Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos last week said he's going to send a spaceship to the moon, joining a resurgence of lunar interest half a century after people first set foot there.
Bezos said his space company Blue Origin will land a robotic ship the size of a small house, capable of carrying four rovers and using a newly designed rocket engine and souped-up rockets. It would be followed by a version that could bring people to the moon along the same timeframe as NASA's proposed 2024 return.
Bezos, who was dwarfed by his mock-up of the Blue Moon vehicle at his presentation Thursday, said, "This is an incredible vehicle and it's going to the moon."
He added: "It's time to go back to the moon. This time to stay."
The announcement for the usually secretive space company came with all the glitz of an Apple product launch in a darkened convention ballroom bedazzled with shimmering stars on its walls.
Astronauts and other space luminaries sat in the audience under blue-tinted lighting before Bezos unveiled the boxy ship with four long and spindly landing legs. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, walked off the stage without providing details, including launch dates, customers and the plan for humans on his rockets.
He spent more time talking about his dream of future generations living on orbiting space station colonies than on concrete details about Blue Origin missions.
Blue Origin officials gave conflicting answers to questions about when the company would land on the moon with and without people.
Blue Origin Vice President Clay Mowry said 2024 was not a concrete goal for a mission with people and said it was more up to NASA as a potential customer.
Blue Origin in 2017 revealed plans to send an unmanned, reusable rocket, capable of carrying 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms) of payload, to the moon.
The company had a successful launch earlier this month, reusing one of its New Shepard rockets, which barely goes to the edge of space, for a fifth time.
The new moon race has a lower profile than the one in the 1960s. It involves private companies, new countries and a NASA return mission to place astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024.
While a $30 million prize for private companies to send robotic probes to the moon went unclaimed last year, one of the competitors, from an Israeli private nonprofit, crashed last month as it tried to land.
Former NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman, an MIT professor working as a customer of Blue Origin, said this time it's different. The new engine is the reason, she said, "it's for real."
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