Rocket gas just isn’t the one factor powering the space race that pits billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson in opposition to one another.
One-upmanship is a serious accelerant.
“There are big egos at play here,” Brad Stone, creator of “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire,” instructed The Post. “They are three of the most iconic entrepreneurs and all used to winning. Jeff is not used to being second or third. Elon is a gambler. He’s risked it all a number of times.”
The competitors revved up June 10, after Bezos, 57, introduced that he — together with an anonymous billionaire who paid $28 million for a seat on the Amazon founder’s New Shepard rocket — will fly to the brink of space and again on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon touchdown.
On June 11, experiences surfaced that Branson, 70, would steal Bezos’ thunder by going up in his Virgin Galactic VSS Unity over the Fourth of July weekend. (“We have not determined the date of our next flight,” a Virgin Galactic spokesperson instructed The Post.)
“It would be disappointing for Bezos to work on something for 20 years and then finish second to Branson,” Eric Berger, creator of “Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX,” instructed The Post. “I think he looks at Branson as somebody who probably wants to make money off of space to extend his Virgin empire” — fairly than furthering humanity, like himself and Musk.
HOW THEY PLAN TO GET TO SPACE
As for Musk, Berger mentioned, “He probably sees the Branson-Bezos race as a sideshow.”
Musk’s SpaceX has already had greater than 100 profitable blastoffs and despatched astronauts into outer space.
And whereas Musk, who turns 50 on June 28, has publicly expressed his skepticism of Bezos — he as soon as wrote, “We are likelier to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct” than for a Bezos Blue Origin ship to “dock with the Space Station” — privately, insiders say, his emotions are extra aggressive.
“The biggest tension is between Elon and Jeff,” Ashlee Vance, creator of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” instructed The Post.
Jabs from Bezos have been delicate — like when he tweeted “Welcome to the club” at Musk after the latter lastly landed a rocket vertically in 2015. The remark was needling, making the purpose that Bezos was first.
Always one to get the final phrase, Musk responded with a tweet of his personal: “It is, however, important to clear up the difference between ‘space’ and ‘orbit’ ” — making it clear that his rockets went into orbit whereas Blue Origin’s merely went into space.
“They do not care for each other,” Vance added. “Elon dislikes Bezos. I think he finds Jeff boring.”
And now Branson — who has at all times liked a spectacle — is making a distraction.
Since the early 2000s, Branson, Musk and Bezos have collectively spent billions chasing their space desires.
Musk, the South Africa-born CEO of Tesla, desires to colonize Mars together with his SpaceX rockets, even claiming that he want to die on the Red Planet.
He based SpaceX in 2002. The firm’s first manned flight launched final yr and was the primary non-government vessel to dock a crew on the International Space Station. A second went up in April. Meanwhile, prototypes to get to Mars are being examined.
Musk is understood for his eccentric humorousness — internet hosting “Saturday Night Live” and sending a spacesuit-clad model “driving” a Tesla into space for a check mission of his Falcon Heavy rocket.
But his offhanded tweets have additionally despatched inventory and cryptocurrency costs right into a tailspin and gotten him in hassle with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Elon has been great at whipping people into a frenzy of fandom,” mentioned Stone. “Bezos has to be jealous of that . . . He does not have the kind of personality for going on ‘SNL.’ Elon can be so jubilantly reckless and it works out for him.”
Right now, Musk is the second richest man in America — value, as of April 30, $172 billion to Bezos’ $202 billion. The two share a want to ascertain space colonies; for Bezos, it’s about floating habitats, the place people will stay and work, that orbit Earth.
His short-term purpose, nevertheless, is taking folks to the sting of outer space — for a couple of minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth — through his Blue Origin vessels.
After it was introduced that Bezos would go himself, somebody began a Change.org petition demanding he not return to Earth. More than 100,000 folks have signed it.
“Bezos has a branding problem,” Mark R. Whittington, creator of “Why is America Going Back to the Moon,” instructed The Post. “A lot of people don’t like him . . . He’s been compared to a Bond villain.”
Branson, in the meantime. has been in the space recreation since 2004. His firm, Virgin Galactic, has a ready listing of 650 — together with, reportedly, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rihanna, Katy Perry and Kate Winslet. Each pays $250,000 for a two-hour flight with about 5 minutes in sub-orbital space.
