Cosmic Greed: Jeff Bezos vs. Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos is putting his self-interest above the potential survival of our species by space colonization, by delaying NASA's support of Elon Musk's SpaceX for a lunar landing system, and trying to cause trouble with that process, during this critical time of potentially waning NASA support during the switch to a new President and party in power with its changing agenda, and national budget issues and priorities. Bezos is engaging in cosmic greed at its worst, on a scale never before seen in the history of life from this planet.
Imagine you are an observer for a far more advanced intelligence and civilization in the Universe, reporting on the development of a species of mammals with mammaries in the Milky Way Galaxy known to themselves as Homo Sapiens, of selfish and selfcentered individuals for the most part.
As in the famous Carl Sagan series Cosmos, it was suggested that civilizations might not survive the technological age, such as some techie creating a supervirus or pathogen which makes the species extinct within their biosphere.
The COVID-19 virus impact in 2020 should have given this species 20/20 vision by a small exercise with a relatively mild virus, compared to what much worse pathogen WILL come, eventually. Indeed, some people suspected (right or wrong) that this virus leaked from a laboratory. Whether or not it did is not important. What IS important is that we have the laboratory capability to create superpathogens now, in our gaining technological capabilities. If our species can't see the writing on the wall, and get serious about space colonization, then it's awfully stupid, and maybe not fit enough to survive on a cosmic scale.
This species generally does not have space colonization as a priority. Expanding beyond Earth's biosphere is the only assurance of survival of the species. It is rare opportunities that progress is made in that direction.
More than fifty years ago, a nuclear missile race between two competing superpowers, the USA and the USSR, became a "space race", which led to the USA landing individuals on the Moon and returning them safely. After the USA "won" the race, the USSR ended their manned lunar program and pretended to never have had it as a near term a goal, out of low level instinctual status feelings because they had lost (but the only people they were fooling were themselves). So after the Russians quit their Moon ideas, the USA quit, too. No government has made space colonization a real goal. Yet they spend many times more that amount on militaries and fighting wars.
So it came down to nongovernmental organizations, or a philanthropic investor with a long term vision and a really serious commitment.
For 40+ years, no nongovernmental organization advocating space colonization has been able to get anywhere near enough support. If the population had donated just a tiny, tiny fraction of their income, such as 0.01% of their income, or much less than 1 hour of each's yearly salary, each year, to space colonization, then space colonization would have happened a long time ago, and the species would have survival assured beyond its home planet's biosphere. Yet, instead, they spend vast sums on wars and weapons, fighting over a limited planet. They don't look up at space resources and space settlements. They also research biological weapons. Plus there is vast selfish consumption and expenditures on silly things ... often satisfying exorbitant luxury and their egos (status instincts).
The last hope seemed to be an extremely wealthy individual who might be able to rise to the necessary intellectual class and ethical class to want to do something philanthropically meaningful like space colonization. However, none did...
... until two space colonization advocates developed their own businesses to get wealthy enough: Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
However, Bezos and Musk fight each other, and do not cooperate. The new "space race" has become a competition led by two individuals. This had degraded into public "sound bite" comments towards each other personally, along the lines of their egos (status instincts, again) -- ad hominim (at hominid) attacks. Ipso nutso.
Musk has been far more successful despite having much less money over the years, until recently when slightly exceeded Bezos.
Then, one government, the USA, the main remaining superpower, in its 4 year political cycle of Presidential leaders and changes of priorities, eventually got one President who in 2017 established a human return to the Moon within a short time as a goal, with the intention of laying the foundation and infrastructure for a permanent expansion by the private sector, and really put funding into it via its national space agency NASA.
Four years later, an opposing President and party switched in, with a different ideology, so the previous President's agenda could be tossed out, the budget for lunar settlement was seen as not as assured, national debt and budget issues arose, and other budget priorities became more vocal, so maybe this lunar opportunity may be passing in real funding (if not lip service), and then there is the COVID virus economic impact.
With the entry of the new President in 2021, starting with the budget commitments of the previous President, things should be done quickly, while the budget is still there, and while the opportunity still exists.
In the pre-existing competition between Musk and Bezos for a government funded lunar Human Landing System (HLS), Musk won, and Bezos lost, as announced around a third of the way into 2021. However, Bezos uses his wealth to file lawsuits to delay Musk and the government.
