Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, will launch a rocket into space with passengers on board for the first time in July, the company said on Wednesday.
One seat on the flight, which will carry six astronauts on a short jaunt to the edge of outer space, is up for auction.
The first astronaut flight of New Shepard, a suborbital spacecraft, is scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“We’ve spent years testing, so we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales for Blue Origin, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
millions of people eventually living and working in space.
For now, most of Blue Origin’s business has stayed closer to Earth. It builds and sells rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. A rocket that would lift cargo to orbit is not expected to be ready for years, and the company recently lost a competition with SpaceX for a contract to build a moon lander for NASA’s astronauts (it has protested the award). Customers have also paid to fly science experiments for NASA and private scientists during test flights of the New Shepard spacecraft.
It has been preparing for years for the start of its space tourism program, which would offer suborbital trips to what is considered the boundary of outer space, 62 miles above Earth. A competitor, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plans to fly space tourists on suborbital jaunts. Virgin Galactic’s space plane, known as SpaceShipTwo, is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people to space on test flights, but no paying passengers yet.
Blue Origin’s tourist rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. It has undergone 15 test flights, none of which had passengers aboard. Ahead of the latest test, in April, a crew rehearsed boarding and exiting the capsule.
For July’s crewed launch, astronauts will arrive to the launch site in West Texas four days before their flight for safety training, Ms. Cornell said.
terms of agreement for the auction listed on Blue Origin’s website, the winning bidder must have a height and weight from five feet tall and 110 pounds to 6-foot-four and 223 pounds.
The astronaut must also be comfortable with walking at heights above 70 feet above ground level on the gangway, be able to climb the launch tower — equivalent to seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds and be able to fasten his or her own harness in less than 15 seconds.
The astronaut must also be comfortable with lots of pressure pressing down on him or her for several minutes during both the ascent and descent.
Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, a science and technology education foundation affiliated with Blue Origin, Ms. Cornell said.
Ms. Cornell declined to comment on potential pricing for regular tickets, and when they might go on sale for the general public. But she said there would be “a couple more crewed flights before the end of the year.”
She also declined to answer whether Mr. Bezos would be on the first flight and did not say if and when he would go to space.
Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing after 27 years of marriage, raising questions about the fate of their vast fortune. Their split could yield the biggest divorce settlement on record, according to Forbes’s calculations, surpassing the $35 billion breakup of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott. Given the likely sums involved, what happens with the Gateses’ extensive investments and charity work will be monitored at the highest levels of government, business and the nonprofit sector.
What’s at stake: Mr. Gates is the fourth-richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with wealth estimated at $124 billion. The family is the largest owner of farmland in the U.S. His personal investment firm, Cascade Investment, owns big stakes in assets like the Four Seasons, the Canadian National Railway and the AutoNation chain of car dealerships.
The Gateses are believed to have a prenuptial agreement, but its details aren’t publicly known. The divorce petition notes that there is a separation contract in place.
The two have faced relationship struggles in recent years, Andrew, David Gelles and Nick Kulish report in The Times. Mr. Gates stepped down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway in part to spend more time with his family.
What will happen to the Gates Foundation? The $50 billion nonprofit is one of the biggest philanthropies in the world, giving away about $5 billion each year to causes like global public health and childhood education. Most recently, it was instrumental in forming Covax, the global coronavirus vaccination program. For now, the foundation says little will change in how it is run day to day, but people in its orbit worry that an acrimonious split by its founders could cloud the nonprofit’s plans. “Together they have assured me of their continued commitment to the foundation that they have worked so hard to build together,” the foundation’s chief executive, Mark Suzman, told employees in an email.
When the Gateses created the Giving Pledge, an effort to get wealthy people to donate a majority of their money to charitable causes, they said they would commit to donate “the vast majority of our assets” to the foundation. Much of that money has not yet been donated.
Ms. Gates could separately become a big philanthropic force. She has already used her own investment office, Pivotal Ventures, to donate money to causes like women’s economic empowerment, and could use any settlement to amplify her giving to preferred groups. “You could imagine Melinda Gates being a much more progressive giver on her own,” said David Callahan, the founder of Inside Philanthropy. “She’s going to be a major force in philanthropy for decades to come.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Tristate area will reopen sooner than expected. The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said they would ease most Covid-19 capacity limits on businesses starting on May 19, thanks to declining coronavirus case numbers.
With the pandemic shifting sales online and consumers flush with stimulus checks, Amazon on Thursday reported $108.5 billion in sales in the first three months of the year, up 44 percent from a year earlier. It also posted $8.1 billion in profit, an increase of 220 percent from the same period last year.
The first-quarter results surpassed Wall Street’s expectations. Shares were up as much as 5 percent in aftermarket trading.
