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At This Hour

Jeff Bezos & All-Civilian Crew Make History with Space Flight. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2021 - 11:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the flight of Blue Origin, the Blue Origin flight and Jeff Bezos landing about an hour ago here.

Now, we're anticipating a press conference very shortly. I want to bring in Myles O'Brien, who has been watching this launch with us.

Miles, when you saw New Shepard, which is what this launch vehicle is called, when you saw the capsule coming down, what does this mean for the future of space exploration?


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: Well, I think it opens the door to greater accessibility. What you see there is an architecture that is cheaper, it is reusable, and very importantly, Anderson, everything that they did there is scalable.

The liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, rocket, the capsule, the escape system, all those systems that they've developed for that small short suborbital hop can be scaled up and applied to an orbital vehicle which they're working on right now, the one they call Glenn. So it has a symbolic feel to it in the sense that we have the first paying passenger of this particular era of space.

You have the richest man and you have the oldest person and youngest person and all of the symbolic moments there. But there is also good brass tax space rocket science there that makes a lot of us optimistic about the possibility that more and more humans will get an opportunity to go to space. And that opens up all kinds of things that you could possibly not imagine right now.

COOPER: Yeah. It was interesting, Miles. I spoke to Jeff Bezos just a couple of minutes ago when his brother and we'll have that tape shortly for you.

But one of the things that we said is that it is better than he expected. He read a lot about what to expect, what it was going to be like. But it surpassed his expectations. He talked a lot, too, about his vision for the future of space exploration and space colonization.

I want to bring in Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist.

How likely is that vision, Michio, of having a permanent settlement on moon or on Mars, having the kind of space exploration, the kind of human presence in space that Bezos and Elon musk are talking about?

MICHIO KAKU, HOST, SCI FI SCIENCE, THE SCIENCE CHANNEL: Well, the key factor that has not been mentioned yet, cost. The cost has been dropping like a rock in the last several decades. It used to be so expensive that 5 percent of the entire U.S. federal budget went to at polo space program back in 1966. That was unsustainable. Now, prices have dropped tremendous, opening up space for the democratization of space.

So, it means that in the future, mom and dad may perhaps be able to take a journey into space because prices have dropped enormously. You know, with the coming of the railroads and the airplane, first you had the railroads used for freight, for the military, for large corporations. Then in the second era of the railroads, you have the fact that the elite could then ride the rails.

Now we're in the third phase where mom and dad can ride the rails. And so I think we're following the same path as the railroad, same path taken by the airline industry. We're not talking about the democratization of outer space.

COOPER: Charles Bolden, former NASA administrator, you're with us as well.

Do you see that in the youngest member on board this craft was 18 years old -- in his lifetime, do you see a permanent settlement on the moon?

CHARLES BOLDEN, FORMER ASTRONAUTE WHO COMMANDED & PILOTED 4 SHUTTLE MISSIONS: Anderson, I must -- I will say that I don't see permanent presence in terms of the same people staying for long periods of time on the moon. We need to pay attention to this planet. It is the only one that we have that could sustain life the way that we know it.

So I think we're going to be doing a lot of research and a lot of exploration on the moon and mars. I think we'll be on mars in the next decade. But permanent human presence for long-term, for individuals, I don't think that is in the cards. I hope not. Because that means we've really screwed up this planet.

COOPER: You think there will be humans on Mars by the next decade.

BOLDEN: I think there are humans on Mars by the end of the 2030s. That's the plan and it's not just the United States and our international partners, but if you look at what China is talking about. Everybody is talking about having humans in the Martian environment by the end of 2030.

And we're on course to do that as was just mentioned by your guest. If government continues to put the money into it that is needed to allow the private sector to support us in the way that their beginning to do now. It is not going to be easy but I think it is something that we have on our plan and something we can accomplish.

COOPER: Charles, how much -- I mean are you excited, you know NASA very well.


Are you excited by kind of these young people coming into aerospace industry, coming into -- interested in space exploration, coming up with innovative companies, the company relativity that's doing -- kind of building rockets using a 3D printer. Does that excite you in terms of the potential?

BOLDEN: Anderson, it blows me away because -- you know, we use a term or I use a term called maskless launch and it means we use very small rockets to get food stock, feedstock. It could be powder, metallic powders or ribbons or whatever, so we could use the 3-D printers an the kind of streets that the young entrepreneurs are inventing now.

