Bezos’ Blue Origin Launch: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos successfully entered space aboard his Blue Origin rocket. Here’s what supporters and opponents are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Bezos’ Blue Origin Launch
Yesterday morning, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos channeled his inner Elton John when he blasted into space aboard his Blue Origin rocket. The Rocket Man was accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos, as well as 82-year-old Wally Funk—who became the oldest person to reach space—and 18-year-old Oliver Daemon, the youngest. The launch came just a week after fellow billionaire Richard Branson launched his spacecraft from an airplane that was already 50,000 feet in the air. Bezos beat Branson, topping out at 65 miles from Earth’s surface, compared with Branson’s 53-mile peak. It was amazing to watch, but not everyone looked up into the sky (or down at their phones) with a twinkle in their eyes. Some people think the money behind the space race could and should be used for more important issues back on earth. It doesn’t help that Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, another ambitious space pioneer, reportedly didn’t pay income tax in recent years. Others disagree, believing billionaires should not only be able to spend their money however they want, but missions like this are inspiring—especially in the absence of a government-led US space program. Here’s what supporters and opponents are saying about the billionaire space race.
Supporters were speechless watching yesterday’s successful Blue Origin flight. They acknowledge the critics’ concerns, but at the end of the day think both the US and the world should be inspired by the bold trip that could one day benefit us all.
“Billionaires’ Ego-Driven Space Adventures Help Everyone” Greg Autry and Laura Huang, Foreign Policy: ” … critics have framed these flights as dangerous stunts in a contest of egos that are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars. … While this is the ultimate contest of egos, egos exist for a reason. Without such egotism, business history would be less interesting and the US economy far less robust. New industrial trends have always required self-promoting entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey. … Luckily, with their leadership, private investment into the space sector is now eclipsing public investment. Competition has driven launch prices down by more than 50 percent, after decades of steady increases. This benefits the public sector as well. NASA and the US Defense Department get higher performance rockets and nimble launch scheduling while taxpayers receive billions of dollars in savings. The New Space approach—with its acceptance of more risk-taking at the hands of private entrepreneurial start-ups, as well as the revitalization and inclusion of aerospace education in engineering—rises to meet the increasing demand for qualified space professionals in space operations and management.”
“Jeff Bezos’ space launch is a needed step forward in space flight” Ali Velshi, MSNBC Opinion Columnist: “Where the critics go wrong is in thinking the Virgin Galactic launch and Tuesday’s Blue Origin launch aren’t important and meaningful advances. They are hard to do. They take years of study and innovation from which we all benefit. They are risky. … But let’s separate your valid criticisms of Jeff Bezos, Branson, and Musk from the remarkable achievements we are witnessing. Because we seem to have decided as a country — incorrectly, in my opinion — that space exploration shouldn’t be a public priority. That’s a serious issue, because America’s adversaries see space advances as a way to gain dominance in technology, communications, transportation, and access to resources. … And America is at risk of losing dominance in the international space race in part because many Americans don’t care. … Maybe a short trip to space is a way to make people understand the urgency of the climate crisis or a reminder that we all live on this amazing yet delicate planet together and need to preserve and share its resources. Maybe just going up there for a few minutes will make life down here better.”
“Billionaires and Space — The Right Race” Rick Tumlinson, Space: “Having no understanding of how we got to this point, the media often frame it as an elite group of rich boys trying to literally one-up each other as they thrust themselves into the sky. They are. But what is missing from these reports, editorials, and opinions is any understanding of what is really happening, why it is happening, and where it may lead us — all of us — not just them. … For 40 years, a group of space revolutionaries have been fighting to get America and the world to exactly this point. To us this is a victory. … These visionary billionaires could dissolve their fortunes and hand each of us a few dollars that would quickly vanish into the sea of spending we all do every day to no noticeable effect. Why not let them put that money into doing the heavy lifting that can help build a future that might well give us the tools to save us all? That is an inspiration to us all, and offers the possibility to reinvent ourselves as we all eventually get the chance to fly tomorrow where they fly today?”
Opponents of privately funded space travel think there are more pressing issues to deal with on the planet beneath our feet. US Sen. Bernie Sanders summarized this perspective perfectly by tweeting, “Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half our people live paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to feed themselves, struggling to see a doctor — but hey, the richest guys in the world are off in outer space!”