The most profitable parts of Amazon’s retail business boomed. Revenue from merchants listing items on its website and using its warehouses was up 64 percent, to $23.7 billion. Its “other” business segment, which is largely its lucrative advertising business, increased 77 percent, to almost $7 billion.
Amazon previously disclosed that 200 million people pay for Prime memberships, and subscription revenue for that service and others reached almost $7.6 billion in the quarter. In addition to paying Amazon $119 a year or $12.99 a month for free shipping and other perks, households with Prime memberships typically spend $3,000 a year on Amazon, more than twice what households without the membership spend, according to Morgan Stanley.
step down as chief executive later this year and transition into the role of executive chairman.
Amazon’s total work force dipped slightly between December and the end of March, falling by 27,000 to 1,271,000 employees globally. That was still 51 percent more workers than the same period last year. On Wednesday, Amazon announced it would increase pay for half a million workers and was hiring “tens of thousands” more.
Good morning. Have you gotten your vaccine yet? The Biden administration is offering tax breaks to companies that give their workers paid time off to get their shot. Here’s what else you should know in business and tech for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (April 18-24)
On Earth Day, President Biden kicked off a virtual climate summit with a guest list of who’s who in world power — including the pope, Bill Gates and President Xi Jinping of China. He put forth a high-flying goal for the United States to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, setting the bar for other leaders to follow suit. The plan is aggressive in scope but vague on specifics. Climate experts say it would require drastic changes in many areas of the country’s economy — too drastic, according to some critics. Think a rapid transition to electric cars, the end of coal-fueled power plants and a vast expansion of wind turbine energy.
The Last Word
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down from his role as the company’s chief executive next quarter, addressed a few elephants in the room in his latest (and last?) shareholder’s letter. Such as: Even though Amazon workers in Alabama recently rejected a major campaign to unionize, he still thinks that “we need to do a better job for our employees.” He also said that workers get bathroom breaks whenever they want (i.e. they do not have to pee in bottles, contrary to what you may read on Twitter). Anyway, what else is new at Amazon? The company is developing a furniture assembly service to compete with the home goods e-commerce giant Wayfair, for one thing. Oh, and opening a hair salon in London where you can preview hairdos virtually before trying them out in real life.
home prices up by about 16 percent since the pandemic began. Analysts believe the market will stay strong through the end of the year at least.
What’s Next? (April 25-May 1)
iSpy … Less
Apple introduced its latest slate of products and software last week, including new computer colors — a mustard-yellow desktop monitor, anyone? As expected, it also revealed the AirTag, a $29 disc that attaches to keys, wallets and other items so they can be tracked down if lost. But slipped in with the jazzy stuff was new privacy software that will make it harder for advertisers to monitor people. The feature will require apps to get explicit permission from users before spying on — sorry, tracking — their digital behavior. If people decline, companies that rely on digital advertising (like, say, Facebook) are expected to gather less data about users’ activity.
Tax Dollars at Work
Mr. Biden rolled out a new plan that would raise taxes on the rich to reduce costs for child care and education. The proposals align with his campaign promise to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but not on households earning less than $400,000. Still, Wall Street wasn’t happy about it, and the stock market fell after his announcement. Mr. Biden is expected to defend his ideas when he gives his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
The tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol cigarettes specifically to Black communities for decades, and they are used by 85 percent of Black smokers. (Because of their flavor, menthol cigarettes are considered easier to get hooked on and harder to quit.) As a result, Black Americans suffer disproportionate health consequences of addiction to menthol cigarettes. This Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will respond to a court order that compels it to take a position on whether to ban the product. But it’s complicated. Some critics of the ban say that it could cause police to more aggressively target Black Americans suspected of selling illegal cigarettes.
Elliott may start a fight at GlaxoSmithKline. The big activist hedge fund has taken a multibillion-pound stake in the British medical and consumer products giant, DealBook has learned. The Financial Times, which first reported the news, said it came as other investors expressed worries that the company was underperforming, particularly in its drug pipeline.
Jeff Bezos lays out his legacy
Amazon published its founder’s latest letter to shareholders yesterday. It is likely the last such letter written by Jeff Bezos as C.E.O., since he plans to step down later this year and become executive chairman. In the letter, Mr. Bezos, the richest man in the world, laid out his view of Amazon’s impact during his 27-year tenure.
Mr. Bezos calculated the value he thinks Amazon creates for society. The total came to $301 billion last year, he said, with more than half going to customers (via time savings and the cost improvements of cloud computing), followed by employees (via compensation), third-party sellers (via profits from selling on Amazon) and finally shareholders (via the company’s net income). “Draw the box big around all of society, and you’ll find that invention is the root of all real value creation,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “And value created is best thought of as a metric for innovation.”
