by Nicolau Berscheid
By now you must be familiar with Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and the second richest man in the world. You might also be familiar with SpaceX, his second company which if you haven’t guessed it already, sends rockets into space. With Tesla being a rapidly growing company, at one point raising Musk to richest man in the world, the Tesla founder has an ambitious and successful career.
Another person you may be familiar with is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and the richest person in the world. Something you might not have known about Bezos is that he also has a space exploration company called Blue Origin.
Naturally, when both the richest and second richest people in the world have space exploration companies, there is going to be a rivalry, but before we talk about that, let’s talk about what SpaceX and Blue Origin have in common. First, both were founded to serve one purpose: to make space travel easy and affordable, and to make space more accessible. Both have figured out ways to make space travel more cost effective by developing rocket booster retrieving technology. Both companies want to monetize space travel making it more accessible, but also profitable. And last but not least, both have their own ideas of what space has to offer to humanity.
First let’s start talking about Elon Musk and his goals for the future with SpaceX. Musk’s dream is to get to Mars. This is partly why he founded SpaceX, and he has made sure to
make this a main driving point for SpaceX and it’s future endeavors. SpaceX developed the starship spacecraft which is a spacecraft designed to carry both passengers, crew and payloads for low costs. It has many uses but Musk has stressed that its final step is to get to Mars. Musk has made some ambitious promises that he will land the first humans on Mars by 2026, but all of these goals are mere baby steps to his true dream of establishing a permanent colony on Mars and eventually terraforming it.
Now that we have talked about SpaceX and their goals, let’s talk about Jeff Bezos and his goals with Blue Origin. Despite Blue Origin being owned by the richest man alive, it is still not well known, so while you might have heard of SpaceX, you may have not heard of Blue Origin.
For Blue Origin, Earth is irreplaceable and should be protected at all costs, so according to Jeff Bezos the way to best protect Earth is to expand out into space. Bezos’ big dream is that all heavy industry expands out into space so that the Earth can be one huge residential zone. This means that basically all energy will be taken from solar farms in space, and heavy industry might be moved to the moon or another planet like Mars.
So while SpaceX and Blue Origin might have very similar short term goals, their long term goals are what really set them apart. But now that we have heard both companies goals and dreams for the future, which is the more achievable one and which one will bring more benefit?
First off, the question of which is more achievable, can come down to the logistics of the goals and which one can be achieved faster in feasible ways. To summarize, Elon Musk wants to be able to get humans on Mars, establish a permanent colony and then finally terraform it so that it essentially becomes Earth 2.
Let's start with the first goal which is getting humans on Mars; while having humans on Mars is a strange idea to us now, this goal may be achieved sooner than we think with SpaceX pledging to get humans on Mars by 2026,
so yes that goal is achievable.
Second, is his goal to achieve a permanent human colony on mars. This goal is of course way more ambitious since setting up a colony would mean that you would have to put up with harsh martian conditions, while also having a sustainable food source. Therefore, this goal is achievable however, it will take time and a lot of resources to actually have a permanent colony.
Finally, the last and most ambitious goal is terraforming mars. This goal would require tremendous amounts of resources and technologies that we do not have right now, so technology has to get better in order to do this, and it would require an almost global cooperation in order to accomplish this feat. This means that it could be achievable, but definitely not by SpaceX who might not even be a company at that time and probably not in this century either.
Jeff Bezos’ dreams are, to start with something he describes as "Gerard O'Neill's ideas," (search up Gerard O’Neill space colonization ideas for more images)
which are basically giant cylindrical circles floating in space that are colonies. Now the question is, is it achievable, and I say that it is. Not with our technology right now, but once we have the technology we may just have an international space colony floating around instead of the ISS (International Space Station).
The second prediction that Bezos has is that all heavy industry will move off Earth making it a planet size residential zone. This goal is definitely achievable with the right amount of resources, and of course better technology to get the infrastructure to other planets.
Now that we have determined that these goals and dreams are achievable, the second question is which will help humans more in the long term? The positives of Musk's dream, which is terraforming Mars, Is that it will create a Planet B, so if for some reason Earth becomes dangerous then there will be a place to flee to. Also, Mars has resources that we may be able to tap into that may be very limited on Earth.
But, these benefits are met with drawbacks. The first is of course the difficulty of terraforming Mars. It is extremely hard and could result in extreme geological change which is a breeding ground for active volcanoes, and natural disasters that could completely squash our efforts to terraform it. The second is resources. The amount of resources needed to be put into this effort is astronomical (pun intended). From the resources needed to build spaceships, to the actual infrastructure on the planet, it is just massive amounts of funding needed to go into it. The third is technology. We simply don’t have the technology to do this yet, and maybe in the future we will, but until then we just have to wait until that technology is there which could take even centuries to figure out.
The benefits of Bezos’ dream, which is to have all heavy industry in space and have Earth be a residential planet, are that essentially all pollution made by manufacturing will be eliminated along with the pollution from making energy. This of course would save the planet from ever having to experience radical changes in its environment. It would also allow a lot more nature to grow in these places, and it will permit residential areas to grow.
This would essentially eliminate climate change in the future, but there are still drawbacks. The first being resources again. Just like establishing a colony, moving all this infrastructure to space or another planet would require tons of resources and energy. The second being technology; the technology we have right now could maybe make a few machines on the moon, but the process would be way too slow to make any real difference. Thus, in order to actually make an impact we would have to wait for better technology to come along which may come at the end of this century or the beginning of the next.
Looking back at the pros and cons of the two sides, there now has to be a decision of which plan is better in terms of achievability and the good it will do. This of course comes down to opinion and what you would rather have, but if I had to make a choice I would probably choose Bezos’ plan. While Musk's idea may be a cooler one to think about, the achievability of his plan is simply not good enough to have a guarantee. His plan will probably take centuries util it comes to fruition while on the other hand, Bezos’ plan can be achieved in a much shorter time period, and will be simple enough to not have as many complications along the way.