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Originally published January 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 4, 2007 at 10:37 AM

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Bezos hiring engineers for secretive space project

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is looking for a few good rocketeers and has broken a long silence to get their attention. After several years of...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is looking for a few good rocketeers and has broken a long silence to get their attention.

After several years of nearly fanatical secrecy, Bezos posted a chatty letter on the Web site of Blue Origin 9 (www.blueorigin.com), the Kent-based spaceship company he's bankrolling.

He also provided pictures and videos of the maiden flight of Goddard, the company's first-generation vehicle.

The stubby, unmanned craft was launched 285 feet into the air from the company's West Texas testing ground Nov. 13, according to the Web site.

Like the rocket of science-fiction movies, Goddard blasted straight up, then landed in the same position. The entire flight appeared to last about 30 seconds and was witnessed by an enthusiastic crowd of employees and their families.

Bezos pokes fun at himself, noting that his only job at the launch was to open an oversized bottle of champagne — and he broke off the cork.

In his letter, Bezos says Blue Origin wants to hire "hard working, technically gifted, team-oriented, experienced" aerospace and propulsion engineers and managers.

He describes the company's approach to developing a manned craft as "methodical."

"We're working patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system," he wrote.

"Slow and steady is the way to achieve results, and we do not kid ourselves that this will get easier as we go along."

The goal is to develop a vehicle called New Shepard, which will launch and land vertically and will carry "a small number of astronauts on a sub-orbital journey into space."

Goddard is presumably named for Robert Goddard, who built and pioneered the modern space era with a 10-foot rocket launched from his aunt's Massachusetts farm in 1926. New Shepard is likely named for Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space.

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Blue Origin also has updated its Web site to include photographs of the company's 280,000-square-foot facility in Kent, where rockets are designed, built and test-fired. The photos emphasize landscaping, nicely appointed interiors and worker amenities — like a bicycle-storage area.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave Blue Origin permission for up to 10 low-altitude test flights in Texas. FAA documents say the company plans a succession of more ambitious launches over the next three years, eventually reaching a target altitude of 60 miles or higher.

Another local billionaire, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, spent $20 million to develop SpaceShipOne. Launched from a carrier plane, the vehicle won the $10 million X Prize by carrying a pilot to the edge of space twice in a single week.

Recording and airline mogul Richard Branson licensed the technology and is developing a spaceport in New Mexico where he plans to offer suborbital flights for $200,000.

But Bezos' less flamboyant approach to the rocket enterprise reflects Blue Origin's motto, displayed for the first time on the company's updated Web site: Gradatim Ferociter, Latin for "Step-by-step, with spirit."

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

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