I agree with NASA that their analysis was rigorous. When I look at what I've been able to find about the technical merits of the two competing designs, Musks's fully reusable lunar lander wins by a long shot, with a much better design and also at a much lower price, vs. Bezos' throw-away lander design. (My jaw dropped about the latter -- what was Bezos thinking?!?) Plus, Musk's SpaceX has an impressive track record of successes -- massive and extensive -- which Bezos' Blue Origin doesn't even come anywhere close to. It's like ... no contest.
The government funding is just under 3 billion dollars, less than 2% of the amount of Bezos' net worth of around 200 billion dollars.
(Indeed, in comparison, Bezos previously lost 38 billion dollars just due to choosing to spend time and effort in mating behaviors, resulting in a divorce settlement with his previous longtime mate and partner who was a key to his success and wealth. Homo sapiens is a two gender species, and Bezos has been spending a lot of his time consumed in the same low level mating instinct as primitive life for the past two billion years since DNA exchanges first appeared.)
Bezos hasn't spent the necessary time, effort, and substantial amounts of money to make his lunar ambitions successful, but he does spend time, effort, and money trying to cause obstacles for Musk.
Bezos talks the talk that Blue Origin is the most important work in his life, but he doesn't really walk the walk. It was widely reported in September 2021 that Bezos doubled his time working on Blue Origin, from Wednesday afternoons to also Tuesday afternoons. 1 However, it looks like he's hired lawyers onto it heavily, to try to suppress Musk and SpaceX. (There are also reports that Bezos is spending time considering buying an NFL team, a sinkhole for time, essentially tribal warfare in modern times...)
As NASA officially wrote itself: "... it is not an overstatement to say that all of the successes upon which the Option A procurement is built, all of this once-in-a-generation momentum, can easily be undone by one party - in this case, Blue Origin - who seeks to prioritize its own fortunes over that of NASA, the United States, and every person alive today who dreams to see humans exploring worlds beyond our own. Plainly stated, a protest sustain in the instant dispute runs the high risk of creating not just delays for the Artemis program, but that it will never actually achieve its goal of returning the United States to the Moon. What begins as a mere procurement delay all too easily turns into a lack of political support, a budget siphoned off for other efforts, and ultimately, a shelved mission. ... NASA merely wishes to impress upon this office just how high the stakes are in the present dispute." 2 (The bold and italics is by NASA, not just highlighted here.)
Bezos is thinking only about self-interest and his own status, unable to intellectually rise above the low instincts of the species. I'm guessing there might be a groupthink within his social tribe, with lawyers and greedy self-interest prevailing, as Bezos is supporting that, rather than independent advice for strong ethical leadership otherwise.
That is greed on a cosmic scale, like never before seen in history. The worst of the worst kind of greed.
Individually, our intellects should override our instincts (feelings) as we get older and gain more experience and understanding of life. To see this kind of groupthink inside Blue Origin, and Jeff Bezos following it instead of leading otherwise, is just appalling. I have lived and worked far outside the Ivory Tower for much of my life, domestically and internationally, and seen a diversity of people, groups, and behaviors -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Good people tend to be attracted to good kinds of organizations, and avoid or depart objectionable ones. Organizational cultures tend to turn into echo chambers. Blue Origin's trajectory is questionable.
The bottom line is this: Will this species eventually fail to win the race against extinction, with Bezos shouldering part of the responsibility for critical delays at a critical time?
Status consciousness, ego, and competition is common among this species. Much of this is an unconscious instinct for mating rights, and power and control over others in order to promote one's own interests above all else, a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. However, this is unnecessary and outdated in the modern world, but if intellect does not override instincts ("feelings"), then conflicts and greed can dominate. Indeed, Musk has publicly tweeted putdowns of Bezos with sexual overtones -- blue balls, not being able to get it up (to orbit), and so on.
Bezos may want to be top mammal on Earth, enjoy indulging in the yes-men and yes-women sucking up to his money, and prefer to surround himself with his echo chamber of groupthink, because he has the power to do on Earth whatever be damn pleases, with no need to care about other viewpoints, and could try to denigrate critics. Where does the biggest grizzly sleep in the forest? Anywhere he wants.
However, Earth is just one planet in a vast universe and beyond. Bezos, including all he runs (including Amazon Web Services and his A.I.) can't hold a candle to the vastly greater intelligence in the Universe and beyond which is surely not impressed with him, quite the contrary. Indeed, there are countless mere low level mortals on Earth who have enough common sense intellectually to see that Bezos has a Mr. Hyde side, which is going cosmic.
Many who lack financial class and power, may try to appeal to Bezos to exercise more ethical class, and real intellectual class beyond rationalizations.
