“The War of The Star Lords” sounds like a title befitting the feud between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. For over 15 years, the two of the world’s wealthiest CEOs have gone at each other in a simmering rivalry. Each one defending their respective space exploration ambitions – Bezos with his Blue Origin and Musk with the more renowned SpaceX. The two are in a race to basically make space travel more affordable. But with such common interests, the two were almost certain to cross paths at some point.
The most recent of their exchanges happened when Musk’s company outbid Bezos’s company, Blue Origin, among others, and won a $2.89 billion contract with NASA. This would mean SpaceX would be the one to take astronauts to the moon. As if to add salt to injury, Musk took to Twitter, stating: “NASA Rules!” accompanied with a heart, rocket, and star emoji.
As you may expect, Jeff Bezos did not take it lying down. According to Business Insider, Bezos retaliated through an infographic on Blue Origin’s website, attacking SpaceX and the capabilities of its Starship craft. As per CNBC, the infographic basically describes the Starship as being “Immensely complex and high risk.” It further adds, “There is an unprecedented number of technologies, developments, and operations that have never been done before for Starship to land on the moon.”
Such subtle hits have gone on for quite some time now, and there is seemingly no end in sight, which raises the question. Exactly where did it all begin? Here is a brief history of their rivalry and all that has transpired since to break it down.
The dance of the star lords
It might come as a surprise, but the war between the two Titans has not always been like so. According to indy100, Bezos and Musk had sat down for a meal to discuss space in 2004, going over the different approaches their companies had taken to space and why Musk’s SpaceX had gone ahead of Blue Origin. Clearly, the meeting didn’t go so well. In Christian Davenport’s book, The Space Barons, Musk was quoted saying, “I actually did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored.” Apparently, Musk was unimpressed with the engine architecture that Blue Origin was trying out. He further added that Space X had already tried some of those ideas, and they “turned out to be really dumb.”
Either way, whatever transpired in that meeting was enough to trigger what would be a long-term altercation. And the two have been taking jabs at each other since. One of the more prominent of them was in 2013 when SpaceX managed to secure exclusive rights to the NASA Launchpad, a move that was contested against by Blue Origin and United Launching Alliance in vain. At the time, Blue Origin was yet to succeed in creating a spacecraft that could be relied upon for a suborbital trip, even though they had over 10 years of work put into it.
A bit further down the line, Musk would contest a patent awarded to Blue Origin or drone ships used for landing rocket boosters out in the sea. Musk went as far as terming it old-fashioned in the launching and recovery field. His company cited prior research they had already done using techniques similar to the ones in the Blue Origin’s Patent. Ultimately, the decision went in Space X’s favor as a judge sided with them over Blue Origin. This led to Jeff’s team withdrawing a significant claim from the patent.
The Battle on social media
The two execs have not exactly been shy about using social media to air their views, often taking to Twitter to boast about their individual feats. A good example was when The New Shepard rocket landed successfully, and Musk responded to Bezos’s tweet, pointing out that Space X had already had six successful launches three years earlier. Musk was also famously reported tweeting that Bezos “can’t get it up(to orbit)” – a low blow, to say the least.
Space X CEO has also taken issue with Blue Origins hiring techniques as Musk had to get his team to filter “Blue” and “Origin” in their emails. This, according to Musk, was because Bezos’ team was making tactical moves on their top talent by dangling incentives like double salaries. Musk said this to his biographer Ashley Vance in 2015.
Jeff has not been silent on the matter, too, as he has been heard making fun of Space X’s motivating goal of colonizing Mars and calling it un-motivating. He even went as far as challenging Musk in 2019 to live on Mt. Everest if he really intended to go to Mars.
We are in this together … perhaps?
Though ‘The Star Lords’ are busy going at each other, they are actually building toward a somewhat similar objective. They both agree that we need to first settle on the moon with permanent residence to ease the next step 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 (winking emoji)” tweet. Sarcasm or not, the remark did make the joke a bit lighter.
According to The Washington Post, Bezos said, “I think that if you go to the moon first, and make the moon your home, then you can get to Mars more easily.” Also notable is that Bezos’s entire approach is totally different from Musk’s. He envisions exporting all the heavy industries to space, leaving a clean Earth safe for human habitation.
Musk is aware of the risk involved. He clearly pointed it out in 2016, saying, “the first journey to Mars is going to be really very dangerous. The risk of fatality will be high. There’s just no way around it,” he added, “it would be basically: Are you prepared to die? And if that’s OK, then you’re a candidate for going”. According to Musk, this risk is essential. It must be undertaken if humanity is to have a better chance for the future other than just solving daily problems with no clear objective of where the entire human race is headed.
While the feud for space may not be anywhere near its end, it might just be the kind of healthy competition we need to propel humanity to ‘greater heights.’ Who knows what the future has in store?
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