Blue Origin has long embraced its company motto of “Gradatim Ferociter,” or “step by step, ferociously,” a philosophy of very gradual development of technologies and capabilities. That motto is emblazoned on the company’s coat of arms, which includes two tortoises reaching skyward (slowly, presumably.) Company founder Jeff Bezos even had the phrase imprinted on cowboy boots he showed off after an early flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

So, it was a bit jarring to hear Bezos say recently that Blue Origin was being too gradatim, if you will. “Blue Origin needs to be much faster,” he said in an interview with podcaster Lex Fridman in December. “It’s one of the reasons that I left my role as the CEO of Amazon a couple of years ago.”

Many in the space industry had expected Bezos to become more involved with Blue Origin when he resigned as chief executive of the ecommerce giant in 2021. Within weeks, he was on the first crewed flight of New Shepard, seemingly a symbol of a greater role he planned to take at the company. But there were few other signs that Bezos was more heavily involved or otherwise pressing Blue Origin to move faster.

That has changed now. “Blue Origin needs me right now,” he said in the interview, arguing that his increased presence means “adding some energy, some sense of urgency. We need to move much faster, and we’re going to.”

There are signs of change. Bob Smith, the aerospace industry veteran who was chief executive of Blue Origin for six years, left the company late last year. Bezos replaced him with Dave Limp, a former Amazon executive whose responsibilities ranged from the Kindle and Echo consumer devices to the Project Kuiper broadband constellation.

“We’re super-lucky to have Dave,” Bezos said of Limp, returning to that theme of speed. “You’re going to see us move faster there.”

That desire comes at a critical time for Blue Origin. For much of its long history — the company was founded in 2000, two years before SpaceX — it had effectively no customers and was funded exclusively by Bezos. It could afford a slower pace of development so long as its founder, and funder, was satisfied.

That is no longer the case. With the BE-4 engine now flight proven on the successful inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur, Blue Origin must scale up production of that engine for both ULA and its own New Glenn, which is slated to make its long-delayed first launch later this year. Blue Origin needs New Glenn to serve customers like Amazon’s Project Kuiper and to enter the national security launch market. The company also must ramp up work on Blue Moon, the lunar lander it is developing for NASA’s Artemis program, and on Orbital Reef, a commercial space station; both need to be ready by late this decade to meet NASA’s needs.

For Bezos, that means a shift in emphasis from the long to the short term. He has frequently talked about his long-term vision of millions of people living and working in space and moving heavy industry off the planet, achievements he acknowledges he won’t see in his lifetime. But they may not happen at all — at least on rockets and spacecraft sporting Blue Origin logos — if the company can’t execute on its various program now.

Bezos says he will provide that urgency, and he has a track record of doing so elsewhere. Amazon started nearly three decades ago in Bezos’s garage and is now one of the biggest companies in the world, thanks in large part to his drive and determination. The question will be whether he can provide that same focus in a different industry while also not running the company on a day-to-day basis.

Blue Origin’s future may rest on the company being less “gradatim” and more “ferociter.” The tortoises on the company’s coat of arms will need to learn how to run.

This article first appeared in the January 2024 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...