Trump challenges ‘rich guys’ Musk, Bezos to space race

President Donald Trump on Monday welcomed “rich guys” to pursue their aspirations toward space exploration alongside the new military-backed “space force” he has ordered the Pentagon to establish.

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has spearheaded the private space exploration boom through SpaceX, a startup focused on using reusable rockets for relatively cheap space travel and, eventually, the colonization of Mars. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos leads rocket startup Blue Origin, a self-funded venture that aims to explore the solar system and establish human colonies in space.

“You know, I’ve always said that rich guys seem to like rockets,” Trump said. “So all of those rich guys that are dying for our real estate to launch their rockets, we won’t charge you too much, just go ahead. If you beat us to Mars, we’ll be very happy and you’ll be even more famous.”

SpaceX has a space technology development contract with NASA and has test-launched several rockets from the federal agency’s facilities. Last March, Musk said SpaceX could conduct test flights to Mars by the first half of 2019, but warned that projection could be too “optimistic.”

Bezos has said on multiple occasions that he will liquidate $1 billion in Amazon stock each year to fund Blue Origin ventures. The Amazon CEO said his space startup could conduct test flights for a space tourism vehicle with human passengers by as early as this year.

At a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump said the “space force” would serve as a sixth branch of the U.S. military. While the new initiative’s role in future military operations remains unclear, Trump said the program would seek to re-establish the U.S. as a global leader in space technology.

Trump did not mention Musk or Bezos by name.

“As long as it’s an American rich person, it’s good. They can beat us. We’ll save a little money and they can beat us and we’re taking full credit for it, don’t worry about it,” Trump said. “We’ll be setting aggressive timelines, challenging old ways of doing business and we will be expecting real results.”

Musk has a net worth of more than $21 billion, according to Forbes’ latest calculation. Bezos has a net worth of $141 billion