“Branson does not view space as the answer to humanity’s future,” mentioned Berger of the Virgin Airlines magnate, value $5 billion. “He is basically interested in space tourism.”
For Branson, going to space subsequent month isn’t nearly exhibiting up Bezos. It’s additionally a option to make a big impression with customers.
“Virgin Galactic has been for years saying they are the world’s first space line,” Douglas Messier, who broke the story about Branson besting Bezos for ParabolicArc.com, instructed The Post. “Bezos going up first with an actual customer paying $28 million will negate that.” (On Friday, US authorities gave Virgin Galactic permission to take paying clients to space, solely accelerating the billionaire space race.)
Branson prides himself on his adventurer spirit — and making a splash. If Bezos is seen as a Bond villain, Branson aspires to stay like Bond.
He as soon as drove an amphibious automobile throughout the English Channel whereas sporting a tuxedo. When Virgin Galactic’s hangar opened in New Mexico, Branson rappelled the constructing — whereas consuming Champagne. He launched his ill-fated Virgin Cola by driving a tank by Times Square.
Not all of his stunts have labored out. Branson’s big dream in the ’90s was to set a world report by circling the globe in a hot-air balloon, however he by no means pulled it off. There was additionally the time, in 2007, that he celebrated the debut of his now-shuttered Virgin America airline by bungee-jumping off the roof of the Palms Casino in Vegas — solely to bang into the constructing and rip his pants.
Because Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity can rise solely 55 miles — 7 in need of outer-space’s borderline, by worldwide requirements — Messier predicts that Bezos will supply faint reward if Branson manages the July flight.
“Bezos’ attitude will be, ‘Congratulations on the flight, but you have not actually been to space,’ ” Messier mentioned.
It reportedly drives the three males loopy when one in every of their rivals publicly succeeds.
“Bezos is quite jealous of all the federal contracts that Elon Musk and SpaceX have gotten,” Berger mentioned of profitable offers in which SpaceX builds satellites and rocket-ship elements. “Internally, he gets upset.”
Bezos despatched an e-mail to key staff in 2017 after Musk acquired a $1.3 billion tax break from the state of Nevada for finding his battery manufacturing facility there: “Why does Elon Musk have this superpower of getting big government incentives and we don’t?”
Likewise, “Musk gets mad when he loses,” mentioned a Musk supply. “SpaceX lost out on development money from the US Air Force. I heard he took it out on his government- affairs people.”
Musk is claimed to look down on the opposite males as a result of he doesn’t see their endeavors as being as severe as his.
When Berger interviewed Musk on the CEO’s personal jet, the creator talked about that it had taken Bezos’ crew seven years to construct a rocket engine. “I asked Elon why it took [Bezos] so long,” Berger mentioned. Musk responded: “Bezos is not great at engineering, to be frank.”
Branson, in the meantime, “is literally not a rocket scientist,” mentioned Rand Simberg, an trade analyst who has had dealings with all three corporations. “He is a brander.”
In 2011, Branson tried to buy rocket engines and batteries from SpaceX. Branson handled Musk to dinner and thought he had a deal. But Musk, based on the e-book “Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut,” just about ignored additional entreaties. In 2015, Musk squeezed Branson out of a satellite-internet-service take care of Google executives.
And whereas a Bezos insider instructed The Post that “Jeff will be thrilled to beat Elon as first billionaire in space,” it seems that’s not such a big feat.
“Elon has better things to do,” an ex-Musk worker instructed The Post. “Going into space for him is risky and a waste of time.”
Berger agreed. “Elon values engineers more than he values astronauts,” the creator mentioned. “For him it’s much more about the engineering challenge than it is about taking a quick ride into space.”
Rob Meyerson, former president of Blue Origin and at the moment an working companion on the C5 Capital funding agency, believes the competitors makes all of them higher.
“Highly successful people are competitive — and they drive each other,” he instructed The Post. “SpaceX has a culture of us-against-the-world; that puts a chip on [Musk’s] shoulders while driving them forward. And they set the pace” for Bezos and Branson.
And it’s contagious, particularly when the general public has three personalities to root for (or in opposition to): Musk the provocateur, Bezos the Bond villain and Branson the showman.
“Having three individuals has made things entertaining and interesting,” Meyerson mentioned. “It has been a long time since we have had this much interest and accelerated progress in the space industry.”