Tom Leonard reveals the dark side of the 20-year feud between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos as Bezos wins a $3.4 billion contract to compete against Musk in putting man back on the moon, raising the question: Who will prevail in this conflict of the galactic billionaires’ egos?
Outrageous egos battling each other across the cosmos? Check.
Sci-fi nerds who’ve definitely watched too much Star Trek? Check.
Humanity’s next chapter in a space left in the hands of insanely rich tech billionaires happy to take NASA’s tax-payer billions? Check.
This is Mission Control: We have lift-off!
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Just a month after Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket to date – the 400-ft long, $67 million Starship – only for it to explode mid-air just four minutes into flight, a phoenix has risen from the flames to bravely take on the quest for space travel.
Or at least, that may be how bitter rival Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos sees it.
As part of NASA’s Artemis V mission, scheduled for 2029, the lunar lander will collect astronauts from a NASA outpost orbiting the Moon, take them down to the lunar surface – and then bring them back again.
But, given that Musk’s company is already working on doing precisely the same thing for the Artemis program, we now face the prospect of two of Silicon Valley’s most contentious figures competing head-on in a bizarre new 21st-Century space race.
And this is no ordinary commercial contest. These are two ultra-competitive international business titans, both of whom have held the title of world’s richest person, and whose fierce rivalry goes back two decades.
Most recently, in 2021, SpaceX beat Blue Origin and another US company, Dynetics, to win a $2.9 billion contract to build a lunar-lander version of its vast Starship rocket – called the Starship HLS (Human Landing System) – to put man back on the Moon for the first time since 1972.
Last month’s SpaceX explosion was of an early unmanned test flight, with the lift-off date for the first manned flight, Artemis III, scheduled for as early as December 2025. Musk will also provide a lander for Artemis IV in 2028.
Bezos had been furious at the decision to award the first contract to Musk – 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 securing a larger budget from Congress, NASA announced it was reopening the competition (hence Friday’s news of Blue Origin’s new contract).
NASA has long faced criticism from US politicians questioning whether doling out government contracts to private companies run by billionaires like Bezos (worth $138.5 billion) and Musk ($180.7 billion) to indulge their space travel fantasies represents good value for money. (Though Blue Origin, at least, insists it will be contributing far more to the project than it will be getting from NASA.)
NASA administrator Bill Nelson has also stressed that having both Musk and Bezos on the job makes perfect sense.
‘We want more competition,’ he said on Friday. ‘It means that you have reliability. You have backups.’
Zuckerberg has shut down the Metaverse and diverted the money to a real-life competitor of Elon Musk’s Twitter. His fortune has grown by about $44 billion this year.