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The wasted outrage over the private space race

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 7/15/2021 Mark Whittington
Elon Musk wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Washington Examiner

For those who are turned off by the Tokyo Olympics, three billionaires are conducting a different competition that might really change the world.

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson has already flown into space on board his SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos is set to celebrate the July 20th anniversary of the first moon landing on his New Shepard rocket with another suborbital flight. SpaceX’s Elon Musk is developing a space tourism business on spacecraft that actually go into low Earth orbit.

Shannon Stirone, writing for The Atlantic, is pretty sure that this is the worst time for rich guys to go gallivanting into the cosmos. “The world is drowning and scorching, and two of the wealthiest men decide to ... race in their private rocket ships to see who can get to space a few days before the other.“ She adds that the current pandemic is a bad time for billionaires to fly in space. Stirone previously slammed Musk for his desire to settle Mars, comparing him unfavorably to the late Carl Sagan, who also wanted to go to Mars but for what she viewed as “purer” purposes.

Stirone also seems to be unaware that the private sector has been developing solutions to climate change that do not involve destroying the American economy. Even Musk has an electric car company.

Michael Hiltzik, writing for the Los Angeles Times, inveighed against the commercial space race in a similar vein. “For anyone else anchored here on planet Earth, the competition to be the first billionaire in space should mark a milestone in the towering vanity of the wealthy.” He also stated, “Let’s promptly dispense with the notion that any of these flights will add anything to our scientific knowledge.” The notion would come as a great surprise to the researchers who have flown experiments on SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

Hiltzik also trots out the old and long-ago busted canard that human space flight is solely about public relations. Robots, he claims, can do scientific exploration just as well as and cheaper than humans. But the British Royal Astronomical Society concluded in a landmark study that a scientific case exists for sending astronauts to the moon and Mars.

However, spending on space exploration, even by billionaires, has benefits for the economy. As physicist Brian Cox stated, quoting a study by Chase Econometrics, every dollar spent on the Apollo program returned 14 dollars to the American economy from technological spin-offs, increased employment opportunities, and business formation.

Successful commercial space flight has been a recent phenomenon. SpaceX is already providing launch services to various customers, including NASA, the military, and the commercial sector. The company is taking cargo and astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Shortly SpaceX will take private, paying customers to low Earth orbit in partnership with Axiom Aerospace. The company has also been contracted by NASA to build a lunar lander version of the Starship for Project Artemis.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin want to start businesses selling suborbital hops to private customers. Jeff Bezos harbors the ambition to build an orbital launcher, the New Glenn, and a lunar lander, the Blue Moon, to compete with Elon Musk.

More than a little bit of vanity and bragging rights are involved in the commercial space race. But each of these space entrepreneurs are also bent on creating profitable enterprises. While politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders forever slam billionaires on social media, the fact remains that their enterprises, even those Stirone and Hiltzik disapprove of, provide jobs, spark technological innovation, and promote economic growth.

It seems more than a little arrogant for Stirone and Hiltzik to lecture billionaires about how they should invest their money. Bezos, Branson, and Musk are rich because they know how to make money, even by doing space flight. Besides, seeing these guys vie for who is going to be king of outer space is going to be a heck of a show.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration titled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond, and, most recently, Why is America Going Back to the Moon? He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

Tags: Opinion, Op-Eds, NASA, Space, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk

Original Author: Mark Whittington

Original Location: The wasted outrage over the private space race

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