When US astronauts landed on the moon back in July of 1969 it was touted as “one giant leap for mankind.” Much of the world watched in awe and amazement in what was considered one of modern mankind’s greatest achievements. When Richard Branson put his Virgin Galactic hot rod into pseudo space earlier this month there was hardly a ripple of excitement apart from on the US stock exchange, where the value of his company shares also rocketed.
In the middle of a global pandemic the timing of his billion dollar space jaunt and its four minutes of weightlessness, complete with bouncing bimbos, could not have been worse. In fairness we should point out it was very much a race as he got the jump on his two fellow space cadets, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Nevertheless much of the public perception was along the lines of ‘rich boys’ toys’. When your private jets, fleet of Ferraris and luxury private island no longer float your multi-million dollar boat, what do you do – build a spaceship and create the myth that somewhere in the immediate future, space travel will be affordable to the multitudes.
The widespread public cynicism and contempt for Branson’s ‘space’ exploits is equally applied to Bezos and Musk, both of whom are planning similar launches. Change.org currently has a petition, approaching 200,000 that proposes that Bezos should not be allowed to return to earth if he ventures beyond the stratosphere. It declares, “Billionaires should not exist…on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter, they should stay there.”
Whereas Branson seems more interested in promoting a series of commercial joy flights for the super rich, Amazon Jeff’s space aspirations are far loftier. He envisages creating a whole series of space habitats in the future – vast orbiting stations that are self-supporting in both food and energy and one day providing a home for trillions of people living in off the grid, off the globe colonies. It’s the type of visionary outlook that would make Buck Rogers blush but Bezos obviously believes that some time in the future, earth will be unliveable and we will all be moving to the Moon, Mars or just floating around in blissfully ignorant orbit. The irony that he has built his fortune using a brand name that’s taken from one of the most environmentally threatened areas of the world is inescapable.
Elon Musk, on the other hand, seems more intent on winning the race to Mars with his advanced rocket technology and plans to send an unmanned starship to the red planet by 2024. Whilst he is clearly in competition with Branson and Bezos, it’s by no means cut throat and he recently showed his support for Branson by buying a $250,000 ticket for a forthcoming Virgin Galactic joy flight. That’s a helluva lot of frequent flyer points!
Meanwhile the Chinese might get the drop on all three billionaires as their current space projects accelerate with the kind of speed and urgency that have marked their economic miracle. The first module of their massive space station is in place and if you are wondering where all the toilet paper has gone during the current lockdown, just check out the picture above!