This last week Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin (and Amazon) one upped Elon Musk of SpaceX (and Tesla, SolarCity, PayPal) in the space race to send a rocket to space and land the first stage propulsively on land in a step towards fully reusable rockets. Since then the media has made it sound like it’s a war between the two and there is some controversy as to who did what first.

First – congrats to both of them for their amazing accomplishments. But neither one of them has crossed my “I did it first” line. Let’s start by looking at the history of the race.

SpaceX started with their Grasshopper tests launching a first stage a few thousand feet into the air and returning it to the ground.

Then SpaceX attempted to land the first stage twice after launching a real payload into orbit. Both attempts were less than successful but the rocket did come back from space and hit the barge.

Then we were all surprised to see Blue Origin also has a propulsive landing rocket. This was all done in secret so, unlike SpaceX, we didn’t know it was coming.

So here’s the score.

  1. The SpaceX Grasshopper lifted off and landed a full size first stage.
  2. SpaceX launched several rockets into orbit and landed the first stage on barges or water. None of them survived landing but all got really close.
  3. Blue Origin launched a suborbital spacecraft all the way to outer space and landed it successfully.

The Blue Origin spacecraft was suborbital and although it technically touched outer space in my opinion that’s not really there. In my personal view you’re not really in space in this contest till you at least get something to orbit. Suborbital flights are just entertainment for super rich people who can spend a million for a 4 minutes experience. A suborbital flight is really only about 5% of orbital. Much lower velocity and smaller rocket. But it was 100X higher up than the SpaceX Grasshopper.

And although SpaceX came really close to landing but blowing up or falling into the sea isn’t quite there. It’s just like when I ran for Congress. I came in second place while my opponent came in next to last.

So – while both companies made steps towards making history, here’s my objective line(s) for success. I’m going to specify 2 events that will be noteworthy.

The first line is the almost there line. It requires:

  1. The launch has to take something to orbit or beyond. What I call a real rocket.
  2. The first stage has to land in good enough condition to be reflown.

But the real line of being there is when the same first stage is flown and landed a second time. The first one to do that crosses the real line of making history.

If SpaceX flies the first stage from the barge to land – not quite there, but definitely extra points. Or if they reuse the first stage for testing the Dragon escape system in flight – even closer. The second flight has to deliver something to orbit or beyond.

Also in this race SpaceX is developing a capsule that can land propulsively. And it has flown but not landed.

And when this come back from space and lands that would be a different historic landing. Especially if it has humans on board.

And congrats to both of them for doing something that NASA can’t do. Both of them have made history getting this far. This is exciting good news – especially in a world where stupid people rule.

  1. J. Alfred Prufrock says:

    I want Blue Origin to deliver my Amazon Prime packages for free!

  2. NewFormatSux says:

    What if someone builds the first stage so cheaply that it costs more to reuse it?

  3. Ah_Yea says:

    Wrong comparison.

    It’s not Bezos Vs. Musk,

    It’s Bezos Vs. Virgin Galactic
    Musk Vs. Boeing

    Bezos is working to take the space tourism and small satellite business,
    While Musk is looking toward the space taxi and large cargo/satellite business.

    So they are carving niches for themselves which are not directly competitive at this time.

    And Bezos may have it easier. It seems Virgin Galactic has been grounded since its last crash.

  4. ± says:

    I can’t wait to shoot one of these things down flying over my property without permission. Sweet anticipation. :mrgreen:

  5. NewFormatSux says:

    One looks like an old school Bond villain(or Molaram), the other looks like a creepy new villain who isn’t really capable of anything.

  6. Dawid says:

    It does’t matter who was the first. Both are amazing!

  7. Mr. M says:

    I agree with Dawid..


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