Bezos pays $200M to get his name on Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum

Jeff Bezos pays $200million to get his name put on the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum for at least 50 years – after going into space once

  • Jeff Bezos paid $200 million to get this name put on the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum for at least 50 years 
  • The donation is the largest gift ever given to the Smithsonian 
  • The terms of agreement does not include a ‘moral clause,’ that would allow his name to be removed if he displayed behavior to tarnish the museum’s reputation
  • Bezos blasted off into space in July 2021 – a week after the gift was agreed to 
  • The majority of the money will go towards the Bezos Learning Center, a new science, technology, engineering and arts (STEAM) education center 

Jeff Bezos has paid $200 million to name a new branch of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, after the Amazon founder traveled to space just once.

The billionaire will have his name displayed on the new Bezos Learning Center and several other locations around the museum for at least 50 years, according to the terms of the agreement obtained by MarketWatch.

The donation is the largest one ever given to the Smithsonian. It will cover the cost of renovations and a new science, technology, engineering and arts (STEAM) education center. It is set to be in a new building connected to the East Wing of the National Air and Space on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Along with the STEAM center, a major portion of the renovations will focus on the museum’s existing restaurant area this spring and replace it with the new building, with the aim of opening it in 2026 to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Air and Space Museum’s National Mall building and the 250th anniversary of the United States, a spokeswoman said.

The Amazon and Blue Origin founder’s name will also be etched onto a new glass sculpture to honor all those who have donated $10 million or more, displayed on a wall in the Distinguished Benefactors Room in the Smithsonian Castle, another donor wall at the National Air and Space Museum’s Virginia location.   

‘The Bezos Learning Center will support our mission of inspiring the next generation of innovators, explorers and researchers,’ the museum first announced in July 2021.

Bezos blasted off to space in his Blue Origin suborbital rocket about a week later, on July 20.  

Jeff Bezos donated $200million to The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum after visiting space just one time with his aerospace company, Blue Origin

The Smithsonian recognized Bezo’s gift as the largest donation ever made to the institute

Bezos became the second billionaire to launch himself into orbit last summer 

Bezos took off from the base at Van Horn, Texas, with his brother Mark, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen – the word’s first paying customer to buy his flight, and 82-year-old Wally Funk, who passed NASA’s space program in the 1960s but never made it to space because the women’s flight was canceled. 

They ascended for four minutes before the New Shepard rocket booster separated from their capsule, leaving them floating in zero gravity for four minutes. The 10 minute journey cost $5.5billion – $550million per minute. 

Bezos’ Blue Origin crew traveled 66 miles above the surface of Earth – 13 miles higher than Virgin Galactic billionaire Branson. 

He says his goal is to move the world’s major industries that are damaging the planet to space in order to preserve Earth’s environment. Bezos wants to develop space travel like aviation pioneers did with commercial airliners, and says eventually, it’ll become more affordable. 

Bezos’ name will also be associated with a new program for middle and high school students called the Bezos Science and Technology Challenge and a program called the Bezos Empowered Educators, which will ‘accelerate and expand integrated STEAM education programs nationally, starting locally in the D.C. metro region,’ according to the agreement. 

Steve Case, chair of the Smithsonian, announced the news in a video release sharing the museum’s plan to ‘take the Smithsonian into every home and to every classroom’ by expanding the virtual capabilities. 

Astronaut Jim Lovell thanked Bezos for ‘paying it forward to the next generation’ who he hopes will be inspired as he was. 

The agreement does not include a ‘morals clause,’ a provision that would allow the Smithsonian to terminate the naming rights if Bezos were to display any behavior that would tarnish the reputation of the institute.

The terms also clearly stated that the $200 million would not be handed over and no part of the pledge would need to be fulfilled if the Smithsonian Board of Regents did not agree to use Bezos’s name.

A Smithsonian spokesperson noted that it is ‘absolutely standard for a gift of this size’ to include naming rights but the decision to forgo a ‘moral clause’ has been controversial.  

Steve Case, chair of the Smithsonian, announced that the donation will allow the museum to expand its virtual capabilities to reach children at home and in the classroom

The 17-member Board of Regents is established by Congress and always includes the Chief Justice of the United States and the Vice President of the United States. 

The Smithsonian is required to begin using the Bezos name ‘immediately’ despite the fact that the Bezos Learning Center will not be completed ‘for some time.’

As part of his agreement with the Smithsonian, Bezos will also be granted written approval of any press releases or public announcements about the gift, which a spokesperson also noted is standard procedure.  

Large donations typically allow for a 20 year expiration for naming rights but Bezos was allowed a 50 year naming period due to the size of the donation and the fact that the learning center is brand new and expected to last longer than 20 years, a spokeswoman said. 

Bezos will fulfill the pledge over four years with four equal annual payments of $50 million each and is allowed to use stock transfers, which would allow him a tax benefit. 

The entrepreneur is currently estimated to have a net worth of $175.7 billion. 

He stepped down as CEO of Amazon in July 2021 to continue to expand into other areas, including space exploration. Bezos has donated to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in the past but never to this extent.

Critics have pointed to the Sackler family whose name has been removed from a multitude of museums and other institutions they funded with the money they gained from manufacturing and selling OxyContin through Purdue Pharma. 

The Sacklers have continuously denied any wrongdoing in connection to the opioid epidemic that’s killed some 500,000 people since 1999 and has been attributed to their company. 

 The majority of Bezos’ donation will go towards the Bezos Learning Center: a new science, technology, engineering and arts (STEAM) education center. Pictured: A children’s group being taught at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum

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