The problem with Jeff Bezos and other billionaires going to space

Commentary: Do we really want people like SpaceX and Blue Origin to build our future in space?

Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos inspects the booster on the landing pad after the test flight. The billionaire successfully sent one of his New Shepard rockets into space on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the founders of Blue Origin and Amazon, Jeff Bezos becomes second billionaire to walk to the edge of space And do a microgravity somersault after a week and a half Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic spacecraft soared Above New Mexico. The journey has inspired a fair amount of wonder and awe for a historic month in space flight.

But perhaps an even more common response is a rude eye roll with some remark about obscene money or arrogance, or worse.

After years of watching Bezos, Branson, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk expand their empires beyond the firm grip of gravity, I suppose this kind of cynicism may be fair, but it just gets the rest of us off the hook makes it go away. The spectacle of the billionaire space race also reveals a sad truth about our future in space as a species: We have lost control of our own destiny in the universe.

Advantage: Billionaire

Five years ago, a Las Vegas oddsmaker gave Musk and SpaceX 5-to-1 odds of being the first unit to put humans on Mars. NASA was likely 80-to-1 to be the first. At the time I thought it was a bit silly because NASA had already put people on the Moon and SpaceX started sending cargo into orbit.

Half a decade later, those possibilities seem more reasonable: SpaceX is already Launch and landing prototype of your Mars rocket While we await the long-delayed launch of NASA’s Space Launch System for missions to the Moon and beyond.

On top of that, the average person is more likely to know what Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin are doing in space, than they are to be aware of repeatedly postponed plans for the Moon, Mars, or NASA. needed. James Webb Space Telescope.

In focus the blame for this disparity falls on the shoulders of media people like me, as much as it does on NASA. It doesn’t help that the agency is at the mercy of a political system that provides not only its funding but also its leadership, both of which can shift dramatically every few years.

So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs like Musk and Bezos have been able to identify the gap left by an outdated and inefficient institution like NASA, taking advantage of the opportunity to build a better rocket and paint a daring vision for the future. Huh.

And herein lies the real problem. Musk’s grand ambition to populate Mars, and Bezos’ plan There are unprecedented, civilization-level efforts to take the industry, and perhaps some new luxury condos into orbit, that were primarily conceived at the whim of just two men.

Think about it. The possibility seems reasonable now that when the first member of our species sets foot on another planet, it will be because Musk, aka the “dog dad“- the biggest fans of 420 and 69 jokes in the world- decided to do it.

It’s not to take anything away from Musk (okay, maybe a little).

Neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin immediately responded to a request for comment.

return to public place

To me, complaining about billionaires wasting money on space when we have so many problems on Earth misses the point. What I think should be concerning is that agendas and public discourse on space are now largely driven by some of the richest individuals in the world.

It may be that the efforts of these people and their companies have profound benefits for humanity, but we can also decide as a society that ventures into space to advance for its own sake, for our own sake.

Space may be the key to solving some of our biggest problems, whether solved space based solar power, asteroid mining or yes, turning Mars into a backup planet. These are all very far-fetched ideas to be sure, but there is little in the way of resources being devoted to researching potential, thus making things seem less distant.

And by the way, the history of space innovation shows that it might not be crazy to hope that learning how to survive on the Moon or Mars might also teach us new ways to reduce our impact on Earth’s environment.

NASA paved the way for Musk, Bezos and others to produce rockets that seem more capable, efficient, and cheaper than the pioneering, publicly funded spacecraft of the past era. That’s great. Now is the time for us guys to decide what boundaries we want to explore next, rather than be led by another rich dude.

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