Jeff Bezos Criticizes NASA for Giving SpaceX a 'Multi-Billon Dollar Head Start' in Moon Race

Jeff Bezos urged NASA to create a more competitive environment for the commercial space industry and offered to clear $2 billion worth of NASA's costs for the next two fiscal years in return for a moon landing development contract.

The Blue Origin and Amazon founder also criticized NASA's decision to select SpaceX as the sole company—for now—to develop the human landing system (HLS) responsible for ferrying future astronauts to the surface of the moon.

Bezos' letter to the space agency comes less than a week after he was launched into sub-orbital space in one of his company's own rockets in a sign the commercial space industry is gearing up for a competitive future.

NASA's next mission to the moon is part of the Artemis program, which aims to put humans back on the lunar surface as soon as 2024.

Much of the mission is going to use NASA technology. The rocket that will take the astronauts there will be the agency's own Space Launch System (SLS) and the capsule they will be inside will be its Orion capsule.

But NASA decided to give three private American companies the chance to develop the spacecraft that humans will use to descend to the lunar surface.

They eventually awarded that contract, worth $2.89 billion, to SpaceX. The company, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, is expected use a variant of its Starship spacecraft to execute this crucial part of the mission.

But the decision soon faced difficulties, including a May 12 senate amendment to a bill that would require NASA to select and fund yet another company to develop a human landing system, in addition to SpaceX, in the name of competitiveness. It was passed in June.

Bezos Pushing for Contract

NASA hasn't yet selected a second company to develop the HLS, but Bezos will hope that his letter, published today and available to read on the Blue Origin website, will persuade them to choose Blue Origin.

Bezos wrote that by choosing only SpaceX for an HLS contract, "the Agency chose to confer a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar head start to SpaceX.

"That decision broke the mold of NASA's successful commercial space programs by putting an end to meaningful competition for years to come."

Bezos then offered to bridge a government funding shortfall for HLS by waiving NASA's payments for the next two government fiscal years up to $2 billion and, without NASA's financial aid, launch a lunar descent system into low-Earth orbit for testing.

In return, NASA would have to grant Blue Origin a contract within the HLS development program.

The amendment to NASA's original SpaceX selection has provided an opportunity for companies like Blue Origin, but it was seen as controversial by some.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders referred to the amendment as a "multi-billion dollar Bezos bailout."

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos speaks during the Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration event in Washington, D.C., in September 2018. Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin, was launched into space last week. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty