Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has billions of dollars and a rocket company, yet his recent comments suggest he could not afford to buy one book about space. Thankfully, an astronomer sets the record straight for Inverse.
On Saturday night, Bezos accepted the Buzz Aldrin Space Exploration Award at the Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York. While much of his speech focused on the future of aerospace, he took a moment to show some respect for our pale blue dot — and failed.
“We have sent a lot of probes to every planet in this solar system. Believe me, this is the best one,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “The world that we live on is an absolute gem.”
While it’s true that Earth is the MVP of our solar neighborhood, the first part of Bezos’s statement is flat-out false. We have not sent “a lot of probes to every planet” in the solar system by any stretch of the imagination, which is precisely why there should be more funding directed toward agencies that aren’t concerned with making space another Chuck E. Cheese for billionaires.
In particular, Uranus and Neptune have only ever had the briefest of visits from Voyager 2, which flew by both planets about three decades ago. No probe has ever entered orbit around either of those distant worlds.
“Truthfully, we haven’t sent a probe to every planet,” Caitlin Ahrens, an astronomer at the University of Arkansas, tells Inverse. “It was lucky that the Voyager probe happened to photograph the ice giants in an alignment that happens every 80-some years, but to study them? Nope.”
It’s true that Mars has had a series of rovers exploring it over the last 20-something years, and there will be more to come. Venus has also seen its fair share of doomed probes, though they’ve only ever survived a maximum of 127 minutes in its hellish conditions. And again, Neptune and Uranus haven’t seen a spacecraft since NASA’s Voyager 2 flew by them in 1986. That’s a huge disservice to planetary scientists and those looking outside our solar system to find answers about the universe.
The ice giants might seem like big, cold, gassy balls in the vacuum of space — and they are. But there’s a ton of cool stuff we’ve yet to uncover about them since it takes a lot of time, planning, and resources to fund missions there. Did you know Neptune has rings, or that Uranus spins on its side? I guarantee you Jeff Bezos doesn’t know that, but now you do.
There’s even evidence to suggest planets similar to the ice giants are the most common kinds of exoplanets in the universe. Of course, we can’t know that for sure, because neither of these planets has been visited by a spacecraft since Ronald Reagan was president. Yikes.
“[NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter is still very new,” Ahrens explains. “Nothing for Uranus and Neptune. [Saturn’s moon] Triton only has barely half of it photographed.”
To be fair, Bezos also said in his speech that he’s trying to make space more accessible, which could be good for astronomers in the long-term. But the implication is always that this accessibility will benefit Blue Origin’s space tourism and, therefore, Jeff Bezos’s wallet, not scientific exploration.
“The price of admission to space is very high,” Bezos says. “I’m in the process of converting my Amazon lottery winnings into a much lower price of admission so we can go explore the solar system.”
We can only hope that the same guy who founded Amazon will suddenly pivot his entire aerospace manifesto to actually incorporate science.
“Just seems like this guy is for show,” Ahrens says. “But we truly need to do more exploration.”