Ever since handyman James Floyd Smith assembled an airplane for entrepreneur William Boeing more than a century ago, Washington has been at the forefront of the aerospace industry.
From those humble beginnings, Boeing launched a company that has transformed global air travel and helped create the Seattle we see today. So it is fitting that one of Boeing’s successors in Northwest-based innovation is helping to lead the next generation of human exploration.
Blue Origin, which was founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000 and is based in Kent, was selected last week by NASA to develop a spacecraft for landing humans on the moon. The contract is part of the burgeoning Artemis program, which will be intended to regularly send astronauts to the moon.
The Washington Post (which also is owned by Bezos) explains: “Instead of going to the equatorial region of the moon, as was done during the Apollo era of the 1960s and ’70s, it is aiming for the lunar south pole, where there is water in the form of ice in the permanently shadowed craters.”
Bezos, of course, founded Amazon in Seattle in 1994 and transformed online shopping. He chose the Puget Sound region, in part, because of its abundance of high-tech talent — a result of groundbreaking companies such as Microsoft and a steady stream of computer science graduates from the University of Washington, according to the book “The Everything Store.” Amazon is now the world’s second-largest retailer, behind Walmart.
That is part of the story behind the story of Blue Origin winning a coveted NASA contract. And it is part of the story that will define the future of our state.
Washington has a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship. From Boeing to Microsoft to Amazon, the state has been home to companies that have altered daily life for billions of people around the world. And according to the Department of Commerce, Washington also can lay claim to innovations such as the backpack, the minivan and grunge music.
It is difficult to define the social and political environments that have fostered such innovation, but it is easy to see how they apply to the present and the future.
For example, Washington is wise to position itself as a leader in green energy and technologies that can help slow climate change. According to Green Jobs Report 2022, our state ranks No. 3 in “green” jobs, behind Alaska and Colorado. Not only does the sector promise large job growth in the future, but it already pays wages significantly higher than the national average.
For another example, lawmakers should be cautious about altering a tax system that has helped attract and retain those innovators.
And for yet another, leaders should make robust investments in public education, understanding that an educated workforce will attract creative businesses and develop the entrepreneurs of the future.
But for now, we celebrate Blue Origin’s role in the United States’ next great space adventure. The company has been awarded a $3.4 billion contract to develop a landing vehicle for a mission expected in 2029. That would follow two crewed landings by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space-exploration company.
As U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said: “Space exploration is not only about pushing the frontiers of innovation and discovery, but about inspiring our next generation to discover what’s possible.”
Our state has been doing that for decades.