My Ph.D. psychologist father always told me: Don't just go by the lofty things people say, and instead observe moreso their actual behaviors, when assessing a person.
In some ways, it may already be too late to advise Bezos to change. Bezos may have already self-destructed on a wide scale with NASA and Congress, who may be less willing now to lend support to Bezos, and instead steer clear. He would need to try to repair a lot of damage, from this litigious track record.
Blue Origin's attempts to patent basic things and force competitors to pay him royalties, such as his failed rocket landing patent, is also remarkable. (Blue Origin lost to SpaceX in court. Having worked for the U.S. Patent Office myself early in my career, I had a better perspective than many other people about Blue Origin's attempt.)
Bezos has been surprisingly slow to reach achievements, in contrast to Musk, and is far behind Musk. This track record also makes Blue Origin less competitive in image. Blue Origin has yet to achieve an orbital launch. SpaceX has been launching to orbit since 2010. SpaceX has delivered astronauts to the International Space Station, and put private citizens into orbit. Blue Origin has just done some small, very brief up-and-down suborbital flights. Blue Origin is far behind in its orbital rocket program. Blue Origin contracted to another orbital launch group, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), to jointly fund the BE-4 rocket engine for ULA's next generation rocket, and Blue Origin proclaimed in 2015 that the engines would be ready by 2017, but they're still late as of September 2021. 3
(Many people attribute Blue Origin's slow progress to Bezos' hands off management style, in contrast to Musk's meandering thru his operations. From my experience in organizations, the Musk approach is very important for quality, efficiency, improvements, and prevention of many potential problems before they happen. The Bezos style is more common in government circles than private sector ones.)
However, if the US government gets tripped up in its Musk human lunar mission by Bezos' money politics, and Musk drops the Moon and goes back to focusing all out on his Mars dream of questionable feasibility as a next step, then homo sapiens may lose the race between space colonization vs. self destruction, so that it may come down to a later primate to make life from Earth to be immortal, not the stupid human race.
Maybe humans are a danger to the Universe, if humans develop an artificial intelligence based on its darkest lowest common denominator instincts and groupthinks. After the space race, who will win the artificial intelligence race? Is this just a precursor of what may come later? If greed wins? Then it's time for higher intelligence in the Universe to just flick this pest A.I.?
Will Bezos be erased in The Simulation, no backup, just Delete? Restart the Simulation from a backup around the early 1960s space race, and change a few tiny random things?
Or maybe let this one continue whereby Earth must wait a few tens of millions of years for any surviving descendants of orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, or chimpanzees to evolve and see what they might be like? (If humans don't drive these species into extinction ourselves...)
Or maybe it will never happen and all hope on Earth die out when the planet's sun eventually dies. Game over, we lose.
That may be what's at stake if we don't rise up above our instincts, and rise above Bezos and his cosmic greed.
Note: It is risky for anybody in the space business to irritate a big funder like Bezos. However, this is an extremely important issue for life from Earth, so somebody's gotta say this. Since nobody else has, I did.
Having lived and worked in the Washington, D.C., region for a long time, and various international circles, I generally don't take sides with political parties or other organizations requiring tribal conformity, and remain independent, not getting sucked into relatively small matters. The survival of life from Earth by moving into outer space self-sufficiently, sustainably, and independently is the main goal, so I don't get sucked into relatively small political issues.
Nobody's perfect, and it's wrong to think you're always right. We all do stupid things and make mistakes from time to time, but what is important is what we learn from that, and how we improve ourselves and change our behaviors. Forgiveness is a great thing when both sides are sincere, tolerant, and committed.
Dr. Martin Luther King said "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind". It would be nice if just two individuals, Bezos and Musk, could just transcend their competitive status instincts. While it may be good to see them anger each other into action and focus and harder work than if there was no competition, on the other hand Bezos is playing dirty in trying to trip Musk and the government, at a critical time.
Musk has got the rockets to launch payloads for anybody, such as mining and manufacturing equipment designed for the lunar poles designed and made by others, who may work out good partnerships or launch costs with Musk, maybe even "mates rates". Focus needs to switch from rockets to mining and manufacturing equipment.
Bezos' stated vision is much more consistent with PERMANENT's -- developing the Moon, and colonies in orbital space. Musk wants to try to get away to Mars, which opens him up to criticisms. In view of Bezos' stated emphasis on taking care of Earth, I'm surprised such criticisms haven't come from Bezos. PERMANENT has always wanted to industrialize space near Earth to benefit Earth (environmental preservations as well as services and goods from space, including solar power satellites for clean electric power on Earth), and establish a viable space economy, leading to self-sufficient private enterprise and space colonies. See also my article on developing the lunar poles vs. Mars vs. asteroids near Earth.
