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Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have profound visions for humanity’s future in space. Here’s how the billionaires’ goals compare

  • Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have each spoken at length about their visions for humanity’s future in space.
  • Musk, the founder of SpaceX, wants to launch people to Mars, establish a self-sustaining city there, and use the red planet as a base from which to further explore the solar system.
  • Bezos, meanwhile, talks of using his rocket company, Blue Origin, to put a permanent base on the moon, build up huge space colonies, and eventually have 1 trillion people living and working in space.
  • Although these visions are different, they have strong similarities, too.

Space is a big place, one rich with resources and adventure for the taking. So if you’re the imaginative type, leaving Earth offers near-limitless opportunities for humanity’s expansion.

Of all the people weighing in on how we’ll get to space, what we’ll do there, and on what timeline, the voices of two billionaires — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — ring the loudest and most often.

Musk, the tech mogul behind Tesla and the founder of SpaceX (a now-$33-billion rocket company), wants to establish a permanent, self-sustaining city on Mars.

Meanwhile, Bezos — the founder and CEO of Amazon — has his own space company, Blue Origin. Its work so far focuses on building a “road to space” with new rockets that could ultimately pave the way for floating colonies.

These two grandiose dreams are markedly different, and their owners occasionally spar about the details. But it’s not inconceivable that their two companies will one day work together in space.

Here’s what Musk and Bezos have said of their ambitious visions, and how they’re different yet also surprisingly similar.

Musk has been obsessed with Mars for decades.

An illustration of Mars against the blackness of space.

Sources: SECSpaceRef

In 2001 — a year before earning $165 million from the sale of PayPal — Musk came up with an idea for a “Mars Oasis” spacecraft and pledged $20 million to send it to the red planet.

Elon Musk in 1999.

The goal was to send a sealed chamber on a spacecraft to Mars, with dry nutrient gel and seeds inside of it. “When you’d land, you hydrate the gel and you have a little greenhouse on Mars,” Musk said of the idea in 2012.

A scene from “The Martian” showing potato plants growing in soil on the red planet.

Sources: Miles O’BrienSpaceRef

The chamber would be equipped with tools to take photos of the plants and beam the images to Earth. Musk thought this mission would inspire Congress to fund crewed NASA missions to Mars and establish a permanent human presence there.

An illustration of NASA astronauts on Mars.

Sources: Miles O’BrienSpaceRef

But Musk underestimated the cost of rockets: The mission couldn’t be done for $20 million. So in 2002, he founded SpaceX to design reusable rockets that could lower the cost of access to space.

A photo of Elon Musk with SpaceX’s founding staff (and a mariachi band) in 2002.

Sources: Miles O’BrienSpaceRef

Bezos, meanwhile, has long been preoccupied with space colonies. In particular, he has expressed interest in the concepts imagined by physicist Gerard O’Neill in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A 1970s illustration of a space colony concept developed by physicist Gerard O'Neill.
A 1970s illustration of a space colony concept developed by physicist Gerard O’Neill.

Sources: WiredBusiness Insider, “ The Space Barons

O’Neill colonies would be made almost entirely out of materials harvested in space. They would rotate to make artificial gravity and recreate Earth-like conditions inside.

A 1970s illustration by NASA of a cylindrical space colony, complete with rivers and green space.

In high school, Bezos gave a valedictorian speech about millions of people living among the stars: “Space, the final frontier, meet me there!” he said in closing.

Jeff Bezos in his youth.

Sources: Business Insider, “ The Space Barons

As Bezos grew rich, his friend Neal Stephenson — a sci-fi author — helped inspire him to form a spaceflight company. In 2000, Bezos secretly founded Blue Origin to lower the cost of getting people into orbit.

Jeff Bezos.

Source: “ The Space Barons

Musk has described his vision for humanity’s future in space in perhaps more detail than Bezos has. Musk’s core goal is to “back up” our Earth-based civilization on Mars…

An illustration of a passenger orbiting Mars inside a SpaceX vehicle.

Source: Business Insider

… Just in case terrible, lasting, and global calamities befall our home planet.

Uh oh.

To work toward that goal, SpaceX developed Falcon 9 rockets with reusable boosters — the largest and most expensive part. Using these boosters (which are capable of landing themselves back on Earth) in multiple launches saves many millions of dollars per launch.

The main parts of SpaceX’s partly reusable Falcon 9 rocket system.

Source: Business Insider

This reusability sets SpaceX’s rockets apart from all other orbital rockets, which trash their boosters in the ocean or on land. SpaceX successfully landed its first booster on December 21, 2015.

SpaceX successfully lands one of its Falcon 9 rocket’s 16-story boosters for the first time, on December 21, 2015.

Less than a year after that feat, Musk walked onto a stage to formally detail SpaceX’s plans for populating Mars. But those plans don’t involve Falcon 9 directly, nor the company’s newer and more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket system.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk speaks during the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico on September 27, 2016.

Instead, SpaceX is working to develop a fully reusable rocket called Starship. Musk announces major design updates (and sometimes name changes) to this system about once a year; he’s expected to do so again this summer.

An illustration of SpaceX’s upcoming Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster.

Sources: Business Insider ( 12)

SpaceX’s current plan goes like this: A crewed Starship would get launched into orbit around Earth, then several tanker Starships would launch and meet the first one in orbit to refill its fuel tanks. Using that fuel, Starship would then launch from orbit toward Mars.

