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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told a Balboa Park audience Saturday that “it’s time to go back to the moon. It’s time to stay.” Cheers erupted among 600 smartly dressed diners.

The world’s richest person was one of eight inductees into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame — honored for his space company Blue Origin, which this summer detailed plans for a lunar lander called Blue Moon.

In the central pavilion of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, Bezos was introduced to the recorded strains of “The Magnificent Seven” theme (better known as the Marlboro Man jingle).

Retired Lt. Col. David Hamilton, 97, received the only standing ovation of the night.
Retired Lt. Col. David Hamilton, 97, received the only standing ovation of the night. Photo by Chris Stone

He described the origins of his space infatuation.

Bezos said he told his high school paper he wanted to start a space company to save the environment and “eventually turn Earth into a national park.”

Saturday, he said: “I believe that, one day, Earth will be zoned residential and light industry. We’ll move all heavy industry into space. That’s the only way, really, to save this planet.”

The 55-year-old Washington Post owner (and would-be NFL team buyer) invoked the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“You can’t start an interesting space company in your dorm room,” he said. “It’s just too hard. It’s too expensive. We want to change that.”

Reducing “the price of admission” to space is this generation’s mission and his own, he said, “and the next generation will see a dynamic explosion of entrepreneurial talent the same way you have on the Internet.”

Vance Coffman, shown at VIP reception when photos were allowed, was one of eight inductees
Vance Coffman, shown at VIP reception when photos were allowed, was one of eight inductees. Photo by Chris Stone

His goal is “real operational usability” — having rockets fly to space and return to earth (landing vertically as his Blue Shepards have done 10 times straight successfully) with regularity.

Instead of disassembling and inspecting rockets after each flight, he said, the aim is making space trips “close to aircraft flight operations. … You land, refuel and fly again.”

He said our grandkids’ grandkids shouldn’t have to face a planet that’s “finite.”

“You want a dynamic civilization that continues to use more and more energy and more and more resources and build amazing things,” he said. “And to do that, you have to move out into the solar system.”

He showed real videos of the Blue Shepard “suborbital tourism vehicle” landing on Earth and narrated an animation of the Blue Moon cargo carrier using “computer vision” to precisely settle on the moon.

He says he’s partnering with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Draper Labs — and NASA. He didn’t say when a lunar landing would take place, but expects his powerful Blue Engine 4 being built in Florida to be used in 2021.

“We now have 6,587 seconds of test time on the BE-4 engine,” which uses liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen to produce 550,000 pounds of thrust, he said.

“It’s going to be the … workhorse engine of the 21st century,” vowed the man with an estimated net worth of $110 billion.

Conducting an 18-minute chat with Bezos was museum president and CEO Jim Kidrick, who asked: Why is the moon so important?

“The moon is a huge gift to us,” Bezos said, “if we want to have a space-faring civilization”

The dream is to use water in shadowed craters of the moon’s poles to produce rocket fuel and other things.

And since the amount of energy required to lift a pound into space off the moon is 24 times less than the amount needed from Earth, he said, that’s the platform for deep-space exploration.

Bezos was the last of eight honorees, taking the stage at 9:23 p.m. — nearly two hours after KUSI’s Mark Larson, longtime chairman of the museum board of directors, began the program, reminding attendees not to photograph or record the event.

(But a few smart phones shot video and an approved museum photographer was kept busy.)

The night’s only standing ovation came for retired Lt. Col. David Hamilton, 97, of Prescott Valley, Arizona. He’s the last surviving Pathfinders pilot who dropped paratroopers into Normandy in advance of the Allied invasion on D-Day in World War II.

Three Hall of Fame medallions were accepted posthumously by sons of honorees — glider designer and Spirit of St. Louis builder Hawley Bowlus, Apollo 12 moon-circler Dick Gordon and legendary SR-71 Blackbird pilot Robert J. Gilliland, whose Palm Desert lawyer son by the same name said his dad died this past Fourth of July (and knew of his induction).

MedAire founder Joan Sullivan Garrett recalled a young patient in Arizona named Tommy.
MedAire founder Joan Sullivan Garrett continues to take inspiration from a young patient in Arizona named Tommy. Photo by Chris Stone

Other inductees who unveiled portraits of themselves and accepted leather flight jackets were aerodynamics legend Robert Liebeck, retired Lockheed Martin chairman Vance Coffman (responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope) and Joan Sullivan Garrett, a critical care flight nurse who founded the medical and travel security firm MedAire.

Liebeck, who spent 44 years at Boeing before becoming a professor at MIT and UC Irvine, was emotional during his acceptance speech.

He said he was adopted 81 years ago but only recently learned that he had birth siblings — a sister and two brothers (discovered via a “23 and Me” DNA test).

“And they’re with me here tonight,” he said amid tears.

All of the honorees paid homage to their fellow inductees.

Said Liebeck: “The other people up here have done way more than I have.”

Said Garrett: “I’m in awe of the honorees tonight.”

Broadcaster Larson, acting as emcee, cracked jokes about Amazon Prime and alluded to fire blackouts (“SDG&E says the lights are staying on the whole show — that’s when you know you’re special”).

“We’re all VIPs here at the Air and Space Museum,” he said.

Bezos, who provided his own security, ended his remarks with: “Everybody that I saw today blew me away. …. Your chairman (Larson) also is amazing and seems weird.”

Sparking laughter, Kidrick replied: “He doesn’t seem weird. He is weird.”