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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

Our Galaxy’s Black Hole Suddenly Lit Up and Nobody Knows Why

In May, the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way became 75 times brighter in just two hours.

The supermassive black hole that lives at the center of our galaxy has been mysteriously sparkling as of late, and nobody knows the reason.

This dark behemoth, known as as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), is four million times as massive as the Sun. Though no light escapes its boundaries, astronomers can observe the hole’s interactions with bright stars or dust clouds that surround it.

On the night of May 13, 2019, UCLA astronomer Tuan Do and his colleagues were watching Sgr A* using the Keck Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. In a period of just two hours, they witnessed the black hole become 75 times brighter in the near-infrared band of the light spectrum.

That spring evening, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole “reached much brighter flux levels in 2019 than ever measured at near-infrared wavelengths,” according to a forthcoming studyled by Do and published on the arXiv preprint server.

“The brightness of Sgr A* varies all the time, getting brighter and fainter on the timescale of minutes to hours—it basically flickers like a candle,” Do said in an email. “We think that something unusual might be happening this year because the black hole seems to vary in brightness more, reaching brighter levels than we’ve ever seen in the past.”

The peak flux, meaning the most luminous phase of the flare-up, soared to “twice the maximum historical flux measurements,” Do’s team said in the study. In other words, in the 20 years since astronomers have monitored Sgr A*, the next-brightest event has only been half as dazzling as this one.

This unusual sparkle at the galactic core was likely caused by close encounters between Sgr A* and objects surrounding it, according to the team.

The edge of a black hole, called an event horizon, is shaped by intense tidal forces that tear at anything that gets close. Once a black hole starts devouring nearby objects like stars or gas clouds, infalling material heats up at the event horizon, sparking light shows that can be picked up by telescopes.

Do and his colleagues speculate that a star called S0-2, which is about 15 times as massive as the Sun, may have been the object that juiced Sgr A*. In 2018, S0-2 came within 17 light hours of the supermassive black hole, and that close pass may have disturbed gases at the event horizon enough to cause the May 2019 brightening event.

This composite image shows the motion of the dusty cloud G2 as it closes in on, and then passes, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. These new observations with ESO’s VLT have shown that the cloud appears to have survived its close encounter with the black hole and remains a compact object that is not significantly extended. In this image the position of the cloud in the years 2006, 2010, 2012 and February and September 2014 are shown, from left to right. The blobs have been colourised to show the motion of the cloud, red indicated that the object is receding and blue approaching. The cross marks the position of the supermassive black hole.

Another possible culprit is a dust cloud known as G2, which passed about 36 light hours from Sgr A* in 2014. Scientists predicted that G2 would be torn apart by the hole, but the results were ultimately described as disappointing and “boring” for astronomers.

That initial letdown may have been premature, though, because we might be seeing the slow-burn “delayed reaction” to the gas cloud’s approach, the team said.

“Many astronomers are observing Sgr A* this summer,” Do noted. “I’m hoping we can get as much data as we can this year before the region of the sky with Sgr A* gets behind the Sun and we won’t be able to observe it again until next year.”

“Maybe the black hole is waking up—there’s a lot we don’t know at this point so we need more data to understand if what we are seeing is a big change in what is feeding the black hole or this is a brief event,” he said.

Source www.vice.com

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Milky Way galaxy is warped and twisted, not flat

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is “warped and twisted” and not flat as previously thought, new research shows.

Analysis of the brightest stars in the galaxy shows that they do not lie on a flat plane as shown in academic texts and popular science books.

Astronomers from Warsaw University speculate that it might have been bent out of shape by past interactions with nearby galaxies.

The new three dimensional map has been published in the journal Science.

The popular picture of the Milky Way as a flat disc is based on the observation of 2.5 million stars out of a possible 2.5 billion. The artists’ impressions are therefore rough approximations of the truer shape of our galaxy, according to Dr Dorota Skowron of Warsaw University.

“The internal structure and history of the Milky Way is still far from being understood, in part because it is extremely difficult to measure distances to stars at the outer regions of our galaxy,” she said.

To gain a more accurate picture, Dr Skowron and her colleagues measured the distances of some of the brightest stars in the Milky Way, called Cepheid variable stars. These are massive young stars that burn hundreds, if not thousands, of times brighter than our own Sun. They can be so bright that they can be observed at the very edge of the galaxy.

Not only that, they also pulsate at regular intervals at a rate that is directly related to their brightness.

Artists’ impressions which depict the Milky Way as a flat disk will have to be revised

This enables astronomers to calculate their distance with great precision.

Most of the stars were identified by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) at Las Campanas Observatory (LCO) in Chile’s southern Atacama Desert. Przemek Mroz, a member of the OGLE team, said that the results were surprising.

Warsaw Telescope and Milky Way Cepheids discovered by the OGLE survey

“Our results show that the Milky Way Galaxy is not flat. It is warped and twisted far away from the galactic centre. Warping may have happened through past interactions with satellite galaxies, intergalactic gas or dark matter (invisible material present in galaxies about which little in known).”

The Polish results support an analysis of Cepheid variable stars published in February in Nature Astronomy journal by astronomers from Macquarie University in Australia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Source www.bbc.co.uk

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SpaceX Starship update coming later this month

Image Credit: SpaceX / Elon Musk

Starship could carry the first astronauts back to the Moon.

Elon Musk’s private space firm has been developing a spacecraft capable of landing humans on other worlds.

Designed to serve as the reusable second stage of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), Starship will also be able to carry astronauts and cargo all the way to the surface of Mars.

The spacecraft has undergone several name changes since it was first announced, having previously transitioned from Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) to Interplanetary Transport System (ITS).

Now Elon Musk has revealed that a full update on the project will be coming on August 24th at either Cape Canaveral in Florida or Boca Chica in Texas, which is where a prototype was recently tested.

Writing on Twitter, he stated that the update would include a “detailed review of the first orbital Starship, explaining the pros and cons of each design decision.”

“We should have Starship Mk1 with 3 Raptors almost ready to fly by then,” he said.

It will certainly be interesting to see how things are progressing.

Source: Ars Technica

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