The Rivalry Between Elon Musk And Jeff Bezos Shows The Cutthroat Business Of Space Exploration
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Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – the two richest people in the world – have a long-running rivalry. The two business magnates are competitors for being the wealthiest individuals on the planet, as well as, adversaries in the space exploration sector with their aerospace companies: SpaceX and Blue Origin. The rivalry between Bezos and Musk dates back for years, but has escalated in recent months.
Utilizing his Amazon empire, Bezos founded Blue Origin in Sept. 2000. In May 2002, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. – later to be named SpaceX – through the sales of Zip2 to Compaq for $300 million in 1999 and PayPal to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. To start his space exploration endeavor, Musk cold-called Jim Cantrell – who previously worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.
Cantrell told Wired about Musk’s winning pitch that got him onboard with SpaceX: “I’m Elon Musk, I’m an internet billionaire, I founded PayPal and X.com. I sold X.com to Compaq for $165 million in cash and I could spend the rest of my life on a beach drinking Mai Tais, but I decided that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species to survive and I want to do something with my money to show that humanity can do that and I need Russian rockets and that’s why I’m calling you.”
The fledgling rocket builders were reportedly photographed together at a dinner in 2004, according to Trung Phan – a writer for the business newsletter The Hustle.
1/ In 2004, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos met for a meal to discuss space.
It was one of their few in-person interactions.
The conversation they had perfectly captures the different approaches they've taken to space exploration.
Here's the story 🧵 pic.twitter.com/g8hAsEj3d4
— Trung Phan (@TrungTPhan) March 1, 2021
The dinner apparently didn’t go swimmingly, and the outspoken Musk claimed Bezos was “barking up the wrong tree” about rockets.
“We talked about rocket architectures,” Musk said. “It was very clear technically he was barking up the wrong tree, and I tried to give the best advice I could.”
“Some of the engine architectures they were peering were the wrong evolutionary path,” the Tesla CEO added.
“I actually did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored,” Musk said of the meeting to Christian Davenport for his book The Space Barons.
In 2013, SpaceX won a NASA contract to lease the historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida over Blue Origin.
From NBC News:
Pad 39A has served as the starting point for space missions since the 1960s, including Apollo 11 in 1969, the shuttle Columbia’s first flight in 1981 and the shuttle Atlantis’ last mission in 2011. After the retirement of the shuttle fleet, NASA determined that it no longer needed the pad. The space agency decided to hand management of 39A over to a commercial operator that could upgrade the facility, saving taxpayers an estimated $100,000 a month in maintenance costs.
In 2015, Bezos snarkily congratulated SpaceX while touted Blue Origin by saying, “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!”
Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 22, 2015
Also in 2015, Musk alleged that Blue Origin stole talent from SpaceX.
“Blue Origin does these surgical strikes on specialized talent offering like double their salaries,” Musk told Ashlee Vance for the 2015 biography. “I think it’s unnecessary and a bit rude.”
The BBC asked Musk about Bezos in 2016, and he responded, “Jeff who?”
In 2019, there was a report that Amazon was working on launching over 3,000 internet satellites. Coincidentally, Musk already had plans underway for his Starlink satellite system that initially launched in May 2019.
Musk blasted Bezos in 2019, calling him a “copycat” on Twitter.
.@JeffBezos copy 🐈
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 9, 2019
Musk mocked Bezos in 2019 after Blue Origin unveiled its sphere-like concept for a lunar-landing vehicle, called Blue Moon.
“Putting the word ‘Blue’ on a ball is questionable branding,” Musk joked.
But putting the word “Blue” on a ball is questionable branding
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 10, 2019
In Septmeber, SpaceX accused Blue Origin of delaying their services.
“Amazon’s track record amply demonstrates that as it falls behind competitors, it is more than willing to use regulatory and legal processes to create obstacles designed to delay those competitors from leaving Amazon even further behind,” SpaceX said.
In April, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to construct a lunar landing system to take astronauts to the moon. NASA passed on a $5.9 billion bid from Blue Origin. In August, Blue Origin launched a lawsuit against NASA for awarding the contract to SpaceX.
Elon Musk ridiculed Bezos and his lawsuit, “You cannot sue your way to the moon, OK. No matter how good your lawyers are. I think he should put more of his energy into getting to orbit than lawsuits.”
In August 2021, Musk tweeted, “Turns out Besos [sic] retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX.”
Turns out Besos retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 27, 2021
Earlier this week, Elon Musk became the wealthiest person in the world – surpassing Jeff Bezos. After becoming the third person in the world to accumulate a net worth of $200 billion, Musk trolled Bezos by vowing to offer a consolation prize to Bezos.
“I’m sending a giant statue of the digit ‘2’ to Jeffrey B., along with a silver medal,” Musk told Forbes.