Brazen egos fighting each other across the cosmos? Check over.
Science fiction nerds who have definitely watched too much Star Trek? Check over.
Humanity’s next chapter in a space in the hands of insanely rich tech billionaires happily embracing NASA’s tax bills? Check over.
This is Mission Control: We’re ready to go!
Just a month after Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket yet – the 400-foot-long, $67 million Starship – into space, only to explode in midair after just four minutes of flight, a phoenix is off rose from the flames to bravely conquer it in search of space travel.
At least that’s how bitter rival Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sees it.
On Friday, NASA awarded its space exploration company Blue Origin the coveted $3.4 billion to build a “lunar lander” that would take astronauts to the moon.
As part of NASA’s Artemis V mission, planned for 2029, the lunar lander will collect astronauts from a NASA outpost orbiting the moon, bring them to the lunar surface — and then bring them back again.
With Musk’s company already working to do exactly the same for the Artemis program, we are now faced with the prospect of two of Silicon Valley’s most controversial figures going head-to-head in a bizarre new 21st-century space race.
On Friday, NASA awarded Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company Blue Origin the coveted $3.4 billion to build a “lunar lander” that would take astronauts to the moon. (Pictured: Bezos after a space flight in 2021). But with Elon Musk’s company already working to do exactly the same for the Artemis program, we now face the prospect of two of Silicon Valley’s most controversial figures going head-to-head in a bizarre new space race. (Pictured: Musk in 2021).
And this is no ordinary commercial competition. These are two fiercely contested international business giants, both of whom hold the title of ‘World’s Richest Person’, and whose bitter rivalry dates back two decades.
Most recently, in 2021, SpaceX beat Blue Origin and another US company, Dynetics, and won a $2.9 billion contract to build a lunar landing version of its giant Starship rocket – dubbed the Starship HLS (Human Landing System) – to bring man back to the moon for the first time since 1972.
Last month’s SpaceX explosion was an early unmanned test flight. The launch date for the first manned flight, Artemis III, is already planned for December 2025. Musk will also provide a lander for Artemis IV in 2028.
Bezos was furious with the decision to give Musk the first contract — especially since NASA had been expected to award two contracts. Blue Origin even tried to sue NASA in federal court but lost.
Then last September, after receiving a larger budget from Congress, NASA announced it would reopen the competition (hence Friday’s news about Blue Origin’s new contract).
NASA has long faced criticism from US politicians who question whether government contracts are awarded to private companies run by billionaires like Bezos (worth $138.5 billion) and Musk (worth $138.5 billion). of $180.7 billion) to pursue their space fantasies represents good value for money. (Though Blue Origin at least insists it will contribute far more to the project than it gets from NASA.)
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has also emphasized that having both Musk and Bezos in office makes perfect sense.
“We want more competition,” he said on Friday. ‘It means you’re reliable.’ You have backups.’
Last month’s SpaceX explosion was an early unmanned test flight. The launch date for the first manned flight, Artemis III, was already scheduled for December 2025. (Pictured: Musk sat in the control room during last month’s failed launch).
But of course it also means there will be a lot more sparks between two men who are used to coming out on top.
Bezos, now 59, founded Blue Origin in 2000 – while Musk, 51, founded Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, in 2002.
A Star Trek fanatic since childhood, Bezos has long harbored ambitions for humanity’s future in space. He believes that the earth’s resources will inevitably be exhausted one day and that mankind must therefore colonize the universe, possibly in floating cylindrical tubes miles long. For some time now, he’s been spending at least $1 billion a year on his rocket company.
Musk is now also a passionate science fiction fan. And he, too, shares similar views on the need to look beyond Earth — though he argues that human survival ultimately depends on the establishment of a “self-sustaining civilization” on Mars.
In the first of just a few moments they met, the two were having dinner in 2004 to talk about their shared goal of developing reusable rockets — seen as a crucial way to reduce the tremendous cost of spaceflight — they did but reportedly didn’t join in from the start.
Musk said he felt Bezos was “on the wrong track” with his rocket design ideas.
“Dude, we tried that and that turned out to be really stupid, so I’m telling you, don’t act stupid like us,” Musk recalled of his rival, claiming he did his best to offer good advice ‘ Bezos largely ‘ignored’ him.
Observers point out that the two have fundamentally different approaches to space travel, which is also reflected in their company mottos.
