There are hundreds of space projects around the world, but the trio of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson is making the most headlines. July was especially marked by inspiring moments that provoked a backlash in equal measure as Bransonand Bezos took the tour to outer space just 9 days apart from each other. Yet it was not a first for humanity, let alone the most spectacular of achievement in space exploration.
For the first time, it’s the billionaires making their way to space, and they’re in an unspoken yet fierce competition to be the next space tourism kingpin brand. This public show of might has been awe-inspiring to most — including those who can’t afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars, it might cost to enjoy the view from space for just a few minutes. That said, it hasn’t stopped critics and more than a few concerned individuals from wondering if such endeavors are what the world needs right now, though.
Who Will Get the Trophy? Here Are the Contenders
Elon Musk’s attempt at space colonization has been making the most noise among space enthusiasts. Through the old Silicon Valley strategy of moving fast and breaking things to find the way, SpaceX has built the most powerful shuttles capable of ferrying cargo into space and back, an engineering challenge that had proved tough to crack for ages.
They are now working on something for Mars with the hope of starting life on the red planet soon, complete with social amenities and room for fun. Musk’s dream is to make humanity a multi-planetary species. He also wants the trip to Mars to be affordable, costing about the same as a median home ($200,000).
He intends to place at least a million people on Mars during his lifetime. The red planet is especially full of resources that Musk thinks should be used to expand human civilization. If Musk’s goals go according to plan, we could soon be foregoing that gambling trip to Vegas experience in favor of the “brick-and-mortar” establishments on Mars.
We could also have Earth’s sports teams going for matches in the Martian’s backyards or hold the next Olympics a few light-years away. And better yet, the top online casinos will let us in on the action, too, by allowing us to place bets on these matches.
Unlike Musk, Bezos takes a slower, steadier approach and is keen on letting everyone know through his tortoise mascot and motto, “gradatim ferociter,” which translated from Latin means “step by step, ferociously.” He founded Blue Origin in 2000 to produce cheaper rockets and operated in secrecy for many years.
His New Shepard model was intended for lunar landing but is now doubling as a space tourism vehicle. Bezos himself took the flight on 20th July, perhaps as a statement and proof that he trusts his work. Not forgetting, at 62 miles, it goes higher than Branson’s spaceship.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic seems to have the same business model as Blue Origin. It was founded in 2004 and has since sent astronauts to space. Branson had long promised to be the first space baron to go up there, which is probably why he scheduled a last-minute flight in a move to beat Bezos to the chase. And he did, even though his space flight only got to 50 miles above the surface and is not as powerful as Musk’s Falcon 9s.
Not everyone is fascinated by the idea of spending billions of dollars on the view of earth from a few miles above the surface for a few minutes. In a tweet, WFP director David Beasley said that he would love to see the “guys TEAM up together to save the 41 million people who are about to starve this year on Earth.” He pointed out that it would only take $6 billion, so “we can solve this quickly!”
Tim Jackson, professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, thinks humanity is spending trillions of dollars “littering its techno junk around the solar system.” He would rather we paid more attention to what’s happening down here.
Titled “How the billionaire space race could be one giant leap for pollution, another post on The Guardian concurs. It says launching a single rocket emits up to 300 tons of CO2 into the upper atmosphere.
In a YouTube video, the American astrophysicist/planetary scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson uses science to ridicule the experience. He points out that the distance Bezos and Musk traveled can be compared to being 2 millimeters off a classroom globe and says that they could hardly see the earth’s curvature. He also adds that you can still see space at night from the earth’s surface, and if it’s the zero gravity that has you, the rocket’s occupants are only weightless for a few moments during free fall.
Probably Not so Much Fun Anyway
Setting worries that billionaires might bail on a dying planet to rest, Sim Kern, a SciFi writer and wife to a NASA flight controller, wrote on salon.com pointing out that space is no fun. There is a risk of losing bone mass, developing muscle atrophy, and straining one’s heart due to blood redistribution in the body. There are also higher chances of cancer due to exposure to ten times the radiation on earth.
Kern also talks about the scarcity of water in space and the difficulty of doing things under zero gravity. For one, taking a dump is a “complicated procedure … and everything floats.” She goes on to point out that the wifi is slow and the food not so fancy.
Still Commendable, Though
Of course, things may be a little different for paying tourists instead of astronauts who get paid to go to space. After all, one of the reasons it’s not very comfortable up there is the inability to transport things back and forth, which the billionaires are working on.
The budget has nothing to do with world hunger. A few experts, including those who aren’t crazy about traveling to space, point out that there was hunger and suffering on earth long before people started going to space.
Neil DeGrasse thinks it’s commendable that Musk, Bezos, and Branson are taking money out of their pockets to pursue space travel privately. Their companies are learning new things, advancing science, and helping cut the costs of space travel like never before. When the Sun finally dies out a few billion years from now, perhaps humanity will look back and thank those who pioneered the search for a new home.