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Elon Musk would rather 'focus on building Starship' than travel into space: author

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Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is set to blast off with the following crew members: Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, Jeff Bezos’ brother Mark Bezos, Aviation Pioneer Wally Funk and 18-year old physics student Oliver Daemen. Eric Berger, Senior Space Editor at Ars Technica and Author of ‘Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days of SpaceX’ joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: Let's go now to someone who is live on the ground down there in West Texas. Let's bring in Eric Berger, Senior Space Editor at "Ars Technica" and the author of "Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX." Eric, thanks so much for jumping on with us this morning. Just kind of set the scene for us down there in Van Horn as we are now looking at about 28 minutes to launch. The latest update.

ERIC BERGER: Yeah, good morning. It's actually a beautiful day. We've got clear skies. The sun is coming up over the mountains. And Jeff Bezos and the rest of the crew members of the New Shepherd mission, the 16th one, just got on board. And so it looks like they're tracking toward an on-time launch.

- What's the most exciting thing about this? Because we do have private people having gone into sub orbit. What do you feel on the ground there that's building the excitement?

ERIC BERGER: I think it's really the fact that we are entering the era of private human spaceflight. Before Richard Branson's flight, before this flight, more than 95% of people who had gone into space had been government astronauts on government vehicles, NASA astronauts, Russian astronauts, Chinese astronauts.

From this moment forward, we're looking at 95% of people going into space on private spacecraft buying a ticket. So it's really kind of a change. We're going from the era of government space flight to commercial space flight. And now it's involving humans. And I agree with you, this really is an important moment.

JULIE HYMAN: Is that, Eric-- it's Julie here, a positive change? In other words, it used to be people like Jeff Bezos when they were kids dreamed of going to space. Many of them, traditionally, have dreamed of going to space as an astronaut, as a public servant. Is that no longer available to them? Or do you think we'll have to track here?

ERIC BERGER: We're kind of right in the middle of it where seeing this sea change from this era of government space flight to era of commercial space flight. The fact of the matter is these private companies, and especially SpaceX with Blue Origin too are moving much more nimbly, using capital far more efficiently.

And so, we're starting to see them do things that NASA has been unable to do or has been unwilling to do. And I think we're only going to see it in celebration of that in the future. As these systems start flying, we'll see how much of a market there is for this suborbital tourism and how that extends into the orbit and the economy that we can build there.

BRIAN SOZZI: Eric, Virgin Galactic, it's a publicly traded company. Is a good successful launch today for Blue Origin, is it good news for Virgin Galactic or is it bad news?

ERIC BERGER: I think it's good news because an action on one system kind of reflects poorly on the whole industry. So the shareholders of Virgin Galactic, the employees of Virgin Galactic are very much rooting for New Shepherd. Now, there is definitely a rivalry in between the two companies. They are different experiences. One's a rocket launch, ones a rocket powered space plane. They both give a few minutes of weightlessness where you can look back on Earth. But an accident this early in the program would be catastrophic for the entire industry.

- We've talked about Elon Musk and SpaceX has already gone into orbit sending its capsule, the Dragon Capsule, to the International Space Station. How long do you think it'll be before we see, for instance, Boeing with their Starliner actually transporting people to the International Space Station? And then eventually Blue Origin getting into orbit?

ERIC BERGER: So Boeing Starliner had a problematic mission about 18 months ago. But they're flying their Starliner spacecraft again on a demonstration mission to the International Space Station at the end of this month. So it's scheduled to liftoff on July 30. If that mission goes well, then probably the earliest we would see a crew flight with astronauts on Starliner would be next spring.

And Blue Origin is quite a bit further. They've got to finish their new Glenn Rocket. And I think that's at least a couple of years away. There's really some big technical hurdles remaining for them. And then they don't really have any kind of orbital spacecraft. So Blue Origin, I would say is at least five to 10 years away from putting humans into orbit on their own vehicle.

JULIE HYMAN: Eric, I just want to tell people what they're looking at here next to you as we see the top of the Blue Origin rocket. They were just dropping in Wally Funk, the 82-year-old female aviation pioneer who's going to be making this voyage to space and will make her the oldest individual to have visited space. Eric, we've talked a lot about the bigger significance in this space race, et cetera. I'm curious what you think is technologically most interesting about this particular launch?

ERIC BERGER: I find the most interesting thing about this launch is that this is a reusable capsule and it's a reusable rocket. So Blue Origin has built a New Shepard system to be able to fly this 25 times. That would be really significant because only SpaceX has built an orbital rocket that can launch and land vertically like this system as well.

And so, the fact that you have two companies, two visionaries, two billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos both saying that reusable launch is the future, that's a big statement. And these rockets, and especially this one we're seeing today, is proving that out.

MYLES UDLAND: And then Eric, finally before I let you go, I just want to ask what you think. Maybe you've talked to Elon about where he stands on all this, his takeaway on these two events we've seen just in the last couple of weeks.

ERIC BERGER: So Elon is much less interested in going to space than he is in building the systems to put large amounts of materials and people into space. So he's much more focused on his Starship program. That doesn't mean that he's not going to one day go into space himself, but he views being an engineer on a much higher level than he does as being an astronaut. So he is much more focused on building Starship than sort of this. I think he kind of looks at this race between Branson and Bezos and maybe sort of laughs a little bit to himself thinking that that's really not the important game here. There's a bigger game to be played.

MYLES UDLAND: All right. There you go. Elon Musk, he is just like us. All right, Eric Berger, Senior Space Editor at "Ars Technica," author of "Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX." Eric, enjoy the proceedings this morning. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.