In the first of just a few moments they met, the two were having dinner in 2004 (pictured) to discuss their common goal of developing reusable rockets. Observers point out that the two have fundamentally different approaches to space travel. (Pictured: A SpaceX engine test in February).
Blue Origin’s ‘crest’ features two turtles and the motto ‘Gradatim Ferociter’, Latin for ‘step by step, wild’.
SpaceX’s motto is: “Heads down.” “Plow through the line” – reflects Musk’s more bullish, less cautious philosophy.
So it certainly came as no surprise that SpaceX became the first company to launch a rocket, Falcon 1 (named, of course, after the famous Millennium Falcon from Star Wars), just four years after the two first met in 2008.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard, its first reusable “suborbital launch vehicle,” would not reach the edge of space until 2015.
In those early years, their rivalry remained mostly private, though Musk occasionally complained about Blue Origin’s tactic of poaching its employees by doubling their salaries.
Open hostilities then erupted in 2013 when Blue Origin filed an official protest against SpaceX’s efforts to win exclusive use of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center launch pad for its own rockets. To Bezos’ anger, the government ruled in Musk’s favor.
The following year, it was Musk’s turn to call the lawyers when SpaceX challenged Blue Origin’s newly granted patent for landing rockets on water. SpaceX insisted the alleged invention was “old hat” in the rocket building industry. Here, too, US officials finally sided with Musk.
In 2019, Bezos was particularly teased at his rival, poking fun at his dream of colonizing Mars in a private lecture: “My friends who want to move to Mars?” I say, “Do me a favor: go in first Year round to the top of Mount Everest and see if you like it because compared to Mars it’s a garden paradise.”
In the early years, their rivalry remained mostly private, though Musk occasionally complained about Blue Origin’s tactic of poaching its employees by doubling their salaries. (Pictured: model of what the Blue Origin launch vehicle will look like on the moon). Open hostilities then erupted in 2013 when Blue Origin filed an official protest against SpaceX’s efforts to win exclusive use of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center launch pad for its own rockets. (Pictured: model of what the SpaceX lander will look like on the moon).
Three months later, Musk returned fire, this time with his weapon of choice: Twitter.
Following Blue Origin’s unveiling of his first lunar lander, Musk tweeted a picture of the spacecraft, Blue Moon, this time changing his name to “Blue Balls.” Imagine JFK inflicting the same sort of playground-level insult on Soviet rival Nikita Khrushchev during the first space race of the 1960s.
But unfortunately, critics say, such childish sniper behavior is why much of the return-to-the-moon mission — and beyond — is being left to a few boastful tycoons who seem to see spaceflight as just another avenue to their missions’ superiority .
Things got particularly bad in 2021, when NASA, just months after Musk overtook Bezos to become the world’s richest person, awarded SpaceX the $2.9 billion contract for the lunar lander.
Bezos angrily claimed NASA was “compromising” America’s return to the moon by quashing competition.
Musk’s answer? Back to the schoolboy dirt on Twitter with “I can’t make it to orbit lol.”
After losing his court battle to overturn NASA’s decision, Bezos licked his wounds and moved on. He boosted Blue Origin’s public acclaim by taking celebrities (like William Shatner, star of Jeff’s beloved Star Trek) to zero gravity at the edge of space.
This sparked complaints in some quarters that space travel was less of a pressing concern for the super-rich than many of the issues we face here on Earth. Last but not least, climate change is one of them – and experts say that an 11-minute space flight can emit up to 75 tons of emissions, more than the average human produces in a lifetime.
Bezos (pictured right) boosted Blue Origin’s public profile by taking celebrities like William Shatner (star of Jeff’s beloved Star Trek, pictured second from left) to zero gravity at the edge of space. Shatner experiences zero gravity aboard the Blue Origin flight in 2021.
But such criticism is unlikely to deter Musk and Bezos if they believe they are on a mission to save humanity.
Who will win?
Blue Moon insists it’s not a race, but Bezos would say so, according to industry insiders, given the lead Musk already has ahead of him with his lunar landers set to launch years ahead of the Bezos version.
On paper, Blue Moon is also far behind technically. They haven’t even done the test launch of a serious “heavy lift” rocket capable of, say, carrying people and payloads into space. And sources say Musk is just way more ambitious when it comes to space, while Bezos still sees it as a hobby of sorts.
However, Musk is also far more impulsive. And like the slow but sure reptiles on his corporate crest, Jeff Bezos could still prove to be the tortoise that overtakes the hare.