Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson took their respective supersonic and suborbital rockets for a spin in the past two weeks, ushering in a new era of space travel in which companies backed by billionaires are offering these excursions to anyone who can. pay it.
Bezos’s Blue Origin, which has developed a 60- foot-tall rocket that launches vertically, and Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which has built a rocket-powered space plane that is launched from the air, are going to start marketing. their products for wealthy thrill seekers and make suborbital travel more routine.
Blue Origin could fly up to two more flights in 2021 for paying customers. In any case, the company has not said anything about the price of the tickets.
At least one ticket was sold in an auction that concluded last month and the winner, whose identity is unknown, agreed to shell out $ 28 million. That person was expected to fly alongside Bezos, but withdrew at the last minute citing “scheduling conflicts” and is now expected to enforce his ticket at a later date.
- Space tourism: the differences between Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX flights
Virgin Galactic, for its part, plans to conduct one more test flight before starting to offer seats in early 2022 to the approximately 600 people who have already purchased their tickets for a price ranging between 200,000 and 250,000 dollars, approximately the median price of a home in the United States. The company is also accepting reservations for more tickets that are expected to sell at an even higher price.
Also Elon Musk
Not to mention that Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has developed much more powerful rockets capable of transporting NASA astronauts to Earth orbit for multi-day visits, is expected to fly its first sightseeing mission to end of this year.
Although he has not disclosed prices, one early estimate was that such orbital expeditions would cost around $ 55 million per seat (Musk has not announced any firm plans to travel into space himself, beyond saying that he would like to die. on Mars one day).
But that’s not all that these billionaires have planned in outer space.
The big vision
For Bezos, Blue Origin’s suborbital tourism missions are nothing more than a bridge to much larger ambitions of cosmic adventure. In his opinion, terrestrial civilizations are heading for an energy supply crisis that can only be solved by taking advantage of extraterrestrial resources. And, according to Bezos, “we really have to move heavy industry and polluting industry” – things like energy and microchip production – “off Earth.”
“It won’t be done in my life,” Bezos told CNN’s Anderson Cooper . But he anticipates that Blue Origin will create new technologies that will begin to pave the way, such as reusable orbital rockets much like those already operated by SpaceX. And the New Shepard suborbital vehicle that Blue Origin developed helped design a lunar lander that could be used to support commercial operations on the Moon, such as ice mining for rocket fuel or other deep space projects.
Bezos has also previously said that he hopes millions of people will one day live and work in space, possibly inside huge rotating space stations like those proposed by Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill in the 1970s.
Branson, for his part, hopes that his spacecraft technology operating at extreme altitudes could become a point-to-point hypersonic travel business, moving passengers around the world in a fraction of the time it would take an airplane more traditional commercial.
And then we have Musk, whose company SpaceX is already building and testing a gigantic rocket that he says will carry the first humans to Mars and give humanity the means to establish a permanent settlement there.
The backlash against
All these visions have elicited many reactions against. Critics denounce the tendency of billionaires to accumulate wealth and avoid taxes in the name of pursuing grandiose ambitions that do little to address the myriad pressing problems facing humanity – climate change, a pandemic that has already killed millions of people and probably many more without adequate access to vaccines, global political uncertainty, the housing crisis and the homeless, etc.)
Meanwhile, Branson, Bezos and Musk hope their otherworldly activities will inspire a new generation of curious explorers and space entrepreneurs. And there were plenty of people cheering on Bezos and Branson during their supersonic pleasure trips in recent days. But those voices were met with cries of displeasure of the same intensity.
The sports and culture website Defector, for example, stated that Bezos and Branson had somehow done the impossible – not by building rockets that can reach the edge of space (as NASA and other space agencies have been able to do since the mid 20th century) – but for making the space fatally “not cool.”
The Atlantic launched a headline begging the billionaire duo to “please understand the social humor.”
Users on Tiktok relentlessly mocked them. Tweets accusing them of pursuing pointless vanity projects amassed more than 100,000 likes.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonists pointed out that Bezos’ dream of saving the planet only came true through thousands upon thousands of trucks destroying it.
The defense of the “space barons”
So-called “space barons” are known to defend themselves by saying that they can work to solve Earth’s problems while pursuing their long-term goals in outer space. And their long-term goals, especially with promises that will not be fulfilled during the lifetime of anyone alive today, also serve to insulate them from any long-term criticism.
By awarding CNN contributor Van Jones and chef José Andrés the $ 100 million “prize for courage and citizenship”, Bezos went so far as to censor those who, instead of disagreeing with one person’s ideas, ” they question his character or his motives. “
But if Bezos, Branson and Musk want to save humanity, they first have to convince it. And they will have to answer many questions about their character and their motives if they want humanity to trust that the goal of these efforts is to lead them to a future of survival.