HOUSTON – Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is asking engineers to join his fledgling and secretive private aerospace business, breaking a long silence about his operation in a remote section of West Texas by posting photos and videos on the company's Web site of a test launch of a reusable spacecraft.
"We're working, patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system," Bezos said on the Web page of his space venture, Blue Origin. "Accomplishing this mission will take a long time, and we're working on it methodically."
The posting, with Bezos' message dated Tuesday, shows a cone-shaped vehicle with four metal legs, reminiscent of the clunky models in 1950s science fiction movies, launching in a cloud of smoke, reaching an altitude of about 285 feet, according to Blue Origin, then landing on its legs.
"Slow and steady is the way to achieve results, and we do not kid ourselves into thinking this will get easier as we go along," Bezos said. "Smaller, more frequent steps drive a faster rate of learning, help us maintain focus, and give each of us an opportunity to see our latest work fly sooner."
He said the development vehicle, named Goddard and launched Nov. 13 from a site in Culberson County, about 120 miles east of El Paso, is the first step in a project that will end with New Shepard, "a vertical takeoff, vertical-landing vehicle designed to take a small number of astronauts on a suborbital journey into space."
Goddard presumably is named for Robert Hutchings Goddard, considered the father of modern rocket propulsion for building and successfully testing in 1926 the first rocket using liquid fuel. Alan Shepard was the first American to fly in space with a brief suborbital flight in 1961.
The Blue Origin posting is accompanied by other photos and videos from the November test flight.
"My only job at the launch was to open the champagne, and I broke the cork off in the bottle," he said. "Fortunately, our other valve operations went more smoothly."
Videos also offer views and sounds from inside the test vehicle during launch and landing.
"The launch was both useful and fun," said Bezos, whose success with Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. made him a billionaire. "Many friends and family came to watch the launch and support the team."
Bezos' written message included an appeal for "a hardworking, technically gifted, team-oriented, experienced aerospace engineer or engineering leader" and "experienced propulsion engineers and experienced turbomachinery engineers, as well as a senior leader to head our turbopump group."
Blue Origin received FAA approval late last summer to begin its testing program.
The spaceport site in one of the most sparsely populated Texas counties is on part of 165,000 acres of desert, salt lake beds and cattle grazing land Bezos has purchased over the past several years. It's just south of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which straddles the New Mexico-Texas border and includes some of the highest mountains in Texas.
Blue Origin has said the test flights will grow in duration and altitude over the next three years with as many as 52 commercial flights, the goal of the project, possibly beginning in 2010.