Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are the two richest men on the planet outright but it would seem this planet isn't big enough for their wealth and ego as the stars have now become their playing field.

The two billionaires own SpaceX and Blue Origin respectively, two companies that have ambitions of taking humanity into space as a means of tourism and who knows what beyond that. Musk has obviously had his fair share of success with SpaceX, having already launched numerous rockets and manned missions into space.

Bezos's project is still in its relative infancy but on Tuesday 20th July 2021, the Amazon CEO was blasted into space onboard his New Shepard rocket ship – a definite show of one-upmanship by Bezos.

For space enthusiasts, this is a bold new dawn for exploration of our solar system but for Musk and Bezos this is just another chapter in their 15-year rivalry.

This feud apparently stemmed from a meeting between the two men in 2004 where they were keen to discuss the rocket companies’ personal ambitions in space. This is one of the few times that Musk and Bezos have met in person. Journalist Trung Phan recently shared a picture of the two men at a dinner in 2008 along with University of Chicago professor Sendhil Mullainathan.

The Christian Davenport book The Space Barons which was published in 2018, reports that the meeting didn't go well as, according to Musk: "I actually did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored." Musk was said to be unimpressed with Blue Origin’s “engine architectures” and that SpaceX had already tried some of his ideas which the South African said “turned out to be really dumb.”

The rivalry simmered down from there until 2013, when Blue Origin filed a formal protest against SpaceX, to prevent the company from having exclusive use of a Nasa launchpad. Bezos instead preferred the option of using the launchpad as “a commercial spaceport available to all launch companies.”

Talking to Space News in September 2013, Musk took a fresh swipe at Bezos stating in an email: “[Blue Origin] has not yet succeeded in creating a reliable suborbital spacecraft, despite spending over 10 years in development.” He added that he would be willing to accommodate Blue Origin on the launchpad if they were able to “show up in the next 5 years with a vehicle qualified to NASA’s human rating standards that can dock with the Space Station” but he mockingly suggested that wouldn’t happen by saying: “Frankly, I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct.”

In the meantime, SpaceX had already launched their first rocket, seven years before Blue Origin was able to get its first rocket into space. SpaceX also had a significantly larger workforce and had also secured government contracts.

A patent dispute had also kicked off during this period after Blue Origin was granted a patent for drone ships which are now commonly used to land rocket boosters safely back on Earth. This would mean that if SpaceX wanted to use the patent, it would have to pay Blue Origin – but Musk’s team were not happy and argued that this type of technology was “old hat” and had already been around for decades. A judge ultimately sided with SpaceX causing Blue Origin to withdraw its claims for that patent.

Now that both of their companies are fully established in the space race their rivalry has been reduced to petty Twitter mocking and trying to gain minor advantages over each other, such as poaching staff members. Musk certainly has the upper hand when it comes to Twitter due to his persistent and often controversial use of the platform. In 2019, he edited the name of Blue Origin’s lunar-landing vehicle from ‘Blue Moon’ to ‘Blue Balls.’

More recently, Musk has laughed at memes mocking Bezos’s upcoming trip to the edge of space and also poked fun at his dramatically altered body shape, joking the Amazon CEO can now “bench press a rhino.”

In a New York Times article published in July 2020, 50-year-old Musk also implied that 57-year-old Bezos was too old to be in the space game. Musk said: “The rate of progress is too slow and the amount of years he has left is not enough, but I’m still glad he’s doing what he’s doing with Blue Origin.”

Musk also appears to have a problem with the overwhelming monopoly that Amazon in several different markets and tweeted in June 2020 “Time to break up Amazon.” This was in response to Amazon Kindle Direct refusing to publish a Covid-19 conspiracy theory book.

Another area where the pair tend to differ is in regards to their personal ambitions in space. While it is well known that Musk desires to one day have humans on Mars, Bezos has a more realistic goal of getting humans to the Moon and has described Mars as “un-motivating.” In 2019 Bezos said during a presentation for Blue Moon: “Go live on the top of Mount Everest for a year first and see if you like it because it’s a garden paradise compared to Mars.”

More recently, Blue Origin has filed another protest, this time against Nasa’s decision to award a lunar lander contract to SpaceX, something which it described as “flawed” as Nasa had “moved the goalposts at the last minute.” Musk responded to this with a joke about erectile dysfunction.

Despite some obvious tension between the pair and their respective companies, there does appear to be a begrudging amount of respect between the two men. In December 2020, Bezos complimented SpaceX on a 7-minute test flight despite the rocket exploding upon landing. He wrote on Instagram: “Anybody who knows how hard this stuff is is impressed by today’s Starship test. Big congrats to the whole @SpaceX team. I’m confident they’ll be back at it soon.”

Musk also wished Bezos and the rest of the New Shepard crew taking part in the Blue Origin flight the best of luck.

Although Bezos has now beaten Musk to space, he has already booked a ticket on board Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space plane. No date has been disclosed as to when Musk will be making the trip.

Shortly after this, Bezos’s Blue Origin moved to try and sue the US government over a $2.9 billion Nasa contract given to Musk and SpaceX to take humanity back to the moon. Blue Origin believe that the contract was unfairly rewarded to SpaceX and want the chance to win back the opportunity. This, however, comes just a month after the Government Accountability Office had agreed with Nasa’s decision to go with just one provider and rejected Blue Origin.

Both Musk and Bezos have been trying to make it to space for more than 20 years now and it looks like they will both achieve their goals soon – but who knows where their ambitions and personal rivalry will go from there. In this case, the sky isn’t the limit...

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