The billionaire space race: one step for technology; a giant leap for air pollution

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History repeats itself.  Rather like the ‘space race’ between the Soviet Union and the United States racing to achieve spaceflight superiority during the Cold War, this time, however, it was the world’s three richest men as opposed to the world’s biggest superpowers in a competition to space.

With a collective net worth of 400 billion dollars, Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have modernised the space race.

With a collective net worth of 400 billion dollars, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos have modernised the space race. By pumping their infinite funds into building spaceships that launch them into the unknown territories of space, this race continues to thrive on the egotistic desire for power, status, and superiority.

Take the billionaire founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos. Well-known for being one of the richest men in the world, with an estimated net worth of 189 billion dollars, Bezos is undoubtedly a mastermind in economic growth. As the coronavirus pandemic increased his net worth by the second, he spent 5.5 billion dollars of his Amazon profits (which rose by 37% during lockdown) on a suborbital flight in his Blue Origin spaceship.

Orbiting around Earth’s atmosphere for four minutes, this rather short flight has unlocked a potential new world for tourism, one which requires not planes but spaceships.  

Yet, ahead of Bezos’ suborbital flight, a petition to ‘not allow Bezos to return to Earth’ gained nearly 200,000 signatures, highlighting the public backlash to his space flight. After thanking his Amazon workers and customers for funding his space travels, this rare moment of gratitude was met with pure anger and disgust, his disordered priorities enraging the public.

Billionaires have been urged to invest their infinite funds into programmes that save our planet as opposed to fleeing it

 In such a world of suffering and injustice, all of which has been increased by the coronavirus pandemic, billionaires have been urged to invest their infinite funds into programmes that save our planet as opposed to fleeing it.

The 5.5 billion dollars used for Bezos’s launch, would have been able to finance 2 billion people in low Income Countries being vaccinated, the funds to end hunger for 37.5 million people or to plant five billion trees, thus it is inevitable not everyone would support his spending habits.

By feeding his desire for growth, power, and success, he has ignored reality and the potentially life-threatening problems that remain at the forefront of everyday life.

It became a rather ironic moment as they became mesmerised by the very thing they were simultaneously destroying.

In recordings Bezos was seen joyfully floating in his Blue Origin spaceship, with his fellow passengers shown laughing, throwing skittles into each other’s mouths, and playing catch, it seems a huge step for space technology as they safely orbited around Earth’s atmosphere. Yet, whilst they awed at Earth’s beauty from afar, it became a rather ironic moment as they became mesmerised by the very thing they were simultaneously destroying.

One rocket launch pumps 300 tons of carbon dioxide into the upper atmosphere, all of which can remain there for up to three years. Bezos’s flight should be viewed not as a moment of celebration, but of mourning. The mourning of our planet. With plans to expand the space tourism industry, this causes a domino effect that will smack Earth right in the face. As the demand for space tickets increase, more spacecraft will be developed, which all leads to more carbon dioxide being pumped into the upper atmosphere. The future of this industry is not an environmentally friendly one. One step for technology, a giant leap for air pollution.

On top of this, these billionaires are beginning to replace astronauts with wealthy passengers on their spaceships who are willing to pay up to 55 million dollars for a ticket. With the coronavirus pandemic widening the economic divide as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, investing in this sector fuels this inequality and animosity against the wealthy.

By allowing only those who can afford to spend this amount on a ticket to space, it not only physically separates the rich from the poor. but increases the chances of passengers also investing in the space exploration industry. As the rich only want to financially prosper, in seeing the success of the industry, new businesses focusing on the development of spacecraft and space research will begin to appear from every angle. It has become a capitalist desire for growth, one which leaves behind all those who cannot afford to take part in the race.

Nevertheless, despite the space race widening the economic gap, this gap becomes narrowed by the private funding pumped into space exploration. Inevitably, as the world is becoming more technologically advanced, so does our curiosity to discover what lies beyond planet Earth. Rather than the government using tax-payers money to fuel this curiosity, these billionaires are simply using their own money to open space up. And this is not a new pattern. Take billionaires who invested and expanded steel and oil industries in the early nineteenth century. Instead of the government funding these industries, they received private funding, meaning that the public could benefit from resources their taxes did not contribute towards.

Yes, it is a tragedy for Earth, but as we cannot stop these billionaires from investing and becoming the backbone of space travel, we perhaps should focus on the benefits. The capacity for new discoveries. The chance to orbit around space. A time when science fiction films can become reality. We can celebrate this development, as opposed to just mourning its disadvantages.

Image: Daniel Oberhaus, 2019 via Creative Commons.

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