Elon Musk isn't buying what Blue Origin is selling.
Amazon founder and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos is getting ready to strap in to a seat on board his space company’ New Shepard rocket and fly to an altitude of 62 miles later this week — hitting the internationally agreed upon edge of space, although nowhere near the lowest stable orbit.
But not everybody agrees that’s really space. SpaceX CEO and noted loudmouth Elon Musk, for instance, isn’t buying it — a longstanding squabble that won’t be letting up any time soon.
Musk spent the weekend relishing memes that poked fun at Bezos’ flight plan. One meme in particular elicited a reaction from Musk: a four panel “Star Wars”-themed meme about Bezos “going to space,” but not “orbital.”
“Haha,” Musk replied.
The jab isn’t exactly unwarranted. Blue Origin may be taking Bezos for a ride of his lifetime to the Kármán line, the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space. But 62 miles is a far cry from altitudes where orbiting the Earth becomes feasible inside a spacecraft.
In simple terms, Blue Origin’s New Shepard is embarking on a suborbital, not orbital, mission. That stands in contrast to SpaceX, which is now regularly sending astronauts and cargo all the way up to the International Space Station.
Musk has a track record of hurling potshots at the competition. In 2019, Musk mocked Blue Origin’s proposed Blue Moon moon lander, calling it “Blue Balls” in a crude Photoshop.
“Oh stop teasing, Jeff,” Musk wrote in the caption at the time.
In April, Musk also mocked Bezos for not being able to “get it up (to orbit) lol.” At the time, NASA chose SpaceX, and SpaceX alone, for a highly-coveted contract to build a lunar lander capable of touching down the first astronauts on the Moon since the Apollo missions.
Both Blue Origin and fellow competitor Dynetics have since protested the decision and the contract has been put on hold.
It’s clear that SpaceX has a massive lead on the competition. The space tourism industry is only getting warmed up, with several companies offering their — albeit extremely expensive — services to fly the ultra-rich to the edge of space.
Whether this competition calls for mockery and derisive jokes is certainly up for debate. But for now at least, Musk has earned the right to scoff at his imitators.