But “money doesn’t tell the whole story,” he wrote, and there is naturally a lot left out of such an expansive equation. If anything, using net income to measure Amazon’s value to shareholders understates its impact, since the company’s market cap grew by more than $700 billion last year. Elsewhere in the letter, Mr. Bezos noted that Amazon’s market value has grown by $1.6 trillion since its founding, which suggests that shareholders (Mr. Bezos among them) might rank higher — if not highest — in the accounting of who benefits most from Amazon’s operations.
Mr. Bezos said that Amazon’s goal is to become “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” He disputed the characterization of Amazon warehouse employees as “being treated as robots” (the jobs have been criticized over workplace safety measures during the pandemic, algorithmic management and productivity quotas), and highlighted Amazon’s $15 minimum hourly wage, which one study suggested led to increased wages at other businesses nearby.
Mr. Bezos also addressed the recent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., which Amazon won by a wide margin. “Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Mr. Bezos wrote, adding that Amazon needs to “do a better job for our employees.”
The letter ended on a philosophical note. “We all know that distinctiveness — originality — is valuable,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “We are all taught to ‘be yourself.’ What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical — in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.”
“This is the healthiest we have seen the consumer emerge from a crisis in recent history.”
— Jane Fraser, the C.E.O. of Citigroup, reporting a tripling of profit in its latest quarter.
David Einhorn has thoughts
Greenlight Capital’s quarterly report is out and the hedge fund’s founder, David Einhorn, has a lot to say.
He blames Chamath and Elon for the GameStop frenzy. “The real jet fuel on the GME squeeze came from Chamath Palihapitiya and Elon Musk, whose appearances on TV and Twitter, respectively, at a critical moment further destabilized the situation,” Mr. Einhorn wrote.
He questioned Mr. Palihapitiya’s intentions in joining the trading craze. “Mr. Palihapitiya controls SoFi, which competes with Robinhood, and left us with the impression that by destabilizing GME he could harm a competitor.” (Mr. Palihapitiya’s SPAC announced a deal to acquire SoFi in January, which Mr. Palihapitiya disclosed in his tweets about Robinhood.)
He’s not a fan of payment for order flow, which is how Robinhood makes money on free trading. It’s “just disguised commission,” Mr. Einhorn said.
That has prompted a strategy adjustment. In addition to spending time communicating with analysts whose “buy” or “sell” ratings on the stock can move its price, Mr. Schreiber said, he has made a point of doing interviews on podcasts, websites and YouTube programs popular with retail investors.
“I think that they are, today, far more influential on, and command far more following in terms of stock buying or selling power than the mighty Goldman Sachs does,” Mr. Schreiber said. “And we’ve seen that in our own stock.”
Academic research suggests that over the longer term, it can be a competitive advantage for a company to have a patient base of investors who understand and believe in its strategy. Such a steady foundation makes it possible for executives to focus on longer-term strategic goals, rather than meeting the short-term metrics often dictated by Wall Street analysts, said Mr. Cunningham of George Washington University Law School.
Take Amazon. Its share price kept rising over the years, despite its skimpy and unpredictable profits and widespread skepticism from Wall Street. The individual shareholders who held Amazon stock bought into the vision of the founder, Jeff Bezos, and saw no problem with Amazon recycling its enormous cash flows back into the company rather than paying dividends. Many of those shareholders are now rich; someone who bought $1,000 worth of Amazon shares at the start of 2000 would be sitting on more than $4.3 million today.
Shares of Tesla, too, have exploded in recent years — a victory for its base of cultish followers, who believed in the company’s prospects despite years of losses. Over the past five years, Tesla shares have gained more than 1,300 percent, creating $640 billion in market wealth.
While some companies are pursuing the loyalty of small shareholders, others are pursuing their money. Several companies whose stocks climbed during January’s “meme stock” boom have taken advantage of the demand to issue new shares, turning trading enthusiasm into actual cash for the company. (Previously issued shares that are bought and sold in the open market don’t generate any new money for companies themselves.)
Bessemer — the Alabama city where Amazon warehouse workers recently voted not to join a union — is named for Henry Bessemer, a British inventor who revolutionized steelmaking. When an Alabama businessman founded the city in 1887, he called it Bessemer in the hope that it would become a steel-industry center.
It did. Using iron ore and the other natural resources in Alabama, Bessemer’s steel mills thrived. They provided jobs that helped many workers build middle-class lives. They were typical of the broad-based American prosperity of the mid-20th century.
Today, those steel jobs are long gone, done in by technology and global competition. Bessemer no longer makes any steel. On the site of a former mill — one owned by U.S. Steel — is the giant Amazon warehouse that has been in the news because of the union vote.