Sources: Business Insider ( 12)

Musk thinks Starship could ferry 100 people at a time. He has said the cost of a round-trip ticket to Mars could be about $100,000-$500,000. That price would be “low enough that most people in advanced economies could sell their home on Earth and move to Mars if they want,” Musk said.

An illustration of SpaceX’s upcoming Starship spaceship.

SpaceX is building and launching Starship prototypes in south Texas to test and refine ideas. The full system could become a reality as soon as 2020 or 2021 if all goes as Musk hopes.

SpaceX’s earliest Mars rocket ship prototype, called Starhopper, sits on a launchpad after its first “hops” in April 2019.

Source: Business Insider

A crewed mission around the moon, perhaps in 2023, would ostensibly prove that Starship is safe to fly through deep space.

SpaceX’s rendering of a Starship spaceship (formerly called Big Falcon Rocket) carrying a passenger around the moon.

Sources: Business Insider ( 123)

SpaceX would begin cargo launches to Mars in 2024, according to Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s COO and president. A crewed mission would follow shortly after, perhaps in 2026. Then a permanent city would begin to flesh out in the 2030s.

An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle on the surface of Mars, with greenhouses and a nascent space colony in the distance.

Sources: Business Insider ( 12), Twitter

But Musk has yet to reveal the technologies and cargo his company would launch to keep people alive on Mars or build a settlement there. SpaceX primarily bills itself as a transportation company — which means it may need others to figure out how to produce fuel on Mars, build off-planet habitats, and much more.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk makes a face during a press briefing on March 2, 2019.

Sources: Business Insider ( 12)

Either way, Musk hopes to establish the first self-sustainable city on Mars by the 2050s.

Elon Musk’s vision of a colony on Mars.

Sources: Business Insider ( 12)

He’d also like to start terraforming Mars with greenhouses gases in the 2100s to transform it into a more comfortable, possibly Earth-like planet. That would help SpaceX to achieve its self-described “ultimate goal of enabling human life on Mars.”

Sources: Business Insider

Bezos has a similar plan to realize his vision of future space colonies.

Jeff Bezos gestures during a presentation in May 2019.

Bezos’ goal is for Blue Origin to “build a road to space” with a rocket called New Glenn, which is scheduled to debut in 2021.

An illustration of Blue Origin’s reusable New Glenn rocket launching toward space.

Source: Business Insider

Like SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, New Glenn would have reusable boosters that could land back on Earth and be utilized in future missions, lowering the cost of launches.

A rendering of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket booster landing on a ship in the ocean.

New Glenn wouldn’t be fully reusable like Starship. But Blue Origin is also developing a system called New Armstrong that might not waste any rocket parts. However, details about it are still secret.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin.

For now, Bezos’ philosophy is to get Blue Origin good at launching and landing rockets with its New Shepard rocket, which is smaller and not designed to reach orbit.

Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

New Shepard is designed to fly past the edge of space in a ballistic arc, giving paying tourists about five minutes of weightlessness at the top. Bezos has said this will give the company robust experience flying human passengers before it targets orbit with New Glenn.

A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

Blue Origin is also vying to be selected by NASA as a commercial partner in the agency’s push to get astronauts back to the moon. In May, Bezos debuted the company’s “Blue Moon” lander.

Jeff Bezos describes Blue Origin’s lunar lander concept, called Blue Moon, during an unveiling event on May 9, 2019.

Bezos sees the moon as a major part of the road to space: Ice litters the moon’s poles, and that water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen — chemicals that can be used to fuel rockets.

The moon as seen by astronauts in space.

A lunar depot would be part of the means to more easily and cheaply access the abundant resources that are available across the solar system. This vision is broader than Musk’s, which is primarily tied to Mars.

Jeff Bezos speaking about Blue Origin’s mission on May 9, 2019.

Source: Business Insider

If Blue Origin can make launches cheap, mine the moon for fuel, harvest asteroids for metals and minerals, and generate energy in space, it may be possible to construct space colonies and move people off the planet.

An illustration of asteroid mining.

“The solar system can support a trillion humans, and then we’d have 1,000 Mozarts, and 1,000 Einsteins. Think how incredible and dynamic that civilization will be,” Bezos said in February.

An artist’s concept of an O’Neill space colony, which could theoretically emulate Earth-like living conditions in space.

Source: Business Insider

Meanwhile, Bezos foresees Earth returning to be a sort of “residential” planet with light industry. People would be able to affordably go to and from Earth and O’Neill colonies.

An artist’s concept of an O’Neill space colony.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos admits the technology does not yet exist to make this happen. But he expects it to within a few generations. So he launched a “Club for the Future” to inspire kids to “preserve the Earth and unlock the potential of living and working in space.”

Jeff Bezos launched an organization called Club for the Future to encourage kids to develop the skills to realize his vision for humanity in space.

Sources: Business InsiderClub for the Future

In the end, Bezos and Musk’s visions, while different, aren’t so dissimilar: They both want to make access to space cheaper, enable people to live and work there, and expand the horizons of humanity.

Just as the US and Russia (among other nations) have learned to work together to pull off major feats — such as the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station — it’s not unreasonable to think that SpaceX and Blue Origin may one day cooperate to achieve the impossible.

The International Space Station (ISS).

Source www.businessinsider.com

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Space

Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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Space

NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Space

Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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