(CNN) — Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson have a combined net worth of $400 billion, roughly the size of the GDP of the entire nation of Ireland. And all three men have decided to put vast sums of their wealth into chasing their space travel dreams, creating a modern space race in which ultra-rich men — rather than countries — shoot for the stars.
The space companies founded by the three billionaires all have slightly different goals and varying visions of how to achieve them. But never has the Branson-Musk-Bezos dynamic appeared more competitive than when Branson announced earlier this month that he would fire himself into outer space on a suborbital joy ride just days before Bezos will clamber into his own rocket.
Branson’s flight took off without a hitch on Sunday, while Bezos plans to take off July 20.
But which billionaire is truly winning this so-called space race? It all depends on how you look at it.
Putting it in perspective
The press has billed Bezos, Branson and Musk as the three so-called space barons because of their similarities: All made their fortunes in other industries before setting their sites on extraterrestrial ventures — Musk in online payments and electric cars, Bezos with Amazon, and Branson with his empire of Virgin-branded businesses. And they all founded their companies within a few years of each other, becoming the most recognizable faces in the 21st-century space race, in which titans of private industry are racing each other to space, rather than Western governments racing Eastern governments like in the space race of last century.
But they certainly are not the only players in the game, and they may not be the only space barons for very long. There are hundreds of space startups across the United States and the world focused on everything from satellite tech to orbiting hotels. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin have also all benefited greatly through partnerships with NASA and the US military, and…