The world saw a lot of cool tech on display Tuesday morning during Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin’s first civilian-crewed space flight. But one of the highlights were those Rivian Motors all-electric SUV’s hauling the newly-minted astronauts to and from their space capsule. Rivian Motors owes at least part of its existence to a $2 million business development grant approved by the Florida legislature back in 2010.
The company became Florida political campaign fodder in 2016 when it appeared that Rivian had just taken the cash and promptly left the state.
At the time the grant money was approved, Florida lawmakers were trying to find ways to keep high-tech engineers and technical talent from leaving Florida’s Space Coast while the Space Shuttle Program was winding down. Two million to help jump-start a Florida-based electric car company seemed like just the ticket.
Despite our own rather sour reporting on the company back in 2016 (we’ve since added several updates and corrections), it turns out that the company did deliver the working prototype and met the conditions outlined by the legislature. Unfortunately for Florida, Rivian also determined that Detroit, and later Central Illinois, would be a better fit for a car manufacturer. The company pulled out of Florida but kept on innovating, ultimately winning the backing of Bezos and Amazon. Today, the company is starting to turn heads as a rugged alternative to Elon Musk’s well-known electric car company, Tesla.
During the Blue Origin live broadcast on Tuesday morning, Bezos and his fellow crewmates, which included an 18-year old physics student, an 81-year old woman, and Bezo’s own brother, were all transported to the launch pad by an all-electric Rivian SUV in full Blue Origin 01 mission livery. The vehicle, which appeared to be the Rivian R1S, sported some special equipment on the luggage rack as it made its way to the launchpad.
Several more Rivian SUV’s carted technicians, family, and media guests to the landing site after the New Shephard capsule touched down safely at its planned target, a west Texas corn ranch.
While Florida taxpayers aren’t reaping the benefits of jobs and a flourishing electric automotive industry, it’s clear the cash spent trying to kick-start the Space Coast economy was put to good use.