The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is about to get a lot more air, and a lot more space, thanks to Jeff Bezos.
The founder and executive chair of Amazon will donate a whopping $200 million to the Smithsonian museum, its largest donation since the founding gift from namesake James Smithson in 1846, according to a statement. The gift is divided into two parts: the first $70 million will go toward renovating the Washington, D.C., facility on the National Mall, and the remaining $130 million is earmarked to launch an education center.
“Almost 175 years ago, Mr. Smithson’s inaugural gift laid the groundwork for this innovative approach, bringing together private philanthropy and public funding,” Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch said in a statement. “Today, as we emerge from a pivotal moment in history, Jeff’s donation builds on that original tradition and will help us reimagine and transform the Smithsonian.”
Bezos has previously given smaller gifts to the National Air and Space Museum and is a founding donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, another Smithsonian institution. (His big-organization, big-dollar-value approach to philanthropy is markedly different from that of his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott.)
The new education center, which will be named the Bezos Learning Center, will be erected on the east side of the institution’s plaza on the National Mall and will focus on programs and activities encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). It will draw all of the Smithsonian museums’ collections relating to STEAM and will focus on serving under-resourced communities, the institution said.
The work on the museum’s existing building will include technological upgrades and the integration of “interactive experiences.”
Bezos’s gift, while astronomical in scale, makes sense given his interest in the field. In addition to founding Amazon, the billionaire also founded the aerospace company Blue Origin, and wrote on Instagram, “ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space.” Yesterday, following the news of his donation to the Smithsonian, the billionaire announced he would board the world’s first unpiloted suborbital flight next week, according to Reuters (take that, Richard Branson).
The four-person, all civilian crew—which includes his brother Mark Bezos, 82-year-old female aviator Wally Funk, and an unidentified individual who paid a whopping $28 million for the privilege—will climb aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on Tuesday, July 20.
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