Jeff Bezos vs. NASA, explained

NASA chose SpaceX -- not Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin -- to build its lunar landing vehicle. Now, Blue Origin is suing NASA.


August 19, 2021

Why is the richest man on Earth suing the agency tasked with exploring everywhere else?

In short, NASA chose a different billionaire’s space proposal.

Let’s break it down.

The big, red picture

NASA’s Artemis Program aims to put people back on the moon by 2024 — something it hasn’t done since 1972 — to practice and prepare for missions to Mars.

Though the 1st run will be uncrewed, NASA will use its rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to send 4 astronauts to the Orion spacecraft, where they’ll use a Human Landing System (HLS) to send 2 of them to the moon’s surface.

Where the billionaires come in

NASA considered proposals from 3 companies for the HLS:

  • Bezos’ Blue Origin
  • Alabama-based Dynetics
  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Though NASA said it might pick 2, the organization received less funding than it wanted and chose only SpaceX’s $2.9B Starship proposal — more highly rated and cheaper than Blue Origin’s $5.9B proposal.

No fair, I’m telling the government!

Blue Origin and Dynetics complained to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), saying NASA evaluated the 3 proposals unreasonably and should have canceled or changed the award when it realized it didn’t have enough money.

The GAO rejected their protest in July, saying NASA was not obligated to choose 2 companies just because it said it might. (The full report is here.)

Bezos (worth an estimated $186B) offered NASA a $2B discount to no avail…

… then Blue Origin filed a complaint in federal court

Though it’s hidden behind a protective order, a Blue Origin spokesperson says the suit is “an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” per The Verge.

Regardless of the complaint’s outcome, it’ll likely hold up NASA’s lunar plans. The protest GAO rejected already held SpaceX up for 95 days.

Musk has responded by suggesting that if lobbying and lawyers could get you to space, “Bezos would be on Pluto rn.”

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