Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, opines For all our sakes, let’s hope Jeff Bezos’s space trip is just a midlife crisis. Why would she wish this? Does she have something against space exploration?
One very small step for mankind, one giant ego trip for Jeff Bezos. The world’s richest man ejaculated himself into space this week, in what was not quite the first suborbital tourist flight – Richard Branson beat him up there – but definitely the fastest. “Everybody who’s been up into space, they say that it changes them,” Bezos said earnestly, of a trip that lasted roughly the time it takes to hard boil an egg.
This is the third company to–largely independently the money the government takes in taxes–launch humans into space. Who cares how long the flight was? This is a real achievement. When you have been to space, maybe you’ll have the right to comment on the meaningfulness of doing so.
If you say so, Jeff. But it looked very much like the intergalactic equivalent of one of those cruises where a vast herd is disgorged ashore for a brief, bewildered trample over the nearest landmark before being rounded up and whisked away to the next port. Sure, you’ve been to Venice, technically. But which one was Venice, again?
Comparing space flight to a boat trip is like comparing a walk to the store to running a triathlon.
Anyway, the 57-year-old Bezos said that seeing our blue and green orb from space made him appreciate its fragility, so no snide remarks about whether the cowboy hat he insisted on wearing just screams “midlife crisis” or how much his rocket resembles a penis (very much, since you ask).
As someone who likes to wear a stetson in the rain, let me tell you to take your snide remarks about cowboy hats and stick them where the sun don’t shine. As to the shape of the rocket, I highly doubt that looks were a large consideration, or that Bezos had a lot to do with the design. If it can reach space, who cares?
“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer,” Bezos said mistily afterwards. “Because you guys paid for all this.” Well, yes, in a very real sense we did. And now we’d like our money back. Someone calculated that the $5.5bn or so that the trip had cost could have bought enough food to stop 37.5 million people starving.
It’s not your money. Bezos has the right to do whatever he wants with his money. He could simply have lit it on fire and watched it burn. Instead, he invested in it advancing space travel. Kudos to him. If you want to buy food for the poor, you should earn your own fortune and do so.
Compare and contrast with his ex-wife, Mackenzie Scott, who intends to give away a $38bn divorce settlement she says was “enabled by systems that need to change”, and has already dispensed $8.5bn to causes including food banks, Black colleges and female-led charities. Every Amazon employee and customer paid for that too, but perhaps a bit less grudgingly.
His ex didn’t earn that money. As an Amazon customer, I’d rather the man who built the company had my money than someone who used the courts to take it from him.
If only there was some kind of mechanism, ideally administered by governments on behalf of their nations, whereby people with more money than they can possibly ever spend were required to redistribute some of it among the people without whom they couldn’t have made it. Crazy idea, obviously, although less crazy than Bezos’s suggestion of moving all the polluting industries on Earth into space, to protect our fragile planet by ruining some other one instead.
There is. It’s called the tax system. If governments weren’t so corrupt, they’d make sure to take a fair share of the company’s profits and Bezos’s earnings. Once the government has taxed my earnings, I sure as shit don’t think they have a right to take what’s left. If Bezos is talking about generating power in space, I think that’s a great idea. If you are for green energy, you can’t much greener than beamed solar power.
His plans to take paying tourists into orbit may yet founder on this being the nichest of niche markets. He won’t say how much a ticket would cost – but suffice to say that if you need to ask, then you can’t afford it. (An unnamed individual paid $28m at auction for a seat on this inaugural flight, before crying off at the last minute claiming “scheduling conflicts”, leaving one wondering what kind of person is too busy to boldly go where no hedge funder has been before; the seat was eventually taken by a Dutch financier’s 18-year-old son.
The rocket needed a test crew. Why not make some money, since he spent so much of his own money to make it happen? I doubt space tourism is anything but a sideshow, probably as a demonstration of the viability of the company’s technology.
But like Branson and Elon Musk, his fellow dystopian adventurers in space, Bezos senses opportunities for commercial exploitation of some kind beyond this Earthly realm, and wants in on the ground floor. Branson thinks there might be a market for using rockets to move people super-fast between cities on Earth, rather like Concorde only more so. Musk seems intent on cornering an emerging private sector market in shuttling crew and cargo to space stations, created by cutbacks in the publicly funded Nasa space flight programme.
How are these men “dystopian”? Do you know what the word dystopia means? Branson is an idiot if he’s serious. Thunderfoot does a good job at debunking the idea of using rockets for travel on Earth. Musk has been very clear that his motivation is the colonization of Mars. If he happens to fund this with his Nasa contract, and can do hat they need more cheaply than Nasa could, that leaves Nasa with more money for space science. That’s called a win-win.
If Bezos’s flying phallus represented little more than a restless billionaire’s attempt to kill the emptiness inside, then it might be galling but it wouldn’t ultimately matter. It would just be what happens when you get so rich and powerful that there is nobody left with the guts to tell you the hat looks ridiculous, and so does a business model seemingly based on exploiting warehouse workers while providing other millionaires with a glorified fairground ride into space.
Warehousing sucks. I did it before university, so I can tell you from experience. As long as Amazon’s workers are working for them voluntarily, they can leave if they want to, unlike slave labourers in other parts of the world. Like I said, Bezos could have taken his money and burned it. Instead he used it to advance space travel. If you don’t like that, too bad for you.
But if what it actually portends is the unchecked commercial exploitation of the ultimate virgin environment by an elite group of super-billionaires more powerful than many governments, encouraged by the unfettered way they were allowed to operate on Earth to believe they can do the same in the sky – well, then, Houston, we have a problem. Better hope for all our sakes that this really is a midlife vanity project after all.
Space is an airless vacuum with only one resource: sunlight. The moon is a lifeless, airless ball of rock. Mars is a dry, mostly airless, uninhabitable place. Anything done to them (other than cluttering up Earth orbit with space junk) is probably a net benefit. Environmentalists do not own space. Governments do not own space. If you want a piece of it, you better get up there and claim it. The entitlement of people who think they have the moral high ground to criticize someone who is pioneering commercial space flight and claim the right to dictate who should be allowed to go to space is staggering.