'You cannot sue your way to the Moon': Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos continue lunar landing contract war of words

NASA has described Blue Origin's contract attempts as a "calculated bet" it lost.
NASA has described Blue Origin's contract attempts as a "calculated bet" it lost. Photo credit: Getty Images

Bickering space billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have continued their war of words, with the SpaceX founder taking a new dig during an interview.

Musk was appearing with journalist Kara Swisher as part of the 2021 Code Conference and was asked about Bezos's Blue Origin company suing to block a NASA contract awarded to SpaceX.

"You cannot sue your way to the Moon, okay?" Musk told Swisher. "No matter how good your lawyers are."

Musk then had a giggle at the phallic shape of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket, suggesting it could be another shape.

Swisher also asked if he'd spoken directly with Bezos about the lawsuits, to which he replied: "Not verbally, just subtweets".

That's likely a reference to tweets over the last month saying "turns out Besos [sic] retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX".

Another suggested that since leaving his role as Amazon CEO, suing had become Bezos' full-time job.

Amazon's response to the latest digs? It sent technology website The Verge a 13-page PDF document detailing all the legal disputes involving Musk to show he was as litigious as Bezos.

As well as a legal case around Musk's Starlink broadband satellites, the mega-rich duo continue to spar around NASA's decision to ignore Blue Origin's appeal against losing a lunar landing module contract to SpaceX.

Blue Origin asked the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to overturn the April decision, arguing it breached the conditions NASA set for awarding the contract.

That appeal was turned down in August, just days after Bezos had offered NASA a US$2 billion discount to give the contract to Blue Origin instead, leading to a lawsuit.

The Verge also obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that detailed NASA's response to Blue Origin's initial request to overturn the decision. 

Lawyers for the space agency said Blue Origin made assumptions about the budget and made a "calculated bet" that NASA would select the company even if its bid was initially too expensive, with the ability to negotiate afterwards.

"All of these assumptions were incorrect," they wrote.

"Realising now that it gambled and lost, Blue Origin seeks to use GAO's procurement oversight function to improperly compel NASA to suffer the consequences of Blue Origin's ill-conceived choices."

The ongoing legal battle has halted work on the lunar lander until at least November 1. That could lead to further delays for NASA's Artemis programme, the code-name of the plan to land astronauts back on the moon.

In August the Office of Inspector General (OIG) said hopes the agency had of a lunar landing by 2024 were all but impossible because of the legal fight as well as delays in the development of new spacesuits.