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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Jeff Bezos wants to build a "road to space" so 1 trillion humans can live and work there.

Why it matters: His rocket company, Blue Origin, has been methodically working toward launching people and payloads into space, funded by Bezos' billions. But he is thinking bigger, and his money and influence give new gravity to the idea of permanently extending humanity's reach deep into the solar system.

As Bezos sees it, humanity's space-faring future shouldn't necessarily hinge on making unlivable worlds like the Moon or Mars habitable.

  • "This is a very different kind of space colony," Bezos said at a press event last week where he described his vision of near-Earth rotating space stations, called "O'Neill colonies" or "O'Neill cylinders," that could replicate Earth's cities.
  • All of this would be possible because of resources provided to us in space, according to Bezos.
  • If humans find a way to mine the moon for water, for example, it could act as a fuel source that would power further exploration.

The big picture: "Earth ends up zoned residential and light industry," Bezos said. "It'll be a beautiful place to live. It'll be a beautiful place to visit," he said. "But heavy industry, all the polluting industry, all the things that are damaging our planet, those will be done off Earth."

  • What remains unclear, however, are the ethics of this colossal rezoning. If we outsource pollution-producing industries to space stations above Earth, what happens to the workers who have to maintain them?
  • If the future hinges on mining the pristine bodies in our solar system for resources, what about the scientists who seek to study these unspoiled objects?

Be smart: Bezos admits his generation and even the one after won't see those big dreams realized, but he believes Blue Origin can help entrepreneurs establish off-Earth industries.

  • He thinks Blue Origin's rocket reusability and design architecture could help slash the cost of launching payloads to orbit.
  • Blue Origin's newly announced Blue Moon lander — which could help NASA return astronauts to the moon by 2024 — is expected to use resources from the moon to make rocket fuel some day, Bezos said.

The intrigue: Bezos' Utopian vision is starkly different than Elon Musk's somewhat irreverent ideas that include artists circling the moon and pizza places on Mars.

  • The Amazon billionaire isn't focused on Mars, instead opting for the grander vision afforded by the abundant resources we could theoretically have access to in space.
  • Other space leaders also envision large off-Earth settlements. United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno imagines that 1,000 people could be living in space — perhaps even on the moon — as soon as the 2030s, according to Florida Today.

Bezos' vision is light on the specifics. Building even one O'Neill colony would likely cost billions, if not trillions, of dollars, and even Bezos admits it's still unclear exactly how it might work.

  • "That's for future generations to figure out the details," he said.
Blue Origin's down-to-Earth reality

While Bezos is talking about the space civilizations of the future, Blue Origin is wading through the political mud, fighting for government contracts.

  • The company is now trying to secure a spot as one of the Air Force's launch providers through the mid-2020s.
  • Blue Origin wants the Air Force to pick three launch providers, but at the moment the government is planning to pick just two, heavily favoring SpaceX and ULA — both already fly Air Force missions.
  • The 25 satellite launches expected within that time frame could bring billions of dollars to whichever companies are selected as providers.

The backdrop: Bezos has said that he sells about $1 billion in Amazon stock each year to help fund Blue Origin, but the company will need to continue to find many more sources of income if it hopes to become more than Bezos' side hustle.

  • "Blue Origin is not a not-for-profit," an industry source told Axios. "They want to see themselves as a major transporter to space."

Even as Bezos laid out his grand vision for the future of humanity in orbit, it boiled down to a shiny pitch to NASA.

  • Blue Origin is courting government money with its Blue Moon lander plan to get NASA astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.
  • While Bezos has butted heads with President Trump in the past, he went so far as to praise the administration, saying the moon mission is "the right thing to do."

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about Blue Origin

Go deeper

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."