Space Race 2.0: The Musk vs Bezos Saga

The number of rocket launches have tremendously increased after the inclusion of private players in the space industry

Tesla boss and would-be Mars coloniser, Elon Musk and Amazon CEO (entrepreneur, born in 1964) Jeffrey Bezos are currently caught up in a race to see who can become the first multi-billionaire to colonise space. Although each of them have an extremely ambitious end game, they both share the same vision — inspiring and saving humanity.

Musk’s company SpaceX and Bezos’ company Blue Origin, founded in 2002 and 2000 respectively, have been working towards the limitless opportunities that escaping the earth offers to humanity. In order to eventually colonise space, we need to make space exploration more accessible and cheaper, for example, using technologies such as reusable rockets. These two billionaires are currently striving for the same and are often found clashing over it.

Lately SpaceX was awarded a NASA contract worth 2.9 billion dollars and Blue Origin filed a lawsuit to dispute it, igniting a feud. Bezos has also lodged objections against SpaceX once every 16 days on average the past year, while Musk continues to belittle Blue Origin and Bezos on Twitter.

Blue Origin

With a feather as a logo representing freedom, mobility and progress, Blue Origin refers to our very own blue planet Bezos envisions of preserving. Bezos, the uncapped king of commerce, has been a billionaire longer than I have been alive. So, why is one of the richest men heading into space? To expand Amazon? Actually, his vision goes way beyond that.

Bezos believes he got his passion for space exploration back in 1969 when man took his first steps on the moon.

“The earth is finite, and if the world economy and population is to keep expanding, space is the only way to go.”

Bezos poses the same question raised by Gerard K. O’Neill — is a planetary system the best place for humans to expand in the solar system? We’ve all been planet chauvinists. Our belief is that we should live on a surface, which isn’t the case. A leap to a different planet like Mars would require both a long term and short term adaptation to a very unpleasant environment that has not yet been proven to support life. Even if we plan on expanding further, we will not be able to replicate the pre-existing model. Every planet is different and determining whether there are habitable conditions would take an enormous amount of time and resources. Usually other planets are not as big or nearby, so real-time communication would not be possible. Acceleration due to gravity is also a major parameter to worry about.

O’Neill proposed the idea of manufactured artificial rotating worlds in order to create artificial gravity with centrifugal force. Hence, a different kind of space colony. They will have ideal climates, and will be able to replicate life on earth more conveniently. Bezos strongly believes that O’Neill colonies are the answer to saving this irreplaceable planet, but has no plans to build them. He plans on passing this question on to the next generation and currently wants to focus his energy on building the infrastructure.

Artist’s depiction of O’Neill Cylinder exterior. The modules on the large ring structure around the endcap are used for agriculture | Credits: Painting by Rick Guidice courtesy of NASA

Bezos’ current goal is to “build a road to space” with a rocket called New Glenn and to utilise the Moon’s incredibly valuable resources with Blue Moon, a lunar lander.

Come On Jeff, get em!

SpaceX

The king of tech, Elon Musk has been fascinated by Mars for decades. Musk’s core goal is to back up our Earth-based civilisation on Mars; in the eventuality of terrible, lasting, and global calamities befalling our planet. For humanity’s future, he envisions a self-sustaining city on Mars.

In the years before he founded SpaceX, Musk came up with the idea for a Mars Oasis spacecraft, which would send a sealed chamber filled with dry nutrient gel and seeds. After landing, the gel would be hydrated and a mini greenhouse would be created on Mars. It would be equipped with cameras to take pictures of plants and beam them to Earth. However, he realised that the only way to achieve his ultimate goal of establishing a permanent human presence there would be to make space exploration accessible to all. Musk has a concrete plan to send humans to Mars using Starship, a reusable rocket: a crewed Starship would launch into orbit around Earth, then several tanker ships would launch and meet the first one to replenish its fuel tanks. Starship would then launch from orbit toward Mars using that fuel. He intends to accomplish this by 2026, after a crewed mission around the moon in a partnership with NASA.

In his belief, 2050 would mark a permanent settlement emergence on Mars and is planning to keep costs low enough so that most people who live in advanced colonies can move to Mars for cheap. Still under development are the technologies he would need to maintain life on Mars or build a settlement there. Among other challenges, he must figure out how to produce fuel on Mars and build off-planet habitats. In the 2100s, he hopes to terraform Mars with greenhouse gases to make it more habitable and possibly Earth-like.

“We don’t want to be one of those single planet species, we want to be a multi-planet species.”

Artist’s concept of a settlement on Mars | Credits: SpaceX

Musk currently seems light years ahead of his competitors, however he has a long way to go to figure out how humans would survive on Mars and how the human body will physically adapt to the change.

But if anyone can, Musk can.

Just a billion-dollar joyride?

A space race between the world’s richest raises the question of whether this is merely a hobby for them. Is it a positive progress to see billionaires ride into space in the companies they built? Would these billionaires compete in the same way to solve global warming?

Musk spends billions on sending humans to a planet with harsher living conditions than Mount Everest and Bezos’ first real public spaceflight act was to get on a phallus-shaped ship and rocket into space for his own gratification.

However, at the end of the day, they’re both revolutionising the space industry, doing something no one has ever done in human history. While there are short-range problems like climate change, poverty, pollution etc., there are also long-range problems which this billionaire-funded industry is trying to solve. The only choices that exist are stasis and rationing or dynamism and growth.

It’s as Bezos once said —

“One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out”

A Jeff-Elon vision for the future?

As billionaires with deep pockets, thriving businesses and sky high ambitions, both Bezos and Musk are currently building the foundation of life beyond earth. Even so, I can’t help but imagine what they could accomplish if they joined forces.

Apollo 11, a result of the first space race, was a remarkable technological achievement aimed at proving America’s technological superiority. Pre-Apollo NASA’s vision was a series of increasingly complex steps: a man in space, a space station orbiting the earth, and finally sending a bunch of astronauts to the moon. If the Soviet Union had not pursued their fierce ambitions, the moon landing that sparked Bezos’s journey into space exploration might have been delayed or may have never happened at all.

So as history has shown us, fierce competition only drives innovation faster. About five decades in the past, the Space Race led mankind to achieve the impossible, so who is to say this time will be any different?

What an exciting time it is to be alive, as this space race may revive humanity’s progress in exploring the universe.

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The official blog of SEDS VIT, Indian headquarters of the global NPO, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

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The official blog of SEDS VIT, Indian headquarters of the global NPO, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

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