Jeff Bezos is set to launch to space in a Blue Origin-designed spacecraft, but the Amazon billionaire has committed to giving $200 million to Smithsonian Institution for space education.
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. will be given $70 million to upgrade its building with new technology. $130 million will be used by the organization to establish a science- and engineering-focused education center that will connect to the museum.
Lonnie Bunch is the Smithsonian secretary and oversees the museum’s 19 museums. “It was part of our long-term vision, but we didn’t have [the] resources,” she says. It allows the Smithsonian, which I consider one of its top priorities, to accomplish this goal, making it a center that will reach out via STEM to rural communities and underserved people.
Bunch states that Bezos will be able to provide input in the planning process. However, the Center’s official opening date is still many years away. Bunch says, “The Smithsonian will have the final say in content, but we want the benefit of Jeff’s creativity.” A Blue Origin rocket on display is possible: “The aerospace team always collects.”
This pledge is also a step in the billionaire space race that is currently dominating headlines. Bezos will fly to the edge space on July 20, according to reports. Richard Branson, a fellow billionaire, successfully flew to play in a rocket designed by Virgin Galactic, his Blue Origin competitor. Elon Musk from SpaceX was also there to cheer Branson along and has already booked a ticket for one of Branson’s future spaceflights.
Wednesday’s announcement will mark the Smithsonian’s most significant gift since its inception in 1846. Bunch says that the founding estate of James Smithson, a British philanthropist, would have a value of approximately $310 million today. Bezos donated previously to Smithsonian, including a $1million-plus founding gift for the Museum of African American History. It opened in D.C.’s National Mall last 2016.
Blue Origin’s Club for the Future charitable foundation also announced $1million in donations to 19 other organizations. These organizations aim to encourage students to pursue STEM careers with a focus on space. Project Mercury astronauts founded the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and The family members of the crew created a challenger Center on the Space Shuttle Challenger that crashed in 1986.
According to Forbes, Bezos is the world’s wealthiest person with a net worth of $177 billion. He had given less than 1% to charity as of last summer. This puts him far lower than other benevolent billionaires such as Warren Buffett or George Soros. Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, resigned earlier this month and handed the reins over to Andy Jassy. The government canceled a contract that Amazon had been fighting with Microsoft. This made him $10 billion richer.
Mackenzie Scott, Bezos’ ex-wife and philanthropist Mackenzie Scott (worth an estimated $62.2 million), is also a supporter of museums. As part of her $2.7 billion gift spree, she donated to Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago and New York’s Museum of Chinese in America.