We have three 3D printers on board the international space station that use three different types of feedstock. We're growing food on the international space station. We have people in Israel who are doing research on manufacturing -- what we call bio synthesis of food. We use some seed that we start things with and the next thing you know, you have a T-bone stake. So I'm excited about that.

COOPER: As I said, I talked to Jeff Bezos just for a minute or two, a few minutes ago along with his brother Mark. Here's -- here's what he said.


COOPER: How was it?


COOPER: Yeah. When you landed, you said best day ever.

J. BEZOS: Best day ever. And I couldn't pick a best part. Could you pick a best part? I don't have the talent to put into words what we just experienced. I'll try. But I don't.

COOPER: Is it different than you thought it was going to be?

J. BEZOS: My expectations were up here and they were exceeded.

MARK BEZOS, BROTHER OF JEFF BEZOS: So -- zero g was certainly different than I thought it was going to be. But it was surprisingly natural to move around in that environment which is not what I was anticipating.

J. BEZOS: That is really true. It felt almost like we were evolved to be in zero G, even though I know that's impossible.

COOPER: Do you spend --

J. BEZOS: It's serene, and peaceful and calm and -- COOPER: Do you want to spend more time floating around or looking out

the window, which were you --


M. BEZOS: It was probably looking out the window while I was upside down.



J. BEZOS: The good news is you could do both at the same time. We also we did toss some Skittles to each other and catch them in our mouth and do the traditional zero g stuff.

COOPER: Was it different than you thought it was going to be?

J. BEZOS: It was easier. It's exactly what you said. The thing that was most different for me was the view of Earth. That is the thing that I was surprised by.

I read a lot about it. I read what astronauts have written about it. But it was more profound for me than I expected. We see this giant atmosphere that we live in and we think it is big when we're here on the ground.

You get up there, and it is so tiny, Anderson. It is a small little thing and it is fragile and it gives you kind of -- drives home the point that we that we have to be careful with the Earth's atmosphere. But it makes it very powerful and real.

COOPER: Does this harden your commitment to space exploration?

J. BEZOS: This is a huge part of my commitment to space exploration. So, what we need to do is build a road to space so that future generations could take all heavy industry and polluting industry on earth and move it up into space, so that we could keep this gem of a planet as it is and instead of ruining it, which unfortunately we might do.

COOPER: You talked about Earth only being for residential living, light industry.

J. BEZOS: Light industry. Exactly.

So this is going to take many decades. And our job is to build that infrastructure to help that happen. But over time, it makes sense. We shouldn't be doing polluting things here.

We've sent robotic probes to every planet in the solar system. This is the good one, Anderson. There aren't any other good ones, and we should protect this one and the way you do that is by pushing our heavy industry out into space.

And we could do that if we could operate space vehicles the same way we operate commercial airliners today. So that's what Blue Origin is about. That's what the New Shepard tourism mission is about.

The suborbital tourism mission lets us practice over and over and over so we could get good at it and then the program as an orbital vehicle that used all of the learnings to help take that next step and build that road to space.

COOPER: Well congratulations, guys.

J. BEZOS: Thank you, so fun.

M. BEZOS: Thank you.


COOPER: That's Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark.

I'm here with Kristin Fisher. They -- people have been paying attention to this launch. It is gotten a lot of attention but they have a new rocket in New Glenn which is supposed to be launched, toward the end of 2022. And that's an enormous rocket, it's like 322 feet.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Huge. And that rocket will go into orbit and orbit the earth which is what most people think about when they think about space travel and also what Elon Musk and SpaceX are already doing when they launch astronauts up into space and up to the International Space Station with the Dragon capsule.

So, clearly, there is a ton of competition between the two of them.


But we did just get a congratulatory tweet from another fellow billionaire, Richard Branson, who said, well done, Blue Origins, Jeff Bezos, Mark and Wally and Oliver, impressive, very best to all the crew from me and the team at Virgin Galactic. So that's from Richard Branson.

COOPER: There has been competition about who went higher, the base of this today -- this rocket went higher than Richard Branson did, but Richard Branson was first.

FISHER: Yes. So the New Shepard spacecraft actually passed that imaginary demarcation line of space, the Karman line at 62 miles.

