr. Bezos, 41, announced last week that he would build an “aerospace testing and operations center” for his space company, Blue Origin, near tiny Van Horn, Tex., on 165,000 acres that he has bought.

Technology zillionaires have already bolstered the privately financed space race. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, paid the bills for aircraft designer Burt Rutan to develop SpaceShipOne, the craft that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize last year for reaching suborbital space. Others, including John Carmack, a legendary game designer, and Elon Musk, creator of PayPal, have formed ventures of their own.

But few have been watched as closely as Blue Origin, which Mr. Bezos founded in Seattle and which has operated in deepest secrecy. Flight operations could begin in six to seven years with a planned “sub-orbital space vehicle that will take off and land vertically to take three or more astronauts to the edge of space,” the company said in its press release last week. “Blue Origin’s facilities could help make West Texas a center for private, space-related activities,” Mr. Bezos said in the prepared statement.

Mr. Bezos chose an unusual way to make the big announcement for his closely watched company: he gave the story to The Van Horn Advocate, the town’s newspaper.

Larry D. Simpson, the editor, said Mr. Bezos bought the land more than a year ago and had visited several times a year with his family. “And lo and behold, he comes in my office last Monday and says, ‘We want to give you a news release.’ ”

Mr. Bezos told The Advocate that he spent his summers on his grandfather’s ranch in South Texas, where he learned about self-reliance and perseverance – and “I hope to give my family the same experiences on my West Texas ranch now.”

Bruce Hicks, a spokesman for Blue Origin, said the space facilities would be a “very small” part of the overall property, which was cobbled together from three ranches.

Mr. Simpson said a spaceport would give a boost to the town of about 3,000 people. “Up until now,” he said, “the main thrust of our economy is the Interstate.”

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