Scene Last Night: Jeff Bezos Eats Gator, Elon Musk Space

Jeff Bezos tried the alligator meat at the 110th Explorers Club Annual Dinner.

“It tastes like chicken,” the founder and chief executive officer of Inc. said Saturday night as he put some goat on his plate. Other guests bit on tarantulas and sipped martinis with eyeballs.

“There’s a lot of disgusting food here,” Bezos observed.

Still, it wasn’t the most exotic attraction at the March 15 event at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. In front of a fireplace sat three pieces of an Apollo F-1 rocket engine recovered by a search-and-expedition team led by Bezos.

The gas generator combustor, turbine and heat exchanger that helped send the U.S. to the moon, while banged up and melted in sections, gleamed from a cleaning after spending 40 years at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bezos recalled the moment he first saw the parts. “It felt spectacular,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s years of planning, a lot of work, a bunch of people, a big team of professionals. We’d only seen the objects prior to that on the side-scanning sonar, so to see them for the first time visually was just extraordinary.”

The recovered objects will soon be shared with the public as Bezos dreamed when he set out on the expedition. “NASA has agreed to display one at the Smithsonian and another one is going to be at the Museum of Flight in Seattle,” Bezos said on the stage of the ballroom later in the evening.

Fellow club member and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin had called him there to accept a citation of merit on behalf of the F-1 recovery team.

‘Recapturing’ History

Bezos returned the club flag issued for expeditions (60 of which were issued last year) and traced the roots of the project to when he was 5 years old, watching Apollo 11 on the living room TV with his parents and grandparents.

The recovery mission was about “recapturing some history and making some history at the same time,” Bezos said. “I can tell you for sure, I had a lot of fun doing it.”

As for the weird food: “I still think I’ve got cockroach in my teeth,” he said.

The program emphasized technological exploration, honoring Elon Musk, founder of rocket company SpaceX. While not an Explorers Club member, Musk’s plans to eventually offer trips to Mars would qualify him, said club President Alan H. Nichols.

In a video made for the occasion, cosmologist Stephen Hawking offered a justification for sending humans into space.

“Not to leave planet Earth would be like castaways on a desert island not trying to escape,” Hawking said. “If the human race is to continue for another million years, we have to spread out into space. Life on Earth is fragile.”

MakerBot, Shutterstock

Bezos’s company included his wife, MacKenzie, who said the trip to New York had her reminiscing about their days at hedge fund D.E. Shaw, and her husband’s brother Mark, a member of the expedition team and an executive at the Robin Hood Foundation. “It’s remarkable how sturdy these things are, they certainly do tell a story,” Mark Bezos said of the F-1 engine parts.

Bre Pettis, founder and CEO of MakerBot Industries LLC, in which Bezos Expeditions is an investor, and Jon Oringer of Shutterstock Inc. were among the technologists assembled.

“What I like about this event is that there’s a lot of failure in the room, which means there’s a lot of people trying,” Pettis said. “To be an explorer you have to accept failure as a pretty significant option and still want to go on the adventure.”

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