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Amazon's retail revolution may not be Jeff Bezos' biggest accomplishment

Amazon tumbles after hours

The man who revolutionized the retail world is turning his big-picture vision to space exploration, a dream he's had since he watched the moon landing as a 5-year-old boy.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday discussed his vision of making space travel more affordable for the next generation of entrepreneurs. He plans to use Blue Origin, his aerospace manufacturing company, to build reusable rockets that use far less fuel, and effectively "lower the admission price" of space and make it more accessible.

During a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of New York, he said when he started Amazon, he didn't have to build any of the infrastructure because the internet was already invented and there was an existing system for delivery and payment.

Now, after benefiting from all the "infrastructure" that was laid before he founded the e-commerce giant in 1994, he says it's his turn to do the "heavy lifting." He envisions a future where all "heavy industry" exists in space. This way, he says, we can both preserve the planet and reap the benefits of outer space resources, like unlimited solar energy.

"I believe it's incredibly important that we humans go out into space … We need to do that to preserve the Earth," he said. "The engineering challenge involved with building a highly profitable, reusable vehicle is gigantic," he added. "But if you can do that, it's a game changer."

The idea behind its sustainable, reusable fuel is using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. Blue Origin says "this combination is highly efficient and clean, producing water as the byproduct of combustion without any carbon emissions."

The privately owned company is still on track to take tourists to outer space in 2018, Bezos said, while emphasizing that it's not a race and safety is his top priority.

Behind it all, he says, is a customer-centric philosophy that has been vital to Amazon's success in the e-commerce industry.

"We've always focused on customer obsession versus competitor obsession," he said. "We want to be customer-focused."

Bezos added that a "willingness to think long term" is the common thread that runs through everything he does. That long-term mindset was evident when it took seven years for Amazon Web Services to face "like-minded competition."

"The reason is that people in the industry thought that what we were doing was so damn weird," he said.

In terms of Amazon's growth, the chief executive emphasized the importance of maintaining Amazon Prime memberships, but as usual, would not disclose the number of Prime accounts. Bezos also said he sees tremendous potential in Amazon Studios and the artificial intelligence segment, spearheaded by its Echo product and virtual assistant Alexa.

— CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report.