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贝佐斯公布登月计划

Brad Stone,彭博社 2019年05月14日

贝佐斯和他的Blue Origin希望为人类开启登月新篇章。

近50年前,搭乘着阿波罗17号登月舱,两位宇航员在月球逡巡三天,并带着地质样品返回了地球。这是人类最后一次踏上月球的土地。

如今,全世界最富有的男人、亚马逊(Amazon)的首席执行官杰夫·贝佐斯和他创立的另一家公司Blue Origin,希望为人类对这个地球小卫星的探索历程续写新的篇章。上周四下午,贝佐斯在华盛顿特区举办的新闻发布会上谈到了重返月球的议题,并展示了他这家私人航空公司的登月飞行器。

贝佐斯表示:“是时候重返月球了,这次我们要留在那里。”

在发布会的展台上,贝佐斯拉下了身后的幕布,展现出Blue Origin的Blue Moon飞行器。它里面配备了一个巨大的球形燃料箱,底部有4块着陆垫。飞行器由液态氢供能,其部分原因在于它可以从月球两极的冰水中补给燃料。在月球的夜间,能量来源则是氢燃料电池。

贝佐斯表示:“这款装置令人难以置信,它将前往月球。”

贝佐斯还展示了公司新研制的BE-7发动机。这款高性能液态氢氧发动机将为飞行器持续6分钟的降落过程提供能源。在着陆后,Blue Moon将会放出一台小型探索装置。贝佐斯还展示了一张可以搭载宇航员的飞行器照片,并表示希望登月计划可以在2024年之前实现。

Blue Origin着手研发Blue Moon的时间最晚不超过2017年。去年10月,公司与美国国家航空航天局(NASA)签署协议,开发月球表面的大中型商用飞行器系统。为了让NASA同意共享潜在的登月地点相关的技术分析和信息,Blue Origin支付了5万美元。

在3月的演讲中,美国副总统迈克·彭斯呼吁在2024年之前重返月球,并表示特朗普当局已经指示NASA“通过任何必要手段实现这一目标”。

贝佐斯与美国总统唐纳德·特朗普在有关亚马逊的许多问题上意见相左。不过对于特朗普当局重返月球的时间表,他表示:“我喜欢这个计划。这是正确的做法。”

月球一直是贝佐斯太空航行梦想的核心目标,也是他以前的导师、已故普林斯顿大学(Princeton)的物理学家杰拉德·奥尼尔构想中的一环。奥尼尔是一位热爱打破陈规的人,他逝世于1992年。在他设想的未来,数百万人类会居住在绕轨道而行的巨大空间站内,在其中种植农作物并利用太阳能。按照这位物理学家的理论,月亮有丰富的原料储备,也没有地球的大气层和强大的引力束缚,可以成为建造和经济地发射这种栖息地的根据地。

贝佐斯着眼于月球,以此作为殖民太空的最有效途径,这与同样热衷于太空探索的亿万富翁埃隆·马斯克有所不同。后者认为殖民火星是人类最好的“B计划”。但贝佐斯把这种思路称之为“星球沙文主义”。他在宣传登月计划时甚至暗讽了那些以火星为目标的人。在一张配有火星图片的幻灯片上,他写道:“往返一次需要数年时间,无法实现实时沟通。”

Blue Origin的吉祥物是一只乌龟,这可谓是实至名归,公司的进展比马斯克的SpaceX慢得多。

SpaceX的猎鹰9号(Falcon 9)火箭已经完成了70多项任务,包括将卫星送至轨道,以及为国际空间站运送物资。而Blue Origin的二级轨道火箭New Glenn还没有在2021年之前发射的计划。贝佐斯表示,按照设计,第一级火箭可以被重复使用25次。另一款外形更小的重复使用型火箭可供6位付费旅客体验几分钟太空边缘的失重状态。他介绍道,这些任务计划在今年晚些时候开始推进。

Blue Origin还邀请了几十个小孩参会,贝佐斯称他们是全新的“未来俱乐部”的首批会员,希望“激励年轻人构建太空生活的未来”。

贝佐斯对观众表示:“在场的孩子以及他们的子孙将会建造这些殖民空间。我们这一代的任务是为他们的工作打好基础。我们要修建前往太空的道路。随后会出现有趣的事情。你会看到企业家的创造力。你会看到企业家在他们的宿舍里创立公司。现在时机还不成熟。”(财富中文网)

译者:严匡正

A little less than half a century ago, a pair of NASA astronauts packed up their geological samples after three days of roving and returned to Earth in the Apollo 17 lunar module. It was the last time that a human walked on the moon.

