Jeff Bezos donates $200 million to the Smithsonian Institution ahead of Blue Origin launch

Jeff Bezos has pledged a $200 million donation to the Smithsonian.  (Image credit: Smithsonian Institution)

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the spaceflight company Blue Origin, will donate $200 million to the Smithsonian, the Institution announced Wednesday (July 14). It's is the largest donation to the Smithsonian  since James Smithson's founding gift in 1846.

The Smithsonian Institution is "the world's largest museum, education and research complex," the organization's website states. This $200 million donation will be split, with $70 million going to renovate the National Air and Space Museum and $130 million supporting the creation of a new education center at the Smithsonian's flagship museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This new museum will be named the "Bezos Learning Center" because of the donation.

"The Smithsonian plays a vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers," Bezos said about the Smithsonian and his donation in a statement. "Every child is born with great potential, and it’s inspiration that unlocks that potential. My love affair with science, invention and space did that for me, and I hope this gift does that for others."

Related: How to watch Blue Origin launch Jeff Bezos to space on July 20
More: Blue Origin will launch an 18-year-old into space on its 1st crewed flight

"The gift will also help enable a technological transformation of the museum’s galleries and public spaces, including the creation of new interactive experiences to inspire visitors, students, teachers and families," Smithsonian's statement reads. 

The new education center will be built at the Smithsonian museum's flagship location alongside ongoing museum renovations. The new facility will be centered around exploring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) topics. The museum will have programs designed to inspire young visitors to explore STEAM careers and will connect to all Smithsonian museums to include experts from different Smithsonian locations and incorporate a variety of STEAM-relevant collections, according to the same statement. 

"Since its inception, the Smithsonian has benefited from both federal funding and the generosity of visionary donors," Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch said in the same statement. "This historic gift will help the Smithsonian achieve its goal of reaching every classroom in America by creating a world-class learning center with access and inspiration at its heart. We are grateful to Jeff for his generosity and for his passion and commitment to education, innovation and technology. This donation will fuel our nation’s future leaders and innovators."

Related: Blue Origin donates $19 million to space nonprofits ahead of Jeff Bezos' launch

"At this moment, the first human to set foot on Mars might be in elementary school," Ellen Stofan, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science and Research and former director of the National Air and Space Museum, said in the same statement. 

"As the largest and most visited aerospace museum in the world, the museum wants to spark that passion and enrich the imagination and ingenuity of every student who visits the Smithsonian. For many years, Jeff has been an avid supporter of the Smithsonian and the museum’s mission to 'ignite tomorrow.' With this gift, we will be able to continue our transformation and further expand the National Air and Space Museum’s ability to reveal the possibilities of space exploration," Stofan added.

Also on Wednesday, Blue Origin announced that it's giving $1 million apiece to 19 space nonprofits, including The Mars Society and The Planetary Society. Those donations are being made via Blue Origin's nonprofit organization, Club for the Future. The donations come as Bezos is preparing to add "astronaut" to his list of titles. 

On Tuesday (July 20), Bezos alongside his brother Mark, legendary aviator Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen will fly to space on board Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The crew will make a flight above the boundary of space and then return to land back on planet Earth. 

This crewed, suborbital flight will be the first of its kind for the company and will test the rocket and spacecraft's capabilities as the company works toward regular crewed launches to space on New Shepard, which will carry paying passengers on the once-in-a-lifetime journey. This launch will follow Virgin Galactic's successful crewed suborbital test flight Unity 22, carried out this past Sunday (July 11), which took billionaire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson to space and back.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.