We're just getting the technical techniques in. But they went up 66 miles. The Karman Line at 62. Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic went to 53. That is above the 50 mile threshold above the Earth, which is what the U.S. government recognizes as the boundary of space.

But the Blue Origin team loves to say that, hey, if you take a ride on a Virgin Galactic spaceship, will you have an asterisk beside your name, you're not fully going to be a astronaut. Virgin Galactic clearly doesn't think that way.

COOPER: They are competitors to get customers to come on to space.

FISHER: But, you know, they all get to see that curvature of the earth, the blackness of the space, and experience weightlessness.

COOPER: Yeah. The quickness of this flight, I think, maybe surprise some people. You know, with all of the hype, with all of the effort put into it, Bezos has been created blue origin in 2000, it was under 11 minutes.

FISHER: Under 11 minutes. But you know, that is what this rocket ship was designed to do. With New Glenn, as we were talking about, that is going to go much higher, much father actually into orbit and there are people that say why would I spend this much money for a 11-minute joy ride and that is certainly a valid point.

But as Jeff Bezos was saying in your interview, this is all about building in that muscle memory into the Blue Origin team so that they just make space flight really routine, very reliable so they could do all of the bigger stuff.

COOPER: It's been slower than for Blue Origin than they had anticipated. They hoped to have this launch be I think in 2019 initially when they thought it might be able to take off. They've hoped to get a big NASA contract for some $2 billion I think and more to do a lunar lander for astronauts to get to Mars in 2024, excuse me, to the moon in 2024.

That went to SpaceX. And now Bezos is contesting that, the contract with the Government Accountability Office.

FISHER: That is right. And this is definitely a blow for Blue Origin. They thought they had more time before NASA awarded this contract.

COOPER: And they've been awarded like a prize for their model early on in the bidding process?

FISHER: They had. And so, you know, there is a chance that NASA is going to open this up, Congress in particular, really looking at the possibility of wanting NASA to fund a secondary lunar lander for the Artemis program.

But, you now, this really is -- it goes to the heart of this competition between these two companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin, and they have been competitors starting from the beginning starting with the well-known launch pad at Cape Canaveral, the launch pad where the Apollo 11 astronauts launched from, the launch pad, the shuttle launch.

That ultimately went to SpaceX and Elon Musk and these two billionaires have been duking it out ever since.

COOPER: Yeah, I wanted to bring in other folks as well.

Miles, I mean, that competition that Kristin was talking about, I mean, that's really one of frankly the advantages of having private companies, having public companies putting money into space. They're bringing ultimately that competition should bring prices down?

MILES: That is the free market in a nutshell, isn't it, Anderson? It is been portrayed in the narrative that has come across and we in the media have played into it because it is entertaining, the billionaires race. But there is plenty of room for expanding into space, for the space economy to flourish and for all of the competitors to do well.

So it is not like they're duking it out for seats and reservations. Yeah, a little bit of bragging rights. Richard Branson said it wasn't a race but he promptly scheduled himself before Bezos flew today. So, obviously, there is some of that.

But that's at the bottom of the ledger, while some would say it seems like just billionaires playing with toys, you have to look at the bigger picture. Literally much bigger picture and beyond the planet to really understand where this all fits.

COOPER: Charles, as a former administrator of NASA, how do you see the competition from the companies, from SpaceX, from Blue Origin and others?

BOLDEN: Anderson, I don't really look at it as a competition. I think the important thing today was exactly what Jeff Bezos said to you in his interview.


You know, the fact that the big thing is to take care of this planet. He made a statement that this is the only one. And so people who talk about colonizing the moon and colonizing Mars as an alternative to Earth. Jeff Bezos made it very clear, this is the one planet that could -- on which life could be sustained. While it looks like a race, I think he and Richard Branson and Elon Musk talk about trying to improve life on this planet by moving the toxic things away and doing things that are heavy machinery and the like in space. And that is the -- I think that is the road on which we're charting right now.

COOPER: Yeah. Kristin Fisher and I will be back. We're going to take a short break. We're expecting a press conference from Jeff Bezos and all of the members of the crew who were in space today. We'll take a short break and we'll be right back.



COOPER: And welcome back.

We are awaiting the press conference with Jeff Bezos and the rest of his all civilian crew and that should happen momentarily.

