Elon Musk has made a swipe at Jeff Bezos in the latest chapter of their modern-day space race, as both men set their sights firmly on the moon.
The two billionaires, who are the world’s richest men, have both been attempting to launch long-range orbital rockets with their respective space exploration companies, and were competing for a coveted US government contract to build a spaceship to deliver astronauts to the moon by 2024.
Blue Origin, the rocket company Mr Bezos founded in 2000, filed a protest against the decision to award the contract to Mr Musk’s SpaceX on Monday.
Mr Musk tweeted “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol [laugh out loud]” in response to a news story about the legal case, in which Blue Origin accused Nasa of “endangering America’s return to the moon”.
The space agency had originally planned to award two contracts to either SpaceX, Blue Origin (plus partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper) or third company Dynetics, a US defence contractor.
SpaceX, which Mr Musk founded in 2002, will be the sole firm to transport humans back to the moon for the first time since 1972, a decision that Blue Origin contested was “flawed”.
“Nasa has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute,” the company said in a statement.
“Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the moon. Because of that, we’ve filed a protest with the GAO [Government Accountability Office].”
While Mr Bezos and Richard Branson are locked in a 21st-century space race with Mr Musk, SpaceX has by far the best track record in launching spacecraft.
It was the first private company to transport astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station (ISS), taking Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a 19-hour journey in May last year.
Mr Musk, who said he was “overcome with emotion”, said he’d been working towards the goal for 18 years.
“I think this is something that should really get people right in the heart – anyone who has a spirit of exploration,” he said at the time.
The company’s Dragon spacecraft took a crew of four to the ISS for the third time last week.
Blue Origin has not launched a craft into orbit and has pushed back the date for its first voyage with passengers back several times. It is asking the GAO to retract its award to SpaceX and to resume discussions with all bidders in a new process that reflects the changes it says were made to the project.