Bezos' vision is much more in line with PERMANENT's. However, Bezos is secretive and greedy, whereas PERMANENT is open -- note all our references and credits to others, and encouragement of "competition". PERMANENT is more in line with many of the people of Planetary Resources before they collapsed. (I may be very thin, but I won't give up or cop out to the day I die.)
Of course, there are lots of people who are saying we should do things on Earth before space, but (1) all that becomes moot if humans become extinct in our biosphere because of technological gains in laboratory created pathogens, (2) industrializing space can help preserve Earth by shifting mining and manufacturing to space, plus solar power satellites vs. global warming and pollution, and (3) space development also benefits people, such as Musk's Starlink and lots of future space products. Opposing space development is selfish.
Another article I am writing is about who should populate space colonies -- astronaut selection, the DNA of the space generations. Just rich people regardless of their ethics and past behaviors because they can pay, or carefully selected people with DNA which makes them more communal and modest in nature, and who are really more likely to get along with diverse other kinds of people in the stressful life of early space colonies, based on their track records in their lives up to that point? Hopefully, it will be scientific and engineering types who are workers, not many rich people with strong instincts of status and greed.
Ultimately, this space race is not just about rockets to launch off Earth. We actually have a lot of those already, though SpaceX does look to reduce the cost and provide an American private sector astronauts capability. What we need more of is investors into things like mining equipment for lunar minerals, manufacturing systems on the Moon, food growing systems made to operate on the Moon, closed ecological life support systems ready to deploy, and so much more. (Psssst.... This is where the main profit is!) The obsession on the competition between two rocket launchers and landers is just a small piece of the puzzle, and actually there are many other competitors for launch. But launch is just the first step, of infrastructure.
What's needed is more philanthropic investors in the private space race who are able to see well beyond Earth rockets, and make some progress along those lines.
For any comments on this article, even just a "Hi there", please send them to: cosmicgreed at this domain.
Bezos' other company Amazon sent to The Verge a list of lawsuits and other legal actions filed by SpaceX over the years 4, with a basic theme that SpaceX does it, too. In a review of the lawsuits which Amazon listed, Amazon has a valid point. However, in general, none of these lawsuits has to do with getting humans off the planet and onto the Moon. Many of the SpaceX lawsuits have nothing to do with Bezos / Blue Moon / Amazon, but many others do target them. Some are in regard to satellites operating for internet services, which the two billionaires' companies compete about, but that is a sideline, especially considering that neither company depends on its survival or greater well being from those internet satellite projects. Some procedures pursued by SpaceX are somewhat normal in the business and not necessarily aimed against Bezos or Amazon or Blue Origin. However, another one I found to be of most interest, IMO:
2:19-cv-07927 filed May 17, 2019, which protests about being left out when Blue Origin and others got launch contracts from the US Air Force as part of the National Security Space Launch Program.
The main issue in my view about the above contract, besides that it was SpaceX challenging a contract Blue Origin was a winner of, is that the court took more than a year to rule, on October 2, 2020, even though eventually all claims were ruled in favor of the defendants, a complete loss for SpaceX (unless anybody considers any delays to be a gain). Though it was in the military space field for things unrelated to human expansion into space, and should not be financially vital to either company, SpaceX still contributed to a precedent of litigious battles between the two rivals, which somewhat undercuts its own current argumentative position.
There are some other lawsuits of particular interest, too, which had nothing to do with Bezos, Blue Origin, or Amazon. In one of them, SpaceX challenged the launch services award to Orbital Sciences Corporation for NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer ("LADEE") mission. In another, SpaceX protested the award to ULA to launch a probe to the trojan asteroids of Jupiter, which resulted in a stop-work order, though SpaceX withdrew the order around two months later.
Bezos should order the withdrawal of the lawsuit against the SpaceX human lunar landing system, and rise up over his own greed and rivalry, as well as his own internal corporate echo chamber, and instead do what's best for the greater good and possibly life from Earth as a leader instead of a follower.
1. Jeff Bezos now dedicates 2 afternoons a week to his space company Blue Origin instead of one, a report says by Business Insider, or else CNBC ...
2. The Verge, from a freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Special thanks to the Lunar Enterprise Daily and Steve Durst, a very longtimer in this business, where I first saw this link to The Verge.
See also these articles on PERMANENT:
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