Bezos, Branson, and the billionaire-funded race to make space a bargain – Reason.com
Last week, billionaire businessman Richard Branson rushed into space on a ship he helped finance and develop privately and returned with a smile. Now Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is doing the same. Billionaires who launch themselves into the skies at their own expense have sparked a bitter debate over income inequality and whether the government should take more of their wealth through taxation.
“Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half of our population lives on paychecks”, complained Senator Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.). “But hey, the richest guys in the world have gone to space! Yes. It’s time to tax the billionaires.”
The anger directed at SpaceX’s Bezos, Branson, and Elon Musk contrasts starkly with the long-standing high approval NASA has enjoyed, even though the space agency has spent most of the past decade not releasing them at all. humans on the planet while continuing to soak. billions of taxpayer dollars.
“Should billionaires make their space travel fantasies come true?” ” tweeted NASA caucus representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), “Or should we invest in education, provide health care and create prosperity for everyone?”
The irony is that NASA is taking our money without our consent to fund a space program that no ordinary citizen could ever hope to access. Yet when Branson, Musk, and Bezos spend their own wealth for the explicit purpose of someday selling ever cheaper tickets to all comers, that’s when members of Congress get cranky.
There is every reason to believe that the democratization of space travel is upon us – Bezos, Branson and Musk have already kept their promises in other sectors – unless the government manages to screw it up. Following the model of commercial air travel in the 20th century, something new to today’s billionaires may well be available to the ordinary rich and then to the middle class soon enough.
Billionaires also say they have a long-term view: one day the ability to get off the planet cheaply and on a large scale could be the salvation of humanity. But what they or they wanting or considering is not what really matters. Just as bubble wrap was invented to be wallpaper and Listerine to clean floors, consumers will decide where the private space industry ultimately leads.
Bezos, Branson, Musk and others have overtaken an extremely expensive and inefficient government program and built a competitive industry, already reducing the cost of a kilogram in low earth orbit by 44 times. Which billionaire goes to space first, how high does he fly, how big is his rocket, or how much of his income was spent on taxes last year …none of this matters. What matters is what we’ll do with access to these same spaceships and other bigger, better, and weirder ones in the years to come.
Photo credits: Wallyfly.com; Nasa; Blue origin; SpaceX; Stefani Reynolds / CNP / AdMedia / Newscom; Karl Mondon / TNS / Newscom; Blue Origin / MEGA / Newscom; Michael Brochstein / ZUMAPRESS / Newscom; Richard B. Levine / Newscom; ThaddeusCes, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Rocket laboratory; Ken Cedeno / UPI / Newscom; Photo by Mishaal Zahed on Unsplash; Photo by David Maier on Unsplash; David mater Steve Jurvetson from Los Altos, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; NASA / Bill Ingalls, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; NASA / Kim Shiflett; Oliver Contreras / Sipa USA / Newscom; Photo by Pablo Guerrero on Unsplash; Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash; Photo by Elizabeth French on Unsplash; Photo by K Hsu on Unsplash; Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash; Photo by Ryan Kosmides on Unsplash; Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash; Virgin Galactic / ZUMA Press Wire Service; Virgin Galactic / ZUMA News Wire Service
Written by Katherine Mangu-Ward; produced by Regan Taylor; images of Isaac Reese.