Shortly before he died, John Glenn, the first American to fly in low Earth orbit, wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos, who is, among other things, the CEO of the commercial Space company Blue Origin. The letter consisted of a figure of space exploration’s glorious past reaching out to space’s commercial future to render praise and encouragement. Bezo’s current rocket ship, the suborbital New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, has flown multiple times in the skies over Texas.

Blue Origin is currently working on the New Glenn, a reusable orbital spacecraft. Glenn pronounced himself honored by having his name on a rocket.

The letter reads, in part, "As the original Glenn, I can tell you I see the day coming when people will board spacecraft the same way millions of us now board jetliners. When that happens, it will be largely because of your achievements this year."

Glenn, who also flew on a space shuttle mission in 1998, spent much of his life as a United States senator representing the state of Ohio.

But he is most famous as one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and that three orbit flight that came within a hair's breadth of tragedy when the heat shield of his Mercury capsule became loose. He also became an inspiration to a generation of space entrepreneurs like Bezos and his rival SpaceX’s Elon Musk whose imaginations were set ablaze by the early race to the moon. When the early dreams of NASA leading the way to settle the Moon and exploring Mars faltered due to bad politics, Bezos and others have stepped into the breach to expand the high frontier commercially.

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Ironically, NASA has noticed these commercial upstarts. Starting during the administration of George W. Bush, the space agency has formed partnerships with companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX to privatize space travel to and from low Earth orbit. Most space policy experts acknowledge that NASA’s plans to explore deep space will include similar partnerships to take advantage of the flexibility and the culture of innovation that resides in the commercial space sector.

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