Bernie Sanders: Hard Pass on Giving Jeff Bezos Billions for Space Travel

Bernie Sanders: Hard Pass on Giving Jeff Bezos Billions for Space Travel
Photo: Melina Mara, AP

No, Jeff Bezos should not just get billions of dollars from NASA because he thinks he deserves it, Bernie Sanders says. After Blue Origin made a stink over losing out to SpaceX on an exclusive $US2.9 ($4) billion NASA contract for a moon landing mission (due, NASA said, to limited funding), U.S. Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell — from Amazon’s home state of Washington — tacked on $US10 ($13) billion for NASA into the Endless Frontier Act, a U.S. bill that allocates funding to conduct research in technological innovation and space exploration.

Presumably, Blue Origin will get a chunk of this, since Cantwell’s amendment specifically states that NASA will subsidise “design, development, testing, and evaluation for not fewer than 2 entities” for the Human Landing System Program. (Both Blue Origin and Dynetics had competed for the contract.)

As the Verge’s Joey Roulette first reported, Sanders proposed another amendment on Monday, specifically “to eliminate the multi-billion Bezos Bailout.”

As told by the Washington Post, Blue Origin’s whining and lobbying ramped up the Musk-Bezos feud. In April, Elon Musk replied to a New York Times report on Bezos’s objection with the tweet: “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol.” (Flirty.)

In a flier, SpaceX said the Cantwell amendment “undermines the federal government procurement process, rewards Jeff Bezos with a $US10 ($13) billion sole-source hand-out, and will throw NASA’s Artemis program into years of litigation.” It adds that Blue Origin “has not produced a single rocket or spacecraft capable of reaching orbit.”

In 2011, Blue Origin secured $US22 ($28) million from NASA, and in 2020, $US579 ($743) million from NASA to develop a lunar lander. It also won and lost a $US500 ($641) million Air Force contract to SpaceX.

Blue Origin came back with its own flier subtitled “What is Elon Musk afraid of…a little competition?” with itemized “lies” in SpaceX’s flier. Its bottom line: “Elon Musk repeatedly talks about the value of competition, but when it comes to NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) program, he wants it all to himself.”

Blue Origin is correct that edging out all competition with corporate muscle is bad. Relatedly, the Washington, DC, attorney general has just announced that he’s pursuing an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon for preventing third-party sellers from offering lower prices on other sites.

Amazon has bilked government funding for years. The company is avoiding paying the government billions of dollars in taxes while receiving hundreds of millions in tax breaks and billions of dollars in subsidies.

Sanders has also made the point that at the moment we might want to prioritise the planet on which the rest of us plan to live full-time.