Jeff Bezos Is the Modern Day Howard Hughes, But Better
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Jeff Bezos Is the Modern Day Howard Hughes, But Better
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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It is strangely ironic to see some in this country jump at the opportunity to condemn Jeff Bezos for his investments in astronautics and space technology. One tweet inquired why he would spend his own money on space when people don't have access to fresh water. Another suggested that Bezos could single-handedly end world hunger somehow. My personal favorite is the tried and true complaint that Mr. Bezos is not paying his “fair share” in taxes.

Mr. Bezos is the adopted son of a Cuban immigrant, who married Bezos' American mother when Bezos was four. As a child, he turned his parents' garage into a laboratory. During his high school valedictorian speech, he spoke about his dream of space. Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. He subsequently built his business empire from the ground up. Amazon has changed the world through e-commerce and provided a platform that has created more wealth and more millionaires than any government program ever has. There are almost two million small or medium-size businesses operating on Amazon’s platform and Amazon facilitates hundreds of billions of dollars in sales for these businesses every year.

If you had to define the American dream, you could do so with a picture of Jeff Bezos.

Mr. Bezos is a modern-day Howard Hughes and a far less problematic figure. The two are similar in their activities and their views. Mr. Hughes turned his family’s oil drill bit company into an entertainment and aviation business empire. He invested all of his personal fortune, mortgaged entire divisions of his company, and spent many waking hours on research and development of flight. He also test-flew his own aircraft—he literally put his life on the line for what he believed in and to demonstrate confidence in his designs.

Mr. Hughes’ aircraft helped the Allies take control of the sky in World War II. He designed aircraft platforms to improve the speed of logistics systems through aviation versus surface ships.  In commercial aviation, he (and others) competed over who would dominate continental and intercontinental lanes. These business titans challenged each other to make commercial air travel affordable, safe, and efficient. Through their innovation, aircraft now fly at 37,000 feet instead of the far more turbulent 7,500 or 10,000 feet. Through competition and manufacturing efficiencies over time, air travel is now enjoyed by people of all classes, not only the uber rich.

Mr. Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, is a similar study in space technology and exploration. He has sold off billions of dollars of his own Amazon equity to privately fund Blue Origin. Like Transworld Airlines was to Hughes, Blue Origin has served as a mechanism for Mr. Bezos to compete on a global scale with people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson and counter the monopolization of private-sector space research and exploration. Blue Origin has initiated or participated in many research and development projects into reusable booster technology, propulsion, communication, and related space infrastructure. Finally, like Mr. Hughes, Mr. Bezos recently put his life on the line by test-flying his own spacecraft.

Privately-funded space industry has enabled the US to maintain an edge in these critical technologies. In the larger scheme, the space race—both private and public—has positively impacted the world and enhanced people’s lives in ways that checkmark Twitter conveniently ignores. Your ability to speak to a distant relative across the globe is due to advances in satellite technology and transitioning critical telecommunications infrastructure to space. Our collective understanding of climate and meteorology stems from the ability to keep tracking systems in space for years, which allows us to forecast and model weather patterns and inform environmental policies. Green energy, sustainability, and a commercial infrastructure not built around fossil fuels are all byproducts of space travel.

It is important to view things in perspective – we may be witnessing the beginning of a new age. Commercial space travel may never leave its infancy and it most certainly will cater to those who can swipe a card for a five-figure charge without blinking, but many thought that about commercial air travel in the 1930s. Before us is a demonstration of private competition over who can perfect an industry and technology set that will lead us to a more efficient, sustainable world economy and society. People like Mr. Bezos are driving that competition and heroically putting their own lives on the line by strapping into experimental craft and launching themselves into space.  

President Biden is correct in praising and championing Mr. Bezos for this achievement. Mr. Bezos has taken his personal ambition and dreams and shared it with the world. He has invested in the future and is now a part of a private enterprise that will continue to do so, advancing innovation and development in science and technology that will lead to environmental sustainability and continue to revolutionize commerce, communication, and infrastructure. His dream is the world's dream.

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