Jeff Bezos gives away $200M and thanks Amazon customers after Blue Origin’s big launch

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shakes hands with Van Jones (far right), one of the recipients of a $100 million charitable gift from Bezos, announced following his Blue Origin flight to space Tuesday. (Blue Origin livestream)

On the heels of what some critics have called the world’s most expensive midlife crisis, Amazon founder and Blue Origin boss Jeff Bezos announced a pair of charitable donations totaling $200 million hours after his space capsule touched down in West Texas.

Bezos announced gifts of $100 million apiece to charitable organizations run by chef Jose Andres and political commentator Van Jones. A week before Tuesday’s successful suborbital flight, he donated $200 million to National Air & Space Museum. And recently, the non-profit arm of his Blue Origin spaceflight company gave $19 million to 19 space nonprofits.

The grand total: $419 million in a week. And one 65-mile trip to (near) outer space.

Bezos announced the gifts during a post-flight press conference following a 10-minute ride to space on a reusable New Shepard rocket ship that was built by Blue Origin, the company created by Bezos in 2000. The flight marked the first time that people flew aboard New Shepard.

In his comments, the richest man in the world thanked Amazon customers and employees. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” he said.

But the successful flight and an ecstatic Bezos didn’t seem to mollify critics, including Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who rode the wave of media attention to point out that maybe too much money has pooled at the top.

Welcome back to ???? where the richest 0.1% of Americans hold nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90% of American families COMBINED.

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) July 20, 2021

Others noted that by announcing the $200 million donation just after the launch, Bezos was responding to criticism.

The suborbital flights of #JeffBezos and #RichardBranson have been criticized as pointless as the pandemic has raged and the world deals with climate change. The $200 million donation today and $419 in last week seems like a way to answer critics by saying he cares.

— (@spacecom) July 20, 2021

And as some obliquely pointed out, this is the second billionaire space flight this month, prompting a new sort of gilded space race.

I remember as a kid talking with other kids my age about becoming an astronaut. At the time, astronauts came from middle-class and blue-collar families. They’d gone to public schools.

It was something any of us could aspire to.

Today’s space race could not be more different.

— Robert Reich (@RBReich) July 20, 2021

Not every reaction was so pointed. Chris Lewicki, a Seattle-area space entrepreneur, said Bezos “is remaking charity in his own innovative way.”

This is incredible. @JeffBezos is remaking charity in his own innovative way. The leverage these awards will create will be something incredible to watch — and almost certain to inspire a better planet Earth for us all.

— Chris Lewicki (@interplanetary) July 20, 2021

And Bezos wasn’t alone in the capsule, of course. Bezos’ brother, Mark was on board as was Oliver Daemen, a Dutch student who was Blue Origin’s first paying passenger.

But perhaps the most compelling occupant was Mary Wallace Funk, a pilot who in the 1960s participated in NASA’s astronaut training but who never had the chance to fly in a rocket.

The 82-year-old, known as “Wally,” was thrilled.

"Whoo! We went right on up, and I saw darkness. I thought I was going to see the world but we weren't quite high enough." Wally Funk, she's the most entertaining person on this stage. To Bezos: "I want to thank you, sweetheart, because you made it possible for me." (Kisses him.)

— Katherine Anne Long (@_katya_long) July 20, 2021

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