Former Amazon CEO and not-so astronaut Jeff Bezos would rather trouble the US space agency with legal battles than see another moon landing involving one of his rivals. This time, we’re talking about his tech bro entrepreneur Elon Musk. According to the BBC, the row stems from a decision in April to hand the deal to one company—not two as initially expected—because of a funding shortfall.
At the time of the award, NASA’s human exploration chief, Kathy Lueders, admitted that the space agency’s current budget precluded it from selecting two companies. That was after Congress granted it only $850 million out of the $3.3 billion it had requested for the project.
NASA also cited the proven record of orbital missions by Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm as a factor, resulting in the award. Cost is also thought to have played a role: SpaceX’s bid was the lowest-priced by some distance.
Deeply wounded by this ‘injustice’, Bezos then penned a ridiculously puerile open letter to NASA essentially calling out its decision while simultaneously offering to ostensibly bribe the judges with $2.9 billion (£2.1 billion) in subsidies, among other promises.
Shortly after this, Bezos filed a complaint with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), delaying the project while the organisation adjudicated the matter. Following the GAO’s recent denial of Bezos’ issues, he and Blue Origin have moved for federal courts to intercede on grounds of “NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals submitted under the HLS Option A BAA.”
In a court filing on Friday 13 August, Blue Origin said it continued to believe that two providers were needed to build the landing system, which will carry astronauts down to the Moon’s surface as early as 2024. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America,” Blue Origin added.
NASA must now file a response to the legal action by 12 October. Meanwhile, SpaceX is yet to comment on the lawsuit. Under its Artemis programme, NASA hopes to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.
In April, Lueders said, “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.” Yes, but now Bezos is in the way.
The time has finally come, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is jetting off to space this afternoon. Blue Origin—Bezos’ privately held space company—is finally ready for its first human spaceflight. The passengers are Bezos himself, his brother Mark Bezos, trailblazing pilot Wally Funk and teenager Oliver Daemen. The flight will see the passengers float in microgravity for a few minutes before making a swift return back to Earth—sorry, the petition to keep him there didn’t work.
The entirety of their trip—from beginning to end—will be shown through an online live stream on the Blue Origin website. The live stream will begin at 7.30 a.m. ET or 12.30 p.m. GMT—with the expected takeoff scheduled for 9 a.m. ET and 2 p.m. in the UK. Get the popcorn ready, another billionaire is going to fly around space and try to relate to us—I’m looking at you, Richard Branson.
Bezos, Branson and Musk have quite obviously been criticised for these expensive trips and investment in space travel while there is huge inequality and a climate crisis that needs dealing with. Taking a closer look at the Moon can wait. And apparently he agrees? Well, not quite.
When asked directly for a response to this criticism, Bezos told CNN, “They’re largely right, we have to do both. You know, we have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We’ve always done that.” He continued by saying that the mission’s goal was to build “a road to space for the next generations to do amazing things here, and those amazing things will solve problems here on Earth.”
Now call me crazy, but I don’t think you need to spend billions on an 11 minute joyride just so maybe someone in the future finds something cool. You could just help Earth now—or let’s start small, shall we? Help your employees, Bezos. Robert Reich, Professor at Berkeley University, and avid billionaire critic wrote on Twitter, “Billionaires rocketing off to space isn’t a sign of progress. It’s a sign of grotesque inequality that allows a select few to leave Earth behind while the rest of humanity suffers.”
Reich continued stating that “the next time someone claims billionaires rocketing off to space is a sign of societal progress and heroism, remind them there are basically four ways to accumulate a billion dollars in America: profiting from a monopoly, insider trading, political payoffs and inheritance.”
Reich couldn’t be more accurate. When telling CNN about the “next generations” who will do amazing things, Bezos gestures to teenager Daeman. “Maybe it will be Oliver, he’s eighteen, maybe he’ll found a space company that uses the infrastructure that this generation is building right now.” Daeman, however, is no ordinary teenager. Not initially a part of the flight, Daeman’s seat opened up when a mystery millionaire—the winner of the open auction—who paid $28 million backed out. Daeman’s father was second in line and so the ticket was passed over to him. Although the price has not been revealed, there are obvious assumptions that it’s close to the highest bid of $28 million. Rich people, am I right?