The latest round of throwing shade was initiated by Bezos’ company, which posted a graphic comparing its own commercial space flight program with that of Branson’s two days before the latter was scheduled to fly. Claiming that its competitor is merely an airplane and not a rocket, Blue Origin pointed out that Virgin Galactic’s flight doesn’t climb higher than the Kármán line — an “internationally recognized” boundary between Earth and space situated 100km above sea level — alongside the statement: “From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” implying that pilots for Virgin can’t call themselves astronauts.
While Virgin Galactic didn’t make any official response to the jab, one of its pilots Nicola Pecile replied in a now-deleted tweet “Hey BO, at VG we are truly big supporters of your program too. But this pissing contest about the Karman line is so childish that is getting really embarrassing to watch. Flying above 100K ft is already so complicated that anyone doing so should deserve special recognition…” He added in a separate tweet that Virgin Galactic made its first human spaceflight in 2018 while Blue Origin “has flown only mannequins so far.”
Speaking about the new debate between the two companies, Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell told The Verge that most countries don’t actually have an agreed boundary between Earth and space and that Blue Origin’s claims are debatable. “A lot of countries don’t have an opinion, a lot of countries have not chosen to rule on it,” he said. “And international legal bodies, which the FAI is not, have not ruled on it. So to say that [the Karman line is] internationally agreed is a bit of a stretch.”
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