“The War of The Star Lords” sounds like a title worthy of the feud between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. For more than 15 years, the two richest CEOs in the world have faced each other in a latent rivalry. Each defending their respective ambitions of space exploration – Bezos with his Blue Origin and Musk with the most renowned SpaceX. The two are in a race to make space travel more affordable. But with such common interests, the two were almost certain to intersect at some point.
The most recent of their trade came when Musk’s company outbid Bezos’ company Blue Origin, among others, and won a $ 2.89 billion contract with NASA. That would mean SpaceX would be the one to take astronauts to the moon. As if to add salt to the injury, Musk took to Twitter, saying, “NASA Rules!” accompanied by a heart, rocket and star emoji.
As you might expect, Jeff Bezos didn’t take the time to lie down. According to Business Insider, Bezos retaliated via an infographic on Blue Origin’s website, attacking SpaceX and the capabilities of his Starship ship. According to CNBC, the infographic essentially describes the spacecraft as “extremely complex and high risk.” He further adds: “There is an unprecedented number of technologies, developments and operations that have never been done before to bring Starship to the moon.”
Such subtle successes have been going on for quite some time now, and there is apparently no end in sight, which begs the question. Where exactly did it all start? Here’s a brief history of their rivalry and everything that has happened since to break it up.
The dance of the star lords
It may come as a surprise, but the war between the two Titans was not always like this. According to indy100, Bezos and Musk sat down for a meal discussing space in 2004, going over the different approaches their companies had taken in space and why Musk’s SpaceX was ahead of Blue Origin. Obviously, the meeting did not go so well. In Christian Davenport’s book, Space barons, Musk was quoted as saying, “I actually did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored.” Apparently, Musk wasn’t impressed with the engine architecture Blue Origin was trying out. He further added that Space X had already tried some of these ideas and that they “turned out to be really stupid”.
Either way, everything that happened in that meeting was enough to trigger what would be a long-term altercation. And the two have been hit hard ever since. One of the most significant of these took place in 2013 when SpaceX managed to secure the exclusive rights to NASA’s Launchpad, a decision unsuccessfully challenged by Blue Origin and the United Launching Alliance. At the time, Blue Origin had not yet succeeded in creating a spacecraft that could be relied on for suborbital travel, even though it had been over 10 years of work.
A little further down, Musk would challenge a patent granted to Blue Origin or to drones used to land rocket boosters at sea. Musk went so far as to call it old-fashioned in the field of launch and recovery. His company cited previous research that it had already done using techniques similar to those in the Blue Origin patent. Ultimately, the decision was in Space X’s favor as a judge sided with their side against Blue Origin. This led to Jeff’s team withdrawing an important claim from the patent.
The two executives didn’t really shy away from using social media to express their views, often taking to Twitter to brag about their individual achievements. A good example was when the New Shepard rocket landed successfully, and Musk responded to Bezos’ tweet, pointing out that Space X had already had six successful launches three years earlier. Musk has also been notoriously reported to have tweeted that Bezos “can’t put him into orbit (into orbit)” – a low blow, to say the least.
The Space X CEO also took issue with Blue Origins’ hiring techniques, as Musk had to ask his team to filter out “Blue” and “Origin” in their emails. This, according to Musk, was due to Bezos’ team making tactical moves on their top talent by dangling incentives like double pay. Musk told his biographer Ashley Vance this in 2015.
Jeff also didn’t stay silent on the matter, as he was heard mocking Space X’s motivating goal of colonizing Mars and calling it unmotivating. He even went so far as to challenge Musk in 2019 to live on Mount Everest if he really intended to go to Mars.
We are in the same boat … maybe?
Although “The Star Lords” are busy clashing, they’re actually building toward a somewhat similar goal. They both agree that we must first settle on the moon with a permanent residence to facilitate the next stage of conquering Mars. When the New York Times joked about Jeff’s Blue Moon Project and called it “Blue Balls,” Musk responded with a “Stop teasing Jeff (blinking emoji)” tweet. Sarcasm or not, the remark made the joke a little lighter.
According to the Washington Post, Bezos said, “I think if you go to the moon first and make the moon your home, then you can get to Mars more easily.” It’s also worth noting that Bezos’ overall approach is totally different from Musk’s. He plans to export all heavy industries to space, leaving a clean and safe Earth for human habitation.
Musk is aware of the risk involved. He made that clear in 2016, saying, “The first trip to Mars is going to be really, really dangerous. The risk of death will be high. There’s just no way around that, “he added,” it would be basically: are you ready to die? And if it is okay, then you are a candidate to go ”. According to Musk, this risk is essential. It must be undertaken if humanity is to have a better chance for the future other than simply solving day-to-day problems without a clear goal of the direction the whole human race is taking.
While the space feud isn’t near an end, it just might be the kind of healthy competition we need to propel humanity to “higher heights.” Who knows what the future holds?
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