Alumnus Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin: ‘Space Will Soon Be a Place Where People Live and Work’

October 12, 2021

bob smith ada webEarlier this year, Blue Origin — the spaceflight company formed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2000 — successfully launched its first-ever crewed mission, taking another major step forward in its mission to lower the cost of access to space through reusable spacecraft and rocket engines. For UT alumnus and Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, the company’s mission represents a full-circle opportunity to provide a new generation with the same inspiration he received from earlier aerospace accomplishments.

“I went straight into aerospace engineering as an undergraduate and I can’t even explain why, other than the fact that, like many people of my generation, I was really inspired by Apollo,” Smith said. “My father was a pilot during the Korean War, and I think that love of flying, amplified by Apollo, was a large contributor to my interest and passion for this field. So it was never a choice for me – I have always wanted to be in the space industry.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, master’s degree from Brown University and Ph.D. from UT Austin, Smith served for eight years at The Aerospace Corporation in a variety of roles, working on launch vehicles and some of the first GPS satellites before becoming the corporation’s director of NASA Programs. He then led several NASA Shuttle Upgrades Program at United Space Alliance for five years before spending 13 years at Honeywell Aerospace as chief technology officer and, ultimately, as president of the mechanical systems and components division.

“The variety of my career experience has been really valuable for me because I first got to work for a federal research center, then went on to a government contractor and finally a large commercial aerospace business,” Smith said. “So, having that depth and breadth of business and technical experience gave me a good leadership foundation before coming to Blue Origin.” In describing his excitement about leading Blue Origin, Smith notes that his mother said it best when she pointed out, “This is the job that 12-year-old Bobby would have wanted!” His passion for Blue Origin’s mission is certainly palpable as he discusses the company’s efforts to get to orbit easily, inexpensively and frequently.

“Once you get to orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere,” Smith said. “NASA’s shuttle program was on the right track in terms of promoting the idea that reusable spacecraft was the path that needed to be taken. Companies like Blue Origin are standing on the shoulders of those incredible accomplishments from decades ago, and now it’s our responsibility to build the infrastructure and sustainable capabilities that get us into orbit on a regular basis.”

Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket
New Glenn, Blue Origin's orbital rocket, will launch from Cape Canaveral, FL.

New Glenn, named after astronaut John Glenn, represents Blue Origin’s next big step. With fully reusable components that allow the vehicle to be cost-competitive and highly available without sacrificing reliability, New Glenn will make orbital spaceflight both safer and more efficient. Its debut launch is set for next year.

“Space will stop being as exotic as it has been — it will still be a remarkable place, but it will actually become a destination,” Smith said. “It will be a place where people live and work, and not only those who are sponsored by governments. Becoming an astronaut to get to space will be unnecessary.”