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

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (wearing a cowboy hat) with Jose Andres (left of Bezos) and Van Jones (right of Bezos), recipients of $ 100 million charitable gifts from Bezos, announced after his Blue Origin flight into space on Tuesday . (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

After what some critics call the world’s most expensive midlife crisis, Amazon founder and Blue Origin boss Jeff Bezos announced two charitable donations totaling $ 200 million hours after landing his space capsule in West Texas.

Bezos announced gifts of $ 100 million each to chef Jose Andres and political commentator Van Jones, who will direct the funds to charities of their choice. A week before Tuesday’s successful suborbital flight, he donated $ 200 million to the National Air & Space Museum. And recently, the nonprofit arm of its space company Blue Origin donated $ 19 million to 19 nonprofits in space.

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

Bezos announced the gifts during a post-flight press conference after a 10-minute drive into space aboard a reusable New Shepard missile ship built by Blue Origin, the company founded by Bezos in 2000. The flight marked the first time that people flew aboard New Shepard.

“They can give anything for their own charity or share the wealth. It’s up to them, ”said Bezos. The gifts are part of the “Courage and Civility Award”, which recognizes “managers who pursue high goals, courageously pursue solutions and always do so with courtesy”.

In his comments, the richest man in the world – now valued at $ 204 billion – also thanked Amazon customers and employees. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and customer for paying for all of this,” he said.

But the successful flight and an ecstatic Bezos didn’t seem to appease critics, including Washington State’s Pramila Jayapal, who rode the wave of media attention to suggest that too much money may have been raised at the top.

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

– Representative. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) July 20, 2021

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of Amazon and Bezos, also interfered. “Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all of the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country going while he and Amazon paid nothing,” Warren tweeted. Elected officials, progressive activists, and academics often target Amazon for allegedly not paying federal income taxes.

Others noted that Bezos responded to criticism by announcing the $ 200 million donation shortly after it launched.

#JeffBezos and #RichardBranson’s suborbital flights have been criticized as pointless as the pandemic rages and the world grapples with climate change. The $ 200 million donation today and $ 419 last week seems like a way to respond to critics by saying he cares.

– (@spacecom) July 20, 2021

And as some have pointed out obliquely, this is the second multi-billion dollar space flight this month to trigger a new breed of gold-plated space race.

I remember when I was a kid, I talked to other kids my age about becoming an astronaut. The astronauts came from middle-class and working-class families. They went to public schools.

It was something that any of us could strive for.

Today’s space race couldn’t be more different.

– Robert Reich (@RBReich) July 20, 2021

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

That’s incredible. @JeffBezos is redesigning charity in its own innovative way. The impact these awards will create will be incredible – and almost certainly inspire a better planet earth for all of us.

– Chris Lewicki (@interplanetary) July 20, 2021

And of course Bezos wasn’t alone in the capsule. 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 convincing inmate was Mary Wallace Funk, a pilot who attended NASA’s astronaut training in the 1960s but never got a chance to fly in a rocket.

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

“Whoo! We went straight up and I saw the 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, honey, because you made it possible for me.” (Kisses him.)

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

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