Another day, another unhinged-sounding plan to fly to the moon announced by an eccentric billionaire.
According to a report from the Washington Post, Blue Origin — the spaceflight company founded by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos — is planning to set up an “Amazon-like” service to send cargo to the moon in the hopes that people will eventually settle there.
The first “Blue Moon” mission — conducted with NASA’s help — could launch as early as July 2020, according to the report.
The Blue Origin news hits just days after SpaceX’s Elon Musk announced that his spaceflight company plans to send two unnamed people on a trip around the moon at the end of next year.
Is this yet another case of rocket-measuring by Musk and Bezos?
While these two plans are distinct and Blue Origin’s was a case of a news organization breaking a story, rather than a specific announcement by a company, it is a good example of Bezos and Musk following one another around the solar system.
Instead of NASA chasing the Soviets during the original space race, we now have billionaires trying to one-up each other, pushing them farther into space.
The two billionaires are known for publicly sniping at each other over their respective space plans and accomplishments.
In November 2015, for example, Blue Origin announced that its New Shepard rocket made its first trip to suborbital space and then landed back on Earth.
This accomplishment came before SpaceX successfully landed its first orbital rocket back on the ground after launching a payload to space, but well after SpaceX launched its suborbital Grasshopper rocket and brought it back to the ground.
Musk wasn’t happy that Bezos was insinuating that this Blue Origin test flight was a “first” for reusability, and he made it known… publicly. On Twitter.
More recently, however, the billionaires seem to have mellowed.
“Great industries are usually built by not just one or two or three companies, but usually by dozens of companies. There can be many winners,” Bezos said in April 2016, a sentiment he has echoed many times since.
“From my point of view, the more the merrier. I want Virgin Galactic to succeed. I want SpaceX to succeed. I want United Launch Alliance to succeed. I want Arianespace to succeed, and of course I want Blue Origin to succeed. And I think they all can.”
Although Bezos’s plan is not in direct competition with Musk’s, the timing of the two announcements is still pretty funny.
And oddly enough, it all may have something to do with President Donald Trump.
A Trump connection
Rumors were swirling in the space industry early this week that Trump would make some kind of announcement about human spaceflight during his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. However, that big space moment didn’t come to pass.
According to a report by Politico, Trump was expected to include more about his vision for America’s future in space, but most of that got cut at the last minute. Instead, Trump’s only reference to space in his hour-long speech was the line: “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”
It’s not clear whether Trump’s expected speech was the tipping point for SpaceX and Blue Origin, but either way, we know that Bezos and Musk have had time to speak with the new president.
Bezos seemed to make nice with Trump at a tech summit held in December 2016. Musk was also in attendance at that meeting, sitting on the exact opposite side of the table from Bezos.
Musk is also part of Trump’s economic advisory council.
Space industry insiders seem to be betting that the U.S. is now on a path back to the moon after former president Barack Obama scrapped the Bush-era plans to send crewed missions back to the lunar surface before heading on to Mars.
For now, however, NASA doesn’t yet have a new administrator and Trump has said little about the future of the space agency under his administration. However, congressional Republicans, who now hold the majority in both the House and Senate, are eager to see greater participation by private companies in space exploration.