The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos in an open letter has appealed to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. In the open letter, he discusses plans to discount NASA up to $2 billion in a bid to build the vehicle that will land the next astronauts on the moon. His unusual proposal comes a few months after NASA chose SpaceX over Blue Origin for a $2.9 billion contract to build the vehicle. In April, the space agency awarded the $2.9bn contract to Elon Musk, rejecting a bid from Bezos’ company Blue Origin to build the vehicle that will land the next astronauts on the moon. This however may reignite the battle for space between his rocket company Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
NASA expects to land the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024 through its Artemis program. Humans last explored the lunar surface during the final Apollo mission, Apollo 17, in 1972. The agency’s original intent was to have at least two private-sector companies compete to build the spacecraft that will ferry astronauts to the lunar surface for the Artemis moon landing missions — a project called the Human Landing System (HLS). However, in April, NASA made the surprise announcement that it would move forward with Elon Musk’s SpaceX as the sole contractor for the project, citing costs as a primary reason. NASA could only award the contract to one company, not two as expected because of a funding shortfall. The space agency had received only $850m of the $3.3bn it requested from Congress to build the Moon lander. NASA’s human exploration Chief Kathy Lueders admitted that at the time of the contract award, the space agency’s current budget precluded it from selecting two companies. Asides from cost having played a role in SpaceX’s winning the bid, NASA also cited the proven record of orbital missions by Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm as a factor in the award.
Mr. Bezos in his open letter wrote “Blue Origin will bridge the HLS [Human Landing System] budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2bn to get the program back on track right now. He also mentioned, “This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments.” With Blue Origin openly pushing back NASA’s decision, Bezos hopes Blue Origin can be reconsidered for a contract to build the vehicle.
Mr. Bezos also repeatedly emphasized the need for NASA to promote healthy competition in his open letter, as the agency continues to works toward its return to the moon. He wrote “Without competition, a short time into the contract, NASA will find itself with limited options as it attempts to negotiate missed deadlines, design changes, and cost overruns,” he wrote. “Without competition, NASA’s short-term and long-term lunar ambitions will be delayed, will ultimately cost more, and won’t serve the national interest.” Bezos also emphasized Blue Moon’s proven heritage: “We created a 21st Century lunar landing system inspired by the well-characterized Apollo architecture – an architecture with many benefits. One of its important benefits is that it prioritizes safety.”
Bezos wrote “All NASA needs to do is take advantage of this offer and amend” the contract. Amending the contract to take advantage of Bezos’ offer isn’t as simple as it may sound, says Lori Garver, NASA’s former deputy administrator. Garver oversaw the beginning of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Garver said, Bezos’ offer is something the agency shouldn’t brush aside, but it also might not work out the way Blue Origin wants it to. “I see this as a positive sign overall, but it should not impact the current awards or strategy,” she said. Meanwhile, Musk’s SpaceX is already pushing the envelope of spacecraft design, SpaceX is employing a radical approach to landing and incorporating innovative methane-fuelled engines for the Human Landing System.