Musk vs Bezos: how the battle of the men of the rocket could shape the future of our species

Image of an astronaut standing by an American flag on the moon

Main image credit: SpaceX / Blue Origin

The richest man in the world and the world's most famous businessman have a shared dream: to colonize space. And although they are very different people in terms of their personality and business style, Jeff Bezos ( and Elon Musk (Space, Tesla, SolarCity, The Boring Company, ex-PayPal) are on the verge of achieve something remarkable: privatization of space travel. This is how they pile up against each other.

Musk vs Bezos: the vision

Both technical billionaires want essentially the same in the short term: making space more accessible by making rocket launches more affordable, reliable and more frequent. "They both want to create the infrastructure that enables mankind to come out much more reliably from the surface of the earth," says Christian Davenport, author of The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the quest to colonize the cosmos .

In the long run, however, Musk and Bezos see a completely different future for mankind. "The vision of Elon Musk from the beginning was to send people to Mars to colonize it," says Davenport. Musk thinks that if a catastrophe happens to the earth, like an asteroid that hits him, mankind should have a backup plan. "See it as not backing up the hard drive of your computer, and then it crashes and you lose all that data," says Davenport. "That's how Musk sees it."

Bezos often talks about how watching the moon landings changed his life. Credit: NASA

(Image: © NASA)

Jeff Bezos sees a different opinion: he wants to go to space to help keep the earth. "His idea is that as the population of the earth grows, the demand for resources and energy grows, but there is only so much room and resources to support us," says Davenport. "In space, resources are unlimited – solar energy is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there are asteroids that contain precious metals."

So Bezos does not try to formulate a Plan B, as Musk is, but instead has a plan to make Plan A work. "He wants to keep the heavy industry that we take on Earth to space and keep the earth as a gem, as a zoned residential area," adds Davenport.

Musk vs. Bezos: the moon and Mars

Musk is obsessed with Mars, Bezos with the moon. Honest? "Yes, Bezos has taken over the step-by-step mentality of NASA, from suborbital to orbital, then to the moon and then to Mars," says Davenport. This is very clear from the names of his rockets: the New Glenn (named after John Glenn, the first American to revolve around the earth), the now-built New Shepard (for Alan Shepard, the first American in space) , and the planned new New Armstrong with moon / deep space (to Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11).

Image of Blue Origin & # 39; s new Shepard rocket

Blue Origin & # 39; s New Shepard is named after the first American in space. Credit: Blue Origin

(Image: © Blue Origin)

"Blue Origin even put NASA on a plan to build a lunar lander that could bring freight and supplies to the moon," says Davenport. "NASA is especially interested in Shackleton Crater at the south pole of the moon, where there is ice water." Because water is oxygen and hydrogen, it means that rocket fuel can be produced on the moon. "You could look at the moon as a petrol station to enable you to go deeper into space," says Davenport. To Mars for example, where Musk always talks about.

"Mars has been his goal from the start, but now that the White House is starting to talk more about the moon lately, we have seen SpaceX tilt a bit," says Davenport. For example, Musk has tweeted that he thinks we should have a moon base now, while Bezos often says that humanity has to go back to the moon, this time to stay. So when it comes to the moon, Musk and Bezos agree.

SpaceX versus Blue Origin

They can be both space companies, but comparing SpaceX and Blue Origin is not easy. Estimated on employees and revenues, SpaceX wins: it has approximately 6,000 employees plus Blue Origin & # 39; s 1,000-plus. "SpaceX is several times larger, but they both grow rapidly and take on quickly," says Davenport.

However, these companies are very different. Blue Origin is secret and announces the results of its missile tests after they have been completed; there is no publicity in advance. SpaceX is very different, and organizes huge live streamed events for every major launch. The way companies are financed is also very different. Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, invests approximately $ 1 billion in own money each year in Blue Origin, which does not generate significant revenues yet.

Image of the space launcher on a launch pad

SpaceX is a commercially viable company that sells satellite launches. Credit: SpaceX

(Image: © Space X)

SpaceX, on the other hand, is a money-making company. "Elon Musk started SpaceX with US $ 100 million of its own money, but since then he has had some very lucrative contacts and has set up a series of paying customers," says Davenport. Blue Origin is on a mission to keep up; it must become a self-sustaining enterprise if Bezos wants to achieve what it wants.

Musk Vs Bezos: the rockets

The media tend to be the expression "reusable missile & # 39; to hear and think that they are all the same. They are absolutely not. SpaceX's rocket is much larger than that of Blue Origin. "The Falcon 9 is able to get into orbit around the earth, it has launched payloads for satellite companies, governments, the US Department of Defense and NASA in orbit, while the new Shepard of Blue Origin is only suborbital," says Davenport.

The new Blue Origin rocket for 2020, the new Glenn, will however be able to get into orbit around the Earth and challenge SpaceX for launch contracts. "Then the competition really starts," adds Davenport. It may not be an orbital vehicle, but the new Shepard from Blue Origin has been tested and landed several times, all successfully.

Musk Vs Bezos: space tourism

Both companies are focused on increasing the frequency of the human space flight, but when it comes to tourism, that is mainly the Blue Origin area, at least for the time being. In fact, Blue Origin hopes to launch people to space by the end of this year, what it's a & # 39; victory & # 39; on SpaceX – although the flights will be briefly up and down suborbital, not orbital, as the first manned flights of SpaceX will be in 2019.

"In the end, like Virgin Galactic, it wants to take paying customers to more than 100 km in the New Shepherd vehicle," says Davenport. Passengers will not get weightlessness for about four minutes when they can disengage and look through the largest windows of a spacecraft.

Image of Jeff Bezos with a Blue Origin space capsule

Blue Origin is heavily invested in suborbital space tourism. Credit: Blue Origin

(Image: © Blue Origin)

So what about SpaceX? "At the moment, SpaceX is targeting NASA's Commercial Crew Program to fly NASA astronauts to the international space station," said Davenport. That should happen in 2019. "It has also been announced to fly a few paying customers around the moon, but there is no timeline for that."

The SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle flies to the ISS with four seats, but can be configured for seven seats. In theory, SpaceX and Boeing, which are also part of the Commercial Crew Program, allow paying customers to fly to the ISS.

What did Musk and Bezos achieve?

No manned space flight – not yet – but before you write them off as publicity-hungry underachievers, you must know that both space companies of Musk and Bezos are on the verge of some really great achievements.

Bezos and Blue Origin could launch a manned space flight by the end of this year. Credit: Blue Origin

Bezos and Blue Origin could launch a manned space flight by the end of this year. Credit: Blue Origin

"Elon Musk and SpaceX have renewed interest in space all over the world on their own, disrupted the launch market, lowered the cost of launches and proved that a commercial company is capable of entering into large contracts," said Davenport. "These two tech billionaires are stand-alone celebrities, and marketing geniuses, and they've taken things that no one thought possible, like landing and flying missiles again, they're cool and interesting again."

So both companies, and both men, have achieved a lot, but neither one has taken one person into space yet. When they do that – and they do it safely – the reputations of both Musk and Bezos in the space industry will rightly go up.

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