Valedictorian Jeff Bezos said he wanted to build 'space hotels and colonies' in his 1982 high school graduation speech

Jeff Bezos
Photo by Franziska Krug

Jeff Bezos has spent the past 36 years thinking about how to launch us all into space.

Bezos may be best known as the CEO of e-commerce giant Amazon and as the world's richest person, with a net worth of $165 billion, per Bloomberg's latest estimate. But, the billionaire's private aerospace company, Blue Origin, might be Bezos' true passion project based on the subject of the speech he delivered at this 1982 high school graduation.

That year, Bezos was preparing to attend Princeton University, where he would study electrical engineering and computer science. At Miami's Palmetto High school, Bezos had finished first in a class of 680 students, and so he was chosen to speak at his class' graduation.

The Miami Herald printed a roundup of speeches from local high school valedictorians in an article published on June 20, 1982. The Herald included a few sentences summarizing Bezos' address, which now serves as proof that the future tech industry titan has been thinking for years about the future of civilization in space.

"[Bezos] wants to build space hotels, amusement parks, yachts and colonies for two or three million people orbiting around the earth," the Herald's article says.

"'The whole idea is to preserve the earth,'" he said, according to the newspaper, which notes of Bezos that his "final objective is to get all people off the earth and see it turned into a huge national park."

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 1997.
Paul Souders | Hulton Archive | Getty Images

Given Bezos' early interest in space exploration and colonization, it's little surprise that he would go on to found the spaceflight startup Blue Origin in 2000. Today, Blue Origin is one of a handful of private rocket companies backed by billionaires, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. (Much like SpaceX, Blue Origin has focused much of its efforts on making spaceflight more accessible by reducing the cost of space travel, including by reusing rockets for multiple launches.)

Bezos has made no secret of the fact that his ultimate plan for Blue Origin is to colonize space — just as he said he would in his valedictorian speech. However, while Musk is dead set on establishing human colonies on Mars, Bezos has his eyes on the Moon.

"It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay," Bezos told The Washington Post in 2017. "A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this."

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person
Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person

And, in May, Bezos expanded on his vision of a future human society that has established permanent residence in space, including on the Moon, in order to protect the Earth's natural environment and resources. At the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles, Bezos said he envisions a future where most "heavy industry" will be moved off of Earth and onto space outposts powered by solar energy, which will be available in abundance in space.

"We will have to leave this planet," Bezos told Geekwire at the time. "We're going to leave it, and it's going to make this planet better. We'll come and go, and the people who want to stay will stay."

Bezos expects that it may only be "decades, maybe 100 years" before technological advancements will make it easy for human industries to move operations to space. "It'll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space, because we'll have so much [solar] energy," he said.

In an interview with Axel Springer in April, Bezos explained that our civilization is simply growing too quickly and using too much energy to be sustainable in the long term. But, there is enough solar energy in space — where solar panels can be designed to point at the sun 24 hours a day — to support "a trillion humans," Bezos said.

Blue Origin recently received $10 million in funding from NASA for the company's lunar lander program, which plans to deliver cargo and supplies to the Moon. The company has said that its first Moon landing could come as soon as 2023.

But, Bezos doesn't expect Blue Origin to be the only company going to the moon. In addition to partnering with NASA (which is also looking to return to the Moon), Bezos said in May that it will take "thousands of companies working in concert over many decades" to make his dreams of space colonization come true.

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Jeff Bezos sends a birthday message to his fourth-grade teacher
Jeff Bezos sends a birthday message to his fourth-grade teacher