A Word on Billionaires in Space

A Word on Billionaires in Space

Published Jul 23, 2021 by Rick Cundiff

Another day, another billionaire in space.

At least that’s the way it’s been for the past couple of weeks. First, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson goes up. The next week, it’s the turn of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Chances are SpaceX chief and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk will be next.

Some people choose to criticize Bezos, Branson, Musk, and other ultra-rich folks for spending money on such pursuits, deriding it as space tourism.

 “There are plenty of problems to be solved here on Earth,” some say. “That money could have fed X number of people, housed Y number of people, and rebuilt Z neighborhoods.”

Fair point. All of that is true. However, it doesn’t negate the amazing accomplishments behind the private space exploration efforts. Musk’s SpaceX, by virtue of employing reusable rockets, has greatly reduced the cost of sending both cargo and humans into space.

Not everyone agrees, but I believe our destiny requires us to explore the infinite possibilities of space travel. Humankind has dreamed of, and written about, travel to the stars for decades. It’s no different than the impulse that sent Columbus to the New World, or Lewis and Clark to the West.

There’s even a rich history of custom space patches. Gemini astronauts Pete Conrad and Gordon Cooper created the first mission patch for their Gemini V flight in 1965. Every mission since then has included custom patches crafted by the astronauts.

It’s a natural progression. For centuries, we could do nothing other than look up at the sky and wonder what’s out there. Just in the last half of the 20th century were we able to get beyond the atmosphere and see for ourselves. The results have been scientific advances that affect our everyday lives, such as satellite communications.

Sure, it’s expensive. Sure, the money could be used for other things. But no matter what one thinks of billionaires’ business practices, their contributions to global, and even galactic, knowledge via space are significant.

As for the money, it does benefit others on Earth. The companies Bezos, Branson and Musk founded have hired thousands of people around the world. And not just directly. Their companies result in additional jobs in transportation, packaging and other industries as well. And all three have given substantial sums to charity. Bezos, for example, gave away $200 million shortly after returning from space.

That’s not to say you have to like their cutthroat business practices. But it’s a good idea to acknowledge that they’re pushing space exploration forward.

And who knows what that can bring to benefit all of humanity in the future? The future as envisioned by science fiction writers starts somewhere.

My Dad likes to tell of being a child in the early 1940s and being told by his grandparents that Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio phone was just foolishness and nothing like that would ever exist.

And it didn’t – until the smartwatch came along.