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Video: watch the PBS TV special that inspired Jeff Bezos to go to space



Jeff Bezos Amazon Blue Origin Rocket Engine

Win McNamee/Getty

  • Jeff Bezos asked a reporter to watch a PBS special from
    1975 before agreeing to be interviewed about Blue Origin, his
    rocket company. 
  • The special, featuring famed
    science fiction author Isaac Asimov and physicist Gerard
    O’Neill, discusses the need for humanity to leave Earth —
    something Bezos says he believes with “increasing

  • You can watch the whole video below.

It’s no secret that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has always looked to
the stars — after all, Amazon’s Alexa was designed with the
intention of becoming like the all-knowing ship’s computer from
“Star Trek.” 

Now, a new feature
from Wired
sheds a lot more light on Blue Origin, the private
spaceflight company that Bezos has described as his most
important venture, more so than Amazon or the Washington Post.
Indeed, Bezos sells $1 billion per year in Amazon stock just to
fund Blue Origin’s operations. 

Notably, Bezos put one condition on his interview with Wired:
Steven Levy, the reporter, would have to watch a
black-and-white PBS program from 1975
before he would agree
to discuss Blue Origin. In the special, believed lost to the ages
until recently, famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov and
physicist Gerard O’Neill discuss the need for humanity to spread
beyond Earth — a notion that Bezos tells Wired he believes
with “increasing certainty.” 

You can watch the thirty-minute video yourself here:

The video was apparently unearthed and uploaded to YouTube by the
Space Studies Institute, which was founded by O’Neill — a highly
influential voice in Bezos’ life. The
video, according to SSI, was “discovered in a crumpled box in the
dark back of a storage locker in New Jersey” by one of its

Bezos was so obsessed with O’Neill’s vision of the future that
Bezos’ valedictorian graduation speech was about how he looked
forward to seeing millions of people live among the stars.
“Space, the final frontier, meet me there!” Bezos concluded,
according to “

Space Barons

a book by Christian Davenport.

Meanwhile, Asimov was also an inspiration of a different sort to
Elon Musk, whose SpaceX is something of a rival to Blue Origin.
Musk has
widely credited Asimov’s classic novel “Foundation,”
also deals with a humanity that has outgrown Earth, with
inspiring his own efforts. 

What’s in the interview

In his book “The High Frontier,” O’Neill wrote about a televised
interview with author Isaac Asimov. During the program, Asimov
explained why sci-fi writers tend to place civilizations on the
surface of a planet instead of in space itself.

“The anecdote is legendary in the Space Community. With no known
copies of the show, it became almost mythical,” the Space Studies
Institute (SSI) wrote in a preamble to the full program. “For the
first time since its original 1975 broadcast, here is the
complete presentation.”

“It’s possible to have a rapid growth of wealth and productivity,
and living space and comfortable living conditions for people,
not on the Earth, and not on another planetary surface — the moon
or Mars or anything like that — but rather in habitats which are
built in free space … at a distance from here which is similar
to the distance to the moon” O’Neill said in the origin new shepardBlue
Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

“It’s possible to make habitats which are relatively big — big
enough to be very Earth-like — out of ordinary materials like
steel and aluminum and glass. And it’s possible to find those
materials in very large quantities on the surface of the moon and
eventually in the asteroids.”

During the show, which was hosted by journalist Harold Hayes,
O’Neill showed a drawing of a rotating, half-mile-long cylinder
and space colony he called “Model 1” built from 98% lunar
materials. But O’Neill also described much larger space colonies
on the show.

“Model 4 could be something as big as perhaps five to 10 miles in
diameter, perhaps as much as 20 or 30 miles long, within the
limits of available materials,” O’Neill said. O’Neill
said he got the idea in 1969 while teaching a physics course to
320 college freshman. He pulled aside a handful of the top
students in the class, then — together — they came up with the

blue origin new shepard
Origin’s New Shepard rocket.


After O’Neill spoke, Asimov pointed out that it’s much easier to
move raw building materials off of the moon than Earth, at least
in theory, since the moon has a much weaker gravity field.

Hayes then asked Asimov if the author — in his then-158 works of
science fiction — had ever anticipated building such colonies in
space. That’s when Asimov responded with his “legendary” line.

“Nobody did, really, because we’ve all been planet chauvinists.
We’ve all believed people should live on the surface of a planet,
of a world. I’ve had colonies on the moon — so have a hundred
other science fiction writers,” Asimov said. “The closest I came
to a manufactured world in free space was to suggest that we go
out to the Asteroid Belt and hollow out the asteroids, and make
ships out of them. It never occurred to me to bring the material
from the asteroids in towards the Earth, where conditions are
pleasanter, and build the worlds there.”

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