I'm here with Kristin Fisher. We have been since early this morning watching the preparations and the remarkable launch and successful -- it was incredible to see that split screen shot of the rocket booster which had returned to Earth, landed vertically, which is a huge accomplishment and the capsule had also safely returned to Earth, both reusable and both symbols of this new age of space.

FISHER: A fully reusable rocket system. This one, of course, only suborbital. SpaceX doing the orbital ones. But I mean, what -- I just keep thinking about the fact that -- I mean, this had never been done a few year ago and now blue origin able to do this over and over again, 15 times consecutively. It is just an incredible accomplishment.

And then you also think about the capsule and the redundancy that it has, providing the safety for the astronauts. So really just on a technical side of things, Blue Origin has to be very pleased today and I'm sure we'll hear a lot about that in the press conference.

COOPER: Yeah. And Charles Bolden, you have had four missions as commander and also pilot of space shuttles in addition to be the former NASA administrator.

Can you just talk a little bit about what the folks on board today experienced as they, you know, rocketed off the earth going from zero to more than 2,000 miles per hour in a very short -- in a matter of, you know, seconds.

BOLDEN: Anderson, as you heard when you talked to Jeff Bezos, he used the two senses that I always use when I'm trying to talk to kids. The sense of feel, feeling the G, the acceleration as you lift off from the launch pad and feel yourself pressed back in your seat just a little bit and moments later you're weightless and floating around the cabin and coming back down to the planet had when gravity starts to pick you back up again after you've been strapped back in. So, those are the two -- that's the sense of feel.

The one that is mind-boggling and Jeff kept referring to it is the sense of sight, seeing our planet from that vantage point in a way that changed your life to be quite honest. Because it gives you a view of earth than less than 600 people on planet have ever seen.

And I think Jeff's brother Mark mentioned the fact that he thought of our atmosphere as being this massive thing until he got to space and he looked back and he found out that it is really tiny. And we've got to take care of it.

And I think that is what Jeff and Mark were talking about this morning. It is incumbent upon us as human beings to take care of the planet, to make sure that we take care of the environment because it is not a planet that is fragile, it is us, the human species. If we want to continue to survive, we've got to do better about taking care of this planet.

COOPER: Michio, what do you think is the next step for space exploration? Obviously you have SpaceX, which is going to be launching I think in September.

FISHER: Mm-hmm.

COOPER: And there is Blue Origin has the New Glenn. What do you see as kind of the next major milestone? KAKU: Well, several milestones are coming. First of all, we sometimes

forget the fact that this space race of the 1960s gave birth to the microchip. The military, commerce, they needed to miniaturize big computers to be as small as possible and that created the microchip which is now the basis of the world economy.

So I think this could race, it is not just a race between billionaires trying to figure out who has the biggest rocket ship. No, this competition is going to generate new technologies in the form of artificial intelligence. This rocket here, the New Shepard rocket, was fully automated, fully automated.


And in the future we're going to have robots, artificially intelligent systems to aid our astronauts as they build bases on the moon and Mars. Who is going to do the heavy lifting? Who is going to do all of the dangerous chores in outer space on Mars and the moon? That is where artificial intelligence comes into the picture.

So I think in the same that the space race stimulated the microchip, which in turn gave birth to the modern economy, I think this new rivalry between the billionaires will force them to adopt more and more intelligent systems as we colonize the moon and we go on to Mars.

COOPER: And, Kristin, Blue Origin is already working with the military?

FISHER: They are. They're trying to help right now, the United Launch Alliance with their Vulcan rocket. And they're building this engine called the BE-4 engine. It's a huge engine and the reason it is so important is because this engine is going to end the United States' reliance on Russian RD-180 engines.

We've been paying the Russians millions of determine to launch our own spy satellites into orbit, which we then use, most likely, to spy on the Russians. And on top of that, I'll wait as this helicopter goes by. On top of that, for ten years almost, NASA was paying the Russians about $90 million a seat to take U.S. astronauts up to their own international space station.

COOPER: Wow, $90 million a seat? Wow.

FISHER: Ninety million a seat. So thanks to SpaceX, they no longer have to do that. But it is really just remarkable how far in the last few years the U.S. has come to ending its reliance on the Russians.

COOPER: We're going to take a short break. We're expecting a press conference from Jeff Bezos and his team shortly. We'll be right back.