Best day ever!
Exclaimed the Amazon founder when his 10 minute 10-second flight touched back down in West Texas. An attempt that successfully completed his maiden space tour on July 20, 2021.
Thus, billionaire Jeff Bezos has made a short journey to space, in the first crewed flight of his rocket ship, New Shepard.
He was accompanied by Mark Bezos, his brother, Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneer of the space race, and an 18-year-old student.
With the first passenger-carrying of Blue Origin’s New Shepard marking a major milestone for Blue Origin, the obvious buzz has now taken another step forward stirring up the same question yet again-
Does it mean that it’s finally caught up with its main rival, Elon Musk’s SpaceX?
Well, it seems like the rivalry which already was intense, is now extending to the moon!
How it all began
It’s often heard the magnates both immersed themselves in sci fi when they were young, gaining inspiration from authors like Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. In order to transform those fictional illusions into reality, the two billionaires have put everything on the line to ride their own rockets into space since more than a decade now.
However, when they first came on the big screen, the two tech moguls had no experience whatsoever in space exploration.
It can be said that Bezos has led the charge in this regard when he founded his own space company, Blue Origin. The path to Blue Origin began in 1999 when he and his friend, famed sci-fi author Neal Stephenson watched the film ‘October Sky’. After the movie, Bezos told Neal he wanted to start a space company. Thus, Blue Origin was incorporated in September 2000.
Though, this remained very much a side project till 2004 as Bezos kept expenses to a minimum and wanted a lean team believing that constraints led to innovation.
SpaceX on the other hand was big and noisy since day one. Musk’s attempts to win NASA contracts included wild stunts.
Till 2001, Musk was part of a space advocacy group called Mars Society. To create buzz, he pursued a project to send rats/plants to Mars to prove that it was possible.
Soon Musk decided to build his own rockets. He incorporated SpaceX in March 2002 which was 18 months after Bezos’ Blue Origin. He funded the venture from a cash windfall after eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5B.
Within six years of its foundation in 2002, it had launched the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket into orbit, Falcon One.
The feud dates back to 2004
While Blue Origin’s mission and vision was to ‘preserve the Earth’ by going ‘to space to tap its unlimited resources and energy’, it’s counterpart SpaceX wanted to colonize Mars and ‘make humanity a multi-planetary specie’
However, by 2004, both Blue Origin and SpaceX were still in their infancy — neither company had completed any launches yet.
But that didn’t stop a rivalry from heating up! When the two tech tycoons met to discuss their respective reusable rocket ambitions it apparently did not go well.
While SpaceX had yet to launch a rocket into space, it was testing engines in Texas and Bezos wanted to pick Musk’s brains. It was a very technical conversation which ultimately left Musk disappointed with Bezos’ progress.
I actually did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored,
Musk said later.
Bezos being a man of constant experimentation, he wanted to find out his mistakes all by his own.
From 2004 onward, Musk and Bezos appeared to keep to themselves. But their rivalry continued in 2013 when things became contentious over leasing a NASA launchpad. Things however went on Musk’s favour as SpaceX eventually won the right to take over the pad. The battle of words hasn’t stopped ever since!
What the stats say
SpaceX has many firsts in its name, for instance, building and sending liquid-fueled rockets in Earth’s orbit, developing a small launcher, successfully launching, orbiting and recovering spacecraft, developing the cheapest rocket, first private company to send humans into space and more.
It has moved much faster and has accomplished much more than Blue Origin. It first flew a rocket to orbit in 2008, then won lucrative contracts from NASA and the Pentagon.
In the last two years alone, SpaceX has performed 21 launches, representing about 20% of roughly 100 worldwide launches.
In 2018, SpaceX sent an AI-based robot called CIMON, short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion to the international space station. It became the first AI technology to be launched to the space station.
Last year, it also became the first private company to successfully launch its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into space. It is the first time ever that commercially-developed space vehicles – owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA – have transported humans into orbit.
On the contrary, the thing about Blue Origin is that it doesn’t reveal a lot. A lot less public than someone like the Tesla pioneer and his company SpaceX. Also, it takes smaller steps.
Till 2020, it had developed a suborbital capsule system, acquired the technology of reusable rockets with vertical takeoff and landing, made a two-stage orbital launch vehicle with New Glenn and was aiming to send astronauts to the moon again.
It had flown suborbital rocket flights and was in the early stages of assembling its first rocket capable of reaching orbit. Though there was a visible lag, experts believed that Blue Origin is well set for giving major competition to SpaceX.
Who wins the space race?
The two tech titans are vying to be the dominant force in space since the last 15 years. The minute you think one is going ahead, the other immediately takes over.
In the space segment, while the two companies might look quite similar in its attempts to explore space, the ideology and the approach of these companies vary quite significantly.
In the initial years, SpaceX has moved much faster and has accomplished much more than Blue Origin. But 2021 witnesses a sudden plot twist as Bezos is clearly surpassing Musk in a major way now: by heading to space himself.
But for Musk, who has often publicly christened his counterpart as a ‘copycat’, Bezos’ flight isn’t all that impressive. He poked fun at the fact that the voyage is sub-orbital on Twitter.
With the race of the two billionaires gaining intense momentum, it seems like the long-drawn conflict isn’t about to end anytime soon!