Their passion for space was supposed to bring them together, but their egos turned them into enemies.
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are part of the closed circle of the richest men on the planet. Elon Musk had even managed to overtake Jeff Bezos at the beginning of 2021 before the decline of Tesla’s stock on the stock market put him back in third place.
These two visionary entrepreneurs are rewarded with the phenomenal success of their respective companies Amazon and Tesla.
Nevertheless, money is not the driving force for these two men. Something much more important has always motivated them: the conquest of space. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk share the same passion for space. Both dream of colonizing space.
To do so, the two multi-billionaires have each founded their respective companies in this field.
Their feud dates back to 2004 when Blue Origin and SpaceX were in their infancy
Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, and Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. For both, the goal is the same: to colonize space. The first step is to reach the Moon, then one day in the future, Mars. The red planet has been the dream of everyone for decades.
This common passion for space could have brought the two billionaires together. It was even a logical thing. However, the opposite happened. The fault probably lies in their excessive egos. One does not create such phenomenal companies without having an ego far above that of the common man.
According to legend, the beginning of their quarrel goes back to a dinner that took place in 2004.
At the time, Blue Origin and SpaceX were still in their infancy. Neither company had launched yet. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk met to discuss their respective reusable rocket ambitions. And apparently, that’s when things started to go wrong between them.
According to Christian Davenport’s book, “The Space Barons”, Elon Musk had this to say after the meeting:
“I did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored.”
Convinced that they were right even though their opinions differed, the two billionaires have since then always kept their distance. Each one took care to continue to develop his company with more or less success during the rest of the 2000s.
The rivalry between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk gets much more serious in 2013
It was in 2013 that their rivalry came back to light.
SpaceX tried to get exclusive use of a NASA launchpad. Blue Origin then filed a formal complaint with the U.S. government, along with its rival United Launch Alliance, to prevent SpaceX from using the launcher.
Jeff Bezos then proposed to convert the launch pad into “a commercial spaceport available to all launch companies”. Elon Musk then called this initiative “a false blocking tactic”. He again attacked Blue Origin:
“Blue Origin has yet to create a reliable suborbital spacecraft, despite over a decade of development.”
A way to remind that SpaceX had already arrived there. SpaceX eventually succeeded in obtaining the right to take over the platform.
The following year, in 2014, Blue Origin and SpaceX got into a patent battle when Blue Origin obtained a patent for deep-sea recovery barges. These barges are used for landing rocket launchers. SpaceX immediately filed suit to invalidate the patent.
If Blue Origin could have owned such a patent, SpaceX would have had to pay to use the technology.
In its defense, SpaceX argued that the science contained in the patent was not innovative. Indeed, the concept of a recovery barge has been around for decades. A judge once again ruled in favor of SpaceX, which led Blue Origin to withdraw most of the claims in the patent.
Elon Musk likes to use his popularity on Twitter to attack Jeff Bezos whenever possible
In addition to these legal battles between the two companies, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk never miss an opportunity to clash in public on Twitter.
After Blue Origin successfully landed its New Shepard rocket in 2015, Jeff Bezos tweeted a video calling it “the rarest of beasts — a used rocket”:
Elon Musk was quick to respond by pointing out that SpaceX had already achieved the feat three years earlier.
The feud between these two visionary entrepreneurs does not stop at the space domain anymore. Elon Musk has repeatedly criticized Blue Origin’s hiring practices, while openly mocking Jeff Bezos in interviews. In 2015, Elon Musk explained that Blue Origin had repeatedly tried to snatch talent from SpaceX by offering to double their salaries.
A practice that Elon Musk found “unnecessary and rude.”
Elon Musk’s Twitter pettiness towards Jeff Bezos is frequent
The pettiness doesn’t stop there on Elon Musk’s side. In 2016, during an interview for the BBC, Elon Musk was asked about Jeff Bezos. He pretended not to understand the question by answering:
Known for his outspokenness on Twitter, where he has more than 50 million followers, Elon Musk has called Jeff Bezos a copycat several times. This was particularly the case when Amazon announced its plan to launch Internet transmission satellites, or when Amazon acquired the autonomous cab company Zoox.
In 2019, Elon Musk mocked Jeff Bezos after the unveiling of Blue Moon, a moon landing vehicle concept. Elon Musk tweeted that:
“Putting the word ‘Blue’ on a ball is questionable branding.”
Jeff Bezos also never misses an opportunity to attack SpaceX
For his part, Jeff Bezos is more subtle in his attacks on Elon Musk and SpaceX. While Elon Musk keeps talking about colonizing Mars, Jeff Bezos frequently explains that his goal is to bring humans to the Moon, because the idea of reaching Mars is “uninspiring.”
In 2019, Jeff Bezos gave this comparison to drive home what life on Mars would look like:
“Go live on top of Mount Everest for a year first and see if you like it because it is a paradise compared to Mars.”
A few months later, Elon Musk attacked the age of Jeff Bezos, who would be too old according to him to achieve his goals with Blue Origin.
Their battle for the conquest of space will intensify in the years to come
On June 4, 2020, Elon Musk then directly attacked Amazon, explaining that monopolies must be broken:
“Time to break up Amazon. Monopolies are wrong!”
A few weeks earlier, SpaceX had achieved a historic first: sending two NASA astronauts into space. For Elon Musk, it was a dream come true. This should have calmed him down for a while, but not.
In April 2021, SpaceX has just sent four NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. A new success for SpaceX which seems to be more than ever ahead of Blue Origin. The proof is the $2.9 billion contract SpaceX won with NASA to build a lunar lander.
Disappointed to have lost this tender, Blue Origin has just challenged it in court. On Twitter, Elon Musk has once again taken the opportunity to attack Blue Origin who has still not achieved an orbital flight with its rockets:
An umpteenth mockery of Elon Musk towards Jeff Bezos and SpaceX
Aware of his company’s backwardness, Jeff Bezos announced at the beginning of 2021 that he would be stepping down as CEO of Amazon to devote himself full time to Blue Origin. He is determined to achieve his lifelong dream of colonizing space.
This will require more personal and financial investments, but also an increasingly tough battle with Elon Musk.
The competition between the two billionaires is likely to intensify in the months and years to come. The main goal is to be the first to colonize space. Even if it is not always healthy because it is mainly based on their ego, this competition could allow humanity to reach this goal much faster than initially imagined.
In the meantime, their rivalry, which has turned over the years into a kind of hatred, is not ready to die out.