A major chunk of the philanthropic gift will be used to build a new education centre at the museum that will be called the Bezos Learning Centre, the museum said.
An estimated $130m will go towards building the new centre on the east side of the museum’s plaza on the National Mall and the remaining $70m will be used to support renovations.
Mr Bezos, who has contributed to Smithsonian museums in the past, said in a statement that he wanted to encourage the institution in its “vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers.”
“Every child is born with great potential and it’s inspiration that unlocks that potential,” Mr Bezos said. “My love affair with science, invention and space did that for me and I hope this gift does that for others,” he added.
The Smithsonian Institute, the world’s largest museum, had been reporting losses and laid off at least 200 people last year, bearing the brunt of shutting its museums to visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian was preparing to reopen on 30 July for the first time after it was closed for the public when lockdowns began in March 2020.
“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,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch.
“This historic gift will help the Smithsonian achieve its goal of reaching every classroom in America by creating a world-class learning centre with access and inspiration at its heart,” said Mr Bunch.
The announcement comes as Mr Bezos, the founder of Amazon and spaceflight company Blue Origin, is slated to take a historic trip to space aboard his company’s spaceship New Shepard rocket.
Mr Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO this month to take on a new role as the company’s executive chairman. The richest man in the world – according to an estimate by Forbes – founded Blue Origin two decades ago in 2000.
The company has emerged as the main competitor – among a handful of others in its domain, including Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – to explore a potentially lucrative space tourism sector.
Mr Bezos is set to take the world’s first unpiloted suborbital flight with an all-civilian four-person crew on 20 July. He will be joined by his brother Mark Bezos, an investor and volunteer firefighter.
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