Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space firm beat Elon Musk's SpaceX to the punch and launched its Blue Shepard reusable rocket into outer space, then returned to its landing pad in its "first successful uncrewed reusability test," Mashable reports. The BE-3 rocket and empty crew capsule flew to a suborbital height of about 62 miles, at which point the capsule and rocket separated, Engadget reports. The capsule landed on Earth with the help of parachutes, the rocket's engines roared back to life about 5,000 feet above the landing pad, and the rocket touched down at 4.4mph. "Rockets have always been expendable," Bezos wrote in a Monday blog post. "Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket." Bezos also tweeted a video of the event Tuesday morning, noting "Controlled landing not easy, but done right, can look easy."
Bezos notes how reusable rockets could economize space travel, telling CNNMoney that current space travel is akin to airlines throwing out every 747 jet after it makes a cross-country journey. "You can imagine how expensive your ticket would be," he notes. Elon Musk tweeted kudos Tuesday, posting, "Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster," though he turned that compliment into a backhanded one with a tweet that read, "It is, however, important to clear up the difference between 'space' and 'orbit.'" His point: that even though SpaceX's rockets have yet to nail an upright landing after leaving Earth's atmosphere, at least his rockets leave the atmosphere—a task requiring 10 times more speed and 100 times the energy of suborbital rockets, per CNN. But Bezos says he doesn't even consider Musk's company, or Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, to be competitors. "I think of our competition primarily as Earth's gravity," he says. "Space is a big place. There's room for all of us." (The last Virgin Galactic launch didn't go well.)