Now the world’s wealthiest man, Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, and the other company he founded, Blue Origin, want to chart the next chapter in humanity’s exploration of its tiny orbiting sibling. At a press conference in Washington, D.C. on last Thursday afternoon, Bezos made his case for going back to the moon and showed off his private space company’s lunar lander.

“It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay,” Bezos said.

On stage at the event, Bezos dropped the curtain behind him to reveal Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander. The craft features a large internal spherical fuel tank and sits atop four landing pads. It’s powered by liquid hydrogen, in part so it can be refuel from ice water on the moon’s poles. Hydrogen fuel cells will power the device through the lunar night.

“This is an incredible vehicle,” Bezos said, “and it’s going to the moon.”

Bezos also showed off a new BE-7 engine, a high-performance liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine that powers the lander’s six minute descent. After it lands, Blue Moon will deploy a small rover. Bezos also displayed a photo of a version of the lander that can accommodate astronauts, and said he hopes missions can commence by 2024.

Blue Origin has been working on Blue Moon since at least 2017. Last October, the company signed an agreement with NASA to develop medium to large commercial lander systems for the lunar surface. In exchange for $50,000 payment from Blue, NASA agreed to share technical analysis and information on potential lunar landing sites.

In a March speech, Vice President Mike Pence called for a return to the moon by 2024 and said the Trump administration had directed NASA to “accomplish this goal by any means necessary.”

Bezos has been at odds with President Donald Trump over a number of issues related to Amazon. But he said of the Trump administration’s timetable to return to the moon: “I love this. It’s the right thing to do.”

The moon has always been central to Bezos’s space-faring dreams, as well as the vision of his former professor, the late Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill. O’Neill, an iconoclast who passed away in 1992, envisioned a future with millions of humans living in space inside giant orbiting space cylinders, growing crops and harnessing the energy of the sun. The physicist theorized that the moon, a repository of raw materials and free of the atmosphere and punitive gravitational forces of the Earth, could be the staging ground to construct and economically launch such habitats.

This focus on the moon as the most effective way to start colonizing space sets Bezos apart from fellow space-faring tech billionaire Elon Musk, who sees colonizing Mars as humanity’s best “Plan B.” Bezos dubbed that kind of thinking to “planet chauvinism.” His pitch for a lunar landing even included a jab at those prefer to aim for Mars. “Round-trip on the order of years,” read one slide with an image of the red planet. “No real-time communication.”

Blue Origin’s mascot is a tortoise, and true to form, the company’s progress has been notoriously slower than at Musk’s SpaceX.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets have completed over 70 missions, sending satellites into orbit and ferrying supplies to the International Space Station. Blue’s two-stage orbital rocket, dubbed New Glenn, isn’t scheduled for launch until 2021. It’s first stage, Bezos said, is designed to be reused 25 times. A much smaller, reusable rocket, New Shepard, is designed to take six paying tourists to the edge of space for a few minutes of weightlessness. Those missions, Bezos said, are due to start later this year.

Blue Origin invited a few dozen kids, who Bezos said were inaugural members of a new “Club for the Future,” meant to “inspire young people to build the future of life in space.”

“The kids here and their kids and grandchildren will build these colonies. My generation’s job is to build the infrastructure so they will be able to. We are going to build a road to space,” Bezos told the audience. “And then amazing things will happen. Then you’ll see entrepreneurial creativity. Then you’ll see space entrepreneurs start companies in their dorm rooms. That can’t happen today.”

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