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Jeff Bezos's Space Startup Blue Origin Soars Into the Reusable Rocket Race

Jeff Bezos's Space Startup Blue Origin Soars Into the Reusable Rocket Race

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Image credit: Reuters | Richard Brian

This article was updated at 3:02 ET on Wed., Nov. 25, 2015.

Watch out, Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos’s space startup is gaining on you in the reusable rocket race. Well, sort of. Blue Origin, the Amazon founder and CEO’s space startup, beautifully landed a reusable suborbital rocket yesterday. The unmanned rocket ship soared some 62 miles into space, then stuck a smooth vertical landing upon its return to earth during a test flight in West Texas.

In celebration of the feat, Bezos fired off his first-ever tweet. We’d say he earned it.

Related: Virgin Galactic Lands in Long Beach, Unveils Plan to Launch Small Satellites Into Space

"Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore,” Bezos said in a blog post following what he hailed as New Shepard’s “flawless” mission. “Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket...Full reuse is a game changer, and we can't wait to fuel up and fly again."

Ever the gentleman, Musk tweeted his congrats to Bezos. It was a refreshing show of good sportsmanship from a fiercely driven competitor...while it lasted. Hours later, the SpaceX founder and CEO changed his tune on Twitter, schooling Bezos on the history of his own commercial space startup’s suborbital flights, which date back to 2013. He also sought to clarify the difference between “space” and “orbit” for his rival (something journalists like myself could learn from as well, I must admit). Oversimplified bottom line: Suborbital feats are far less impressive than orbital. That said, Bezos did not humiliate Musk. Not even close.   

Let the nerdy, billionaire rocket-measuring Twittersphere in-fighting begin. Or not. Bezos has yet to take the bait.

Related: Amazon's Jeff Bezos to Build Rocket Plant, Launch Pad in Florida

SpaceX, for its part, has yet to successfully land and reuse its Falcon 9 rockets. The rockets have botched landing attempts on a floating platform in the Atlantic ocean. During SpaceX’s last test flight, the Falcon 9 blew up minutes after launch, sending Musk and company back to the drawing board. However, it bears noting that Musk and company are attempting to achieve a much more difficult undertaking than Blue Origin, in that it’s significantly more challenging to land an orbital rocket than to land a suborbital rocket.

Bezos, Musk and fellow billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson aren’t just vying to gain a competitive foothold in the burgeoning commercial aerospace market. They’re battling to rocket everyday people (well, millionaires and celebrities) into space -- in Musk’s case, eventually all the way to Mars, not merely just a few miles above the earth. Still, with yesterday’s Blue Origin victory freshly tucked under his belt, Bezos just took more than a small step forward in the private suborbital spaceflight race.

“We are building Blue Origin to seed an enduring human presence in space,” Bezos said, ”to help us move beyond this blue planet that is the origin of all we know. We are pursuing this vision patiently, step-by-step. Our fantastic team in Kent, Van Horn and Cape Canaveral is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space.”

Related: Remembering George Mueller, the 'Father of the Space Shuttle'

Edition: December 2016

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