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Years before SpaceX or Blue Origin achieved any success, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos met for dinner one night in 2004.
They talked about what their companies were working on and about Rocket architectures.
It’s hard to imagine that the pair had any idea that 15 years later, SpaceX would actually be developing a rocket to go to Mars and that Blue Origin was on verge of completing a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle.
And there’s no doubt that the pair had any idea of the extent of the rivalry between them would become.
It’s a rivalry that spans many years and many occurrences, tracing back to the affair of poaching employees.
Between 2005 and 2008, Blue Origin lured away a number of employees from SpaceX.
I couldn’t find a source with the exact number but it got to the point to where SpaceX designed a way to filter employee’s emails for the word “Blue Origin”
According to a lawsuit filed by SpaceX against a former employee, the company claims that Blue Origin would hire carefully targeted SpaceX employees in order to gain information on SpaceX design efforts.
The episodes of employee poaching were followed by a quarrel for the Historic Launch Pad 39A.
39A was the launch site for the majority of the Apollo missions along with many Space Shuttle Missions including the first orbital spaceflight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.
By 2013, the site sat dormant, 2 years removed from the end of the Space Shuttle Program, costing NASA $100,000 per month.
NASA decided to lease the site for commercial use and that’s when SpaceX and Blue Origin jumped in for the opportunity.
SpaceX wanted exclusive rights to the launch pad, and shortly after finding out, Blue Origin submitted their own bid.
You see, Bezos is fanatical about anything involving the history of Space Exploration, especially the Apollo Era.
His passion for space exploration stems back to when he watched the Apollo 11 landing when he was 5 years old, and ultimately led him to found Blue Origin years later.
He even financed the recovery of the F-1 engine that propelled the Saturn V rocket from Apollo 11.
So, Bezos wanted to use 39A for the launch site for the New Glenn that was and is still in development.
In 2013, an intense battle for the rights for 39A unfolded between SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Blue Origin argued that the launch pad should not be operated exclusively by any one company.
Additionally, Blue Origin promised that if they won the bid, they would share it with other companies including SpaceX.
SpaceX ended up winning the lease of the esteemed launch site.
The decision boiled down to the fact that SpaceX already had a 7-year relationship with NASA dating back to the 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Contract.
And Blue Origin was far from having a rocket that would use the site with the New Glenn many years away.
But Bezos didn’t take NASA’s decision lying down, he filed a legal protest.
Then Blue Origin teamed up with SpaceX’s Nemesis the United Launch Alliance or ULA.
Blue Origin and the ULA lobbied several senators who had close ties with the Aerospace industry.
The senators wrote a letter to the NASA administrator but the attempt to change NASA’s mind was not successful, however, they did a great a great job making Musk Angry.
Musk found it ridiculous that Bezos thought he should get 39A when Blue Origin has yet to put so much as a toothpick into orbit.
HAHA, his words not mine.
Anyway, the next conflict came the following year in 2014 and centered around a patent…
Three years before SpaceX grasshopper started testing vertical landing tech and six years before Blue Origin first landing the New Shepard, Bezos filed Patent number 8,678,321 in 2009.
The patent is 10 pages long, titled, “Sea Landing of Space Launch Vehicles and Associated Systems and Methods”.
And it claimed the rights behind the concept of recovering rocket boosters on a landing ship in the ocean or other bodies of water.
By the time SpaceX announced that it contracted a Louisiana shipyard to build the first landing drone in October 2014, Bezos patent was approved just 7 months earlier.
Musk was FURIOUS when he found out about the patent.
He thought the patent was ridiculous, and that the idea of landing rocket boosters has been seen on movies and many proposals over the past 50 years.
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