The World’s Richest Men Are Brawling Over the Moon

An illustration of the moon being lassoed
Getty / The Atlantic

The full moon looked stunning this week. The lunar phase coincided with the moon’s closest approach to Earth, making the object look bigger and brighter than usual. It glowed orangey-pink low in the sky—a trick of the atmosphere—and then blanched brilliant white as it rose into the darkness.

Meanwhile, down here, a couple of space billionaires are sparring over how to reach it.

In one corner is Jeff Bezos, the founder of the rocket company Blue Origin, and the richest person in the world. In the other is Elon Musk, the founder of the rocket company SpaceX, and the second-richest person in the world. Bezos and Musk have pitched their respective businesses to NASA in the space agency’s search for new technology to land astronauts on the moon. It is a massive opportunity. Astronauts haven’t set foot on the moon since the final Apollo mission, in 1972. But American officials have long called for a triumphant return, longer stays, and even the construction of a permanent base. And in recent years, they have turned to the private sector for help.

NASA announced last week that SpaceX had won the coveted contract, worth $2.9 billion, to develop a lunar lander, beating out Blue Origin, which had partnered with a few longtime space contractors for its bid. This week, Blue Origin filed a protest with the federal agency that investigates government spending, challenging the decision. Bezos and Musk have squabbled over space projects for years, and this latest bout, their biggest yet, hasn’t been pretty. Bezos, who plans to step down as Amazon CEO this summer, in part to devote more time to his space business, is reportedly “livid.” Musk has poked fun by pointing out that, unlike SpaceX, Blue Origin has made only suborbital flights so far, tweeting: “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol.”