“Jeff Bezos’ live Blue Origin space launch is the pinnacle of waste” Talia Lavin, MSNBC Opinion Columnist: “It’s the most 2021 of all 2021 storylines: after gorging themselves on the best of a plague-torn planet, the billionaires are going to space. … What they seek to leave behind is a planet burning and flooding and full of the kind of small and ordinary suffering such fortunes could alleviate in an instant. … These men — all men, all white, all rich beyond imagining, hoarding wealth beyond the coffers of most global governments — are bored of their multiple homes and enormous staffs and entourages and yes-men and diminishing corporate responsibilities. … Looking at Bezos’ launch into space, I cannot help but think of the fact that the behemoth company he founded is infamous for forcing their warehouse workers to urinate in bottles. … If the billionaires really wish to outdo each other, let them build floating space palaces of increasingly comical size; rest in weightless ease on their golden artificial planets; and leave the rest of us in peace, never to return.”
“‘Billionaire Space Race’ is ego-driven, helps no one but the 1%” Domenic Purdy, Reveille: “Space travel was once about the public benefits of advancing technology. Without the Space Race we wouldn’t have cordless tools, satellite navigation, smoke detectors, or water filters. … Sixty years later, the modern space race isn’t a noble game of patriotism dedicated to bettering mankind; it’s a petty competition between the world’s billionaires to see who can reach space faster and capitalize on that fact. … Companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX are run not with the best interests of humanity in mind, but the interests of men whose world views consist solely of profit incentives and ego. … At least when two of the world’s super powers raced to space, it was seen as strategic to beat their opponent. These billionaires have nothing at stake but their intergalactic egos. … Don’t let news of Bezos, Branson, and Musk race to shoot multibillion dollar rockets into orbit fool you. They aren’t going to help fix Earth’s problems like the last space race: they’re just trying to distract from the real issues.”
“How the billionaire space race could be one giant leap for pollution” Katharine Gammon, The Guardian: “… this launch of a new private space industry that is cultivating tourism and popular use could come with vast environmental costs. … When rockets launch into space, they require a huge amount of propellants to make it out of the Earth’s atmosphere. … The carbon emissions from rockets are small compared with the aircraft industry, she says. But they are increasing at nearly 5.6% a year. … One rocket launch produces up to 300 tons of carbon dioxide into the upper atmosphere where it can remain for years. … People have pointed out that the money these billionaires have poured into space technology could be invested in making life better on our planet, where wildfires, heatwaves, and other climate disasters are becoming more frequent as the globe warms up in the climate crisis … as the space tourism industry grows … there are currently no international rules around the kinds of fuels used and their impact on the environment.”
Flag This: Bezos’ Blue Origin Launch
Flag Polls: Public sentiment surrounding space exploration is extremely fascinating. It truly depends on the question being asked. For example, in 2019, “The large majority of Americans (72%) said it is essential that the US continue to be a world leader in space exploration; just 27% said it is not essential,” according to Pew Research Center. However, “More Americans viewed monitoring climate or asteroids as top NASA priorities compared to sending astronauts to the moon or Mars.” In regards to private space travel, “More than half of Americans (58%) said they would not be interested in going.” Most noted that it’s too expensive. Others thought it would be too scary or cited health concerns. This sentiment still stands. According to a Morning Consult poll from February, nearly half the public wants the US to maintain its space dominance. However, monitoring the Earth’s climate system and asteroids is still a top priority. As it relates to space exploration, “58% said they were either ‘not too likely’ or ‘not likely at all’ to participate in civilian space travel, even if price weren’t a concern, up 10 points from the 48% who said the same in September 2017.”
Flag This: Last week, we wrote about how the political spectrum, which is oftentimes envisioned as a horizontal line, bends on itself. Meaning two opposite sides of the spectrum actually share the same beliefs, causing the rainbow to come full circle. Private space exploration is a perfect example of this concept. For example, before the Blue Origin flight yesterday, Breitbart, a right-leaning outlet, tweeted a picture of former Democratic representative Tulsi Gabbard, who said: “The only problem I have with Bezos’ Blue Origin space rocket ship into outer space is that it’s going to come back.” The right doesn’t expressly support privately funded space travel, just like the left doesn’t expressly abhor it. The middle ground is most likely an acknowledgment that there are important issues Americans need to solve back home, but it never hurts to have an eye towards space.
Flag Poll: Bezos’ Blue Origin Launch
Do you support privately funded space exploration? Comment below to share your thoughts.