5.9.19 pic.twitter.com/BzvwCsDM2TApril 26, 2019
Update for May 9: Jeff Bezos unveiled Blue Origin's new Blue Moon lunar lander for missions to the moon. See our full coverage here.
Original story: Blue Origin is apparently set to make a big announcement next week, and the only clue we have to go on is a photo of famed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton's ship, the Endurance.
The spaceflight company, which is run by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, tweeted a photo of the Endurance on Friday (April 26) and wrote simply, "5.9.19" — an apparent reference to next Thursday (May 9). So, we can expect to hear some news that day.
What kind of news will it be? If we take a few logical leaps based on the photo and Blue Origin's ambitious plans, it seems reasonable to speculate that the announcement will be moon-related.
Related: New Glenn: Blue Origin's Reusable Rocket
For example, the company is developing a robotic lander called Blue Moon, which will be capable of putting about 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) of payload down on the lunar surface. Blue Origin aims to pull off a lunar landing by 2024, company representatives have said.
Blue Origin is also working on a new rocket called New Armstrong. The company hasn't divulged any details about this booster, but the name suggests that moon missions are in the cards. After all, Blue Origin named its suborbital crew-carrying system after the first American to reach suborbital space (Alan Shepard) and its orbital system after the first American to reach orbit (John Glenn).
Neil Armstrong, of course, was the first person to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
There's a Shackleton connection to the moon as well. The explorer's name graces a 13-mile-wide (21 kilometers) crater at the moon's south pole that's thought to contain large amounts of water ice in its shadowy depths. Shackleton Crater would therefore be a good place for a moon base, some exploration advocates have said.
Helping to set up a moon base would fit nicely into Blue Origin's long-term plans. Bezos has said repeatedly that the company's overarching vision involves getting millions of people living and working in space, both to advance human exploration and to make life on Earth better for all of the planet's inhabitants. (For example, moving heavy industry such as mining into space would reduce pollution and habitat degradation, which would benefit all of Earth's creatures.)
So, stay tuned on May 9 — it should be an interesting day!
And in case you don't know much about Shackleton's life and exploits: He was an accomplished explorer but is best known for averting disaster when one of his missions went south (both literally and figuratively).
The Endurance got trapped in Weddell Sea pack ice in 1915, as the explorer and his expedition were preparing to attempt the first-ever land crossing of the entire Antarctic continent. Shackleton eventually led his team to safety on South Georgia Island, pulling off an 830-mile (1,135 km) journey through frigid seas in small lifeboats. The feat is one of the most famous, and most celebrated, achievements in the history of exploration.
- Jeff Bezos Lays Out Blue Origin's Rocket Reusability Vision for Space Travel (Video)
- Home on the Moon: How to Build a Lunar Colony (Infographic)
- Launch Photos! Blue Origin's New Shepard Soars on NS-10 Flight for NASA
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.