“Right now we’re literally at the tipping point in history. People will write, this is when humans first left the planet. Young people will write these chapters, and Seattle will lead the world.” This quote from Museum of Flight CEO Douglas King may seem hyperbolic- but it’s hard to deny the validity of his words after a tour of the Blue Origin factory in Kent, WA.
Washington state currently flies higher and faster than all other domestic regions in the aerospace, rocket design and space travel industry. 95 percent of all airplanes assembled in North America were made in Washington State, and currently companies like Boeing, Vulcan Aerospace and Blue Origin (Blue) lead the flight path to the cosmos. Blue treated six Seattle Central College Space Club students to a rare opportunity: a spell-binding glimpse into the future of space travel. It’s a journey protected by extensive secrecy: no rocket engine design details can be published, no pictures were allowed during the tour and all visitors were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. According to Blue Origin University Outreach Coordinator Heather Nelson, each university is allowed only one annual six person tour.
“I feel bad for people that didn’t get a chance to come,” said SCC Space Club member Chris Prinz. “You want to say, ‘oh yeah, next time,’ but it’s more like ‘next year.’ Good luck with that.”
Despite a lengthy wait time for all interested SCC students, the subsequent delay is worth the burden in patience. Paralleling open employee offices without cubicles, alongside a massive open air meeting room situated near mission control, the rocket company’s corporate front door is immensely cavernous. An introductory discussion proceeded entry through massive glass doors onto the mezzanine, overlooking the multiple football field sized factory floor. A marvelous display of current manufacturing projects were dispersed across a vast ocean of concrete. Some students remarked the scene felt mystical, like something big was happening. A once in a lifetime opportunity was in progress. Eventually the group was allowed to briefly witness and review Blue’s current building blocks for humanity’s greatest exploration; the quest to conquer the infinite cosmic frontier: space.
South of Seattle, past Boeing and Redmond’s Tesla S.T.E.M. high school, the Puget Sound region’s new engineering kid is on the block: Blue, aiming high to recruit talent. Opportunities with Blue include multiple sixteen week internship and training programs that match applicant skill set with individual projects. Nelson claimed Blue aims to hire engineers that build components throughout the entire manufacturing process – engineers that stick with Blue from start to finish. Additionally, the Kent factory plans to hire 300 employees in the next few years. Members of the SCC Space Club remarked that rocket design, engineering and propulsion companies like Blue may eventually shape Earth’s future world economy in the coming decades.
“I like that they’re encouraging people to be innovative,” said Prinz. Some Space Club members stated that possible open source technology could fast forward the space industry towards progress. ”I think ultimately innovation is cool, but I would like to see people not compete over stuff like this,” said Prinz. “But I like the idea that the workforce is still inspired as well.”
“I just wanted to stop and look at everything,” said SCC Space Club member David Shay. “The hour long tour limit wasn’t enough.”
According to Heather Nelson, Blue Origin’s University Outreach Manager, Blue Origin’s owner, Jeff Bezos, dreams of pushing Earth’s international workforce into space. “Jeff wants to see millions of people living in space,” said Nelson. “Jeff has a long-term- decades long- vision for Blue. He wants Blue to continue long after he’s gone.” Nelson led the SCC Space Club’s Blue Origin factory tour, and described her fellow colleagues’ passionate efforts with enthusiasm. Citing long hours and hard work, technical imagination and creative problem solving, Nelson claimed everyone who worked for Blue had a love affair with their occupation. After the factory tour, all six SCC Space Club students remarked they left the building wanting more, like specialized glass and metal material design information.
“One of my questions was going to be ‘what is the glass?’” said Prinz. “You’re making these huge windows that are proprietary. The metals are impressive, but you’re going to have a piece of glass between you and outer space. It’s even more impressive they developed that, and how huge it is too.”
“The glass has to try and withstand the force of the air trying to escape into space,” said Shay. “Especially with the space vacuum on one side.”
The big picture is clear: Seattle is the cerebral launch pad for private space travel. Blue Origin knows the speed at which they will touch new heights. A move at their own pace philosophy, with calculated precision, ferociously.
By Jack Pappin