Why Are People Obsessed With the Shape of Jeff Bezos' Rocket?
Jeff Bezos' launch aboard one of his company Blue Origin's New Shepard rockets on Tuesday, July 20, has garnered a great deal of attention online, though arguably for the wrong reasons.
The impressive feat in space engineering — the first human spaceflight for Bezos' space tourism company — was overshadowed in part by discussions surrounding Jeff Bezos' tax payments, or lack thereof.
Bizarrely, the discussion also focused largely on the "anthropomorphic" shape of the New Shepard rocket that took him and three others above the Kármán Line and into suborbital space.
But why describe the nature of the online memes and discussion when we can simply show you?
Just saw photos of The Blue Origin Rocket.— Jordan Cieciwa (@FitCityJordan) July 20, 2021
Pretty sure Austin Powers predicted it. pic.twitter.com/vWL0Yu5NHi
We say bizarrely because Russia's Angara rocket, SpaceX's Falcon 9, and practically any other rocket for that matter is built in roughly the same shape, due to obvious reasons related to wind resistance and aerodynamics.
Blue Origin's 'hammerhead rocket' turns heads
Still, news outlets such as The Guardian called on experts to explain the shape of New Shepard — which is admittedly a little more phallic in shape than most of its peers.
"There’s a long history of what we call hammerhead rockets," where the [crew] capsule is wider in diameter than the booster, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told The Guardian.
Laura Forczyk, the owner of Astralytical, a space analytics company, explained that New Shepard’s interior was designed to "maximize the interior volume" in order to hold six passengers.
A look at the interior of the New Shepard's RSS First Step crew capsule, used for Tuesday's launch, gives an idea as to why the shape is larger than on other rockets.
Blue Origin's goal with its space tourism service is to allow passengers to experience the life-changing overview effect, in which astronauts experience a shift in their worldview after viewing the Earth's relatively tiny blue atmosphere against the dark expanse of space.
So the simple explanation for the shape of New Shepard is that it needs a large crew capsule to facilitate that effect with large windows.
Other than that we can only speculate as to why the conversation revolving around Bezos' space launch was so disproportionately focused on the shape of the rocket, when compared to other recent high-profile launches, such as SpaceX's first astronaut launch last year.
It's likely down to a number of reasons ranging from Bezos' slight likeness to Dr. Evil, his shirking of tax payments, a perceived lack of class from Blue Origin on social media following Richard Branson's launch into space, and ire caused by Amazon working conditions — Bezos was, after all, the focus of a petition to deny him re-entry to Earth.
Perhaps Stephen Colbert described the public mood best when he stated on the Late Show that, "billionaires and their rockets end up looking just like each other."