As you might know, the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, has an aerospace company called Blue Origin and it will bring him into outer space. Bezos is getting inside his own space shuttle, New Shepard, on July 20. But even though he's about to achieve his boyhood dream, the owner of Amazon won't be the first billionaire to launch himself above the rest of us (that honor belongs to former Microsoft software engineer Charles Simonyi). Nor will he be the second one.
Soon after he made his plan public in June, Richard Branson stepped in to say that more than a week before Bezos, he would be boarding his own Virgin Galactic VSS Unity for a spaceflight. And on Sunday, he did. The 70-year-old won the billionaire space race.
But not everyone finds this rivalry useful. Or even inspiring. Writer Jacob Silverman, for example, called it "a tragically wasteful ego contest." But he's not alone. Many Twitter users seem to agree with Silverman and have been criticizing the billionaires for being out of touch with reality.
Image credits: richardbranson
In his piece for The New Republic, Silverman said the unofficial competition between "three masters of the universe," Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk (with Musk expressing less interest in personally going to space) has its share of dark undertones. "If all goes well ... Branson will return to Earth having cemented his claim to ... what exactly?" the writer asked. "Spending money he's earned off the labor of low-wage workers and shuffled between offshore tax havens, he will be the winner in an extravagant pageant that's designed less to inaugurate a new era of spaceflight than to drum up business for his other companies. Branson, like his would-be spacefaring competitors, isn't an innovator; he's a salesman."
Silverman doesn't think that Branson, Bezos, and Musk are fulfilling a collective goal of the human race; they're not expanding our (blue) horizons.
"Branson, for instance, has said he wants to make space travel 'more accessible to all.” (Early reservations on Virgin Galactic flights cost $250,000 while a seat on the July 20 flight of Bezos's Blue Origin sold for $28 million.) But any honest assessment of the billionaire space race shows that it's less the dawning of a new epoch of universal space travel than the world's most expensive infomercial for a network of self-dealing billionaires who plan to make a lot more money down here on terra firma."
The unapologetic writer highlighted that the three men's business portfolios are conveniently vague, too."They all retain potentially lucrative interests in satellite launch and rocketry firms, which is where the real money is. And should the launches go well, they all stand to benefit from rising optimism and investment in their industry."
Of course, we can't expect billionaires to give money to every person in the world and solve the biggest global problems. But they can't expect us to believe that their "space exploration" runs on altruistic fuel as well.