Amazon soundly defeated the union’s organizing effort by emphasizing that it already paid well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. And that’s true: All of its employees make at least $15 an hour. The message resonated. Relative to other jobs they might find, Amazon workers decided they were already doing pretty well.
that were once available — factory jobs and others that allowed workers to rise up the economic ladder — Amazon jobs don’t look so appealing. Fifteen dollars an hour for a full-time worker translates to about $31,000 a year, less than half of U.S. median family income and low enough in many cases for a family to qualify for subsidized school lunches.
That is not the kind of pay that seems likely to help the country again build a growing, thriving middle class. And Amazon jobs are looking more and more like the future of the U.S. economy.
‘Akin to a factory’
Amazon is the country’s fastest-growing company by many measures. Its founder and chairman, Jeff Bezos, is the world’s richest man. It employs about 1.3 million people worldwide, up from 750,000 only a year and a half ago. Among American companies, only Walmart has a larger work force.
Alec MacGillis, the author of an excellent new book about Amazon, called “Fulfillment,” points out that Amazon’s warehouse jobs have a lot in common with the industrial jobs of the past. They are among the main options for people who graduate from high school or community college without specific job skills. They are also physically demanding and dangerous.
MacGillis is careful to remind people about the injuries and deaths that came with old factory jobs, and he documents the similar risks that warehouse jobs can bring. Jody Rhoads was a 52-year-old mother and breast cancer survivor in Carlisle, Pa. Her neck was crushed by a steel rack while she was driving a forklift in an Amazon warehouse, killing her. (“We do not believe that the incident was work related,” an Amazon manager reported to the federal government, falsely suggesting her death was from natural causes.)
Spencer Cox, a former Amazon worker who’s now writing a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Minnesota about the company, told my colleague David Streitfeld, “Amazon is reorganizing the very nature of retail work — something that traditionally is physically undemanding and has a large amount of downtime — into something more akin to a factory, which never lets up.”
But for all of the similarities to factory work, Amazon jobs also have crucial differences. They are more isolating, as MacGillis explained to me. Rather than working in teams of people who are creating something, warehouse workers often work alone, interacting mostly with robots. Amazon jobs also pay less than many factory jobs did.
MacGillis tells the story of three generations of Bodani men who worked in the Sparrows Point steel mill, near Baltimore. The youngest, William Bodani Jr., was making $35 an hour in 2002 (about $52 in today’s dollars), along with bonuses. That’s enough for a solid middle-class income.
With the steel mill gone from Sparrows Point, Bodani instead took a job at the Amazon warehouse that occupies the same land. He was in his late 60s at the time and was making a fraction of what he once had.
It would be one thing if this sort of downward mobility were a reflection of the U.S. economy’s overall performance. But it’s not. Economic output is much higher, per person, than it was two decades ago and vastly higher than it was in Bessemer’s 20th century heyday. The bulk of the gains, however, have flowed to a narrow slice of workers — among the upper middle class and especially the affluent.
For many others, an Amazon job looks preferable to the alternatives, even if it is also part of the reason that so many American families are struggling.
the rapper DMX, who died on Friday.
Lives Lived: His famous clients included Marlon Brando, Magic Johnson, Morgan Freeman and Britney Spears. But he chose not to defend O.J. Simpson. Howard Weitzman has died at 81.
ARTS AND IDEAS
performing a song, often next to the singer. The best renditions don’t convey just the lyrics of a song; they convey its emotion.
writes in The Times. Deaf singers prepare by experiencing a song however they can. Mervin Primeaux-O’Bryant, a deaf actor and dancer, tucked a small speaker into his clothes, so that he could feel the vibrations of “Midnight Train to Georgia” while recording an interpretation for a series of American Sign Language covers of seminal songs by Black women.
“Sometimes interpreters don’t show the emotions that are tied to the music,” Primeaux-O’Bryant said. “And deaf people are like, ‘What is that?’”
In the performance, Primeaux-O’Bryant tugged at an invisible whistle to correspond to the woo-woo of the band’s horns. To interpret a drawn-out “oh,” he used movements that gently extended the words, his hands fluttering into his lap.
For more: Watch a clip of Primeaux-O’Bryant’s performance here.AndGQ profiled Matt Maxey, who translates Chance the Rapper at his concerts.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Saturday Night Live” reacted to the Derek Chauvin trial. Carey Mulligan hosted.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Where grizzlies might beat the heat (three letters).
If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Sixty-six years ago today, a trial showed that Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was highly effective. The results received “fanfare and drama far more typical of a Hollywood premiere than a medical meeting,” The Times reported.
You can see today’s print front page here.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Europe’s vaccine rollout. On the Book Review podcast, Blake Bailey discusses his new biography of Philip Roth, and the debate over Roth’s legacy.
Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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