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Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson's race to space has ruined the final frontier forever

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 7/16/2021 Jack Derwin
Jeff Bezos sitting on a stage: Billionaires are commodifying space and the rest of us will simply pay the price. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post via Getty Images) Billionaires are commodifying space and the rest of us will simply pay the price. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post via Getty Images)

There was a time when sending a guy into space really meant something. Now, it's just a bunch of billionaires trying to remain relevant after they've pillaged the planet they're leaving.

Fifty-two years on from the iconic moon landing, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson spent the better part of July trying to one-up the other on who would make it into space first. Meanwhile most Australians can't even leave their homes.

Branson fittingly popped his cherry first on the Virgin Galactic on Monday. Bezos is set to follow next week on the New Shepard, perhaps a form of cosmic justice denying the world's richest man this one thing.

But a competition that began as a pointless exercise to pump up their own egos, and generate publicity for their fledgling space tourism brands, quickly descended into the kind of petty squabble you'd expect from two men who have more money than God.

Jeff Bezos looking every bit a supervillain . Jeff Bezos looking every bit a supervillain .

Bezos, pictured above enjoying a nice meal, began undermining Branson's trip two days before he even left. He and his minions allege that Branson didn't really go to space, because it only travelled a measly 80 kilometres above Earth.

While high enough to see the curvature of the earth -- sorry flat earthers -- it wasn't high enough for Blue Origin, which also didn't think Branson's windows were big enough.

Bezos, for the record, is going to an altitude of 100 kilometres. But it's a weird thing to be preoccupied with given real astronauts had travelled thousands of times further when Bezos was still in nappies.

All these years later, we're meant to be impressed that billionaires -- famous for having more money than 99.9% of people -- bought themselves a glorified air ticket.

graphical user interface, text, application: A since deleted tweet from a Virgin Galactic test pilot. A since deleted tweet from a Virgin Galactic test pilot.

But the slur is more bizarre given the organisations that do recognise 80 kilometres as the start of space are all American. Obscure groups you probably haven't heard of, like NASA.

Video: Billionaires Branson, Bezos and Musk's race for space tourism heats up (USA TODAY)


It's only slightly more awkward that the agencies that Bezos doesn't care for are also the ones who set the very standards to which his space company is beholden.

But to be fair, the only part that really matters on that chart is the measure that says Bezos has an escape system. It's only then that you realise he's coming back to Earth whether you like it or not.

Taking the high moral ground when asked about the feud, Branson responded with a classic 'Jeff who?', which would have won him serious kudos if he was still in a schoolyard, and not, you know, 70 years old.

Space rules, billionaires drool

The space race used to be an aspirational thing, the summit of human achievement and capability, a testament to what we could achieve when we work together.

Kids remember watching the moon landing and being spurred on to do great things. Bezos saw it as a five-year-old and said it inspired him to go to space. Clearly it affected him deeply, becoming a hedge fund manager soon thereafter, and racing to commodify space several decades later.

It's unclear whether it also drove him in other aspects of his journey, like implementing a work culture at Amazon so demanding that workers routinely pee in plastic bottles and that punishes them for taking time off. Or whether it drove his company to crush worker efforts to unionise. Or reportedly exploit forced Uighur labour.

All hard work was worth it though, helping Bezos amass more resources than Iceland, Luxembourg, and Sri Lanka combined.

With Jeff just days away from launching into space, all those sacrifices are finally paying off for the big man.

Space is beginning to receive the same treatment as Earth

But it'd be remiss to pick only on Jeff.

His PR stunts aside, this whole sordid affair just proves that there is no safe place anymore. The global elite, not satisfied with wrecking Earth, are quickly trying to ruin the rest of the universe as well.

Meme king Elon Musk plans on dumping 42,000 satellites into space, including thousands into low-orbit, as part of his Starlink project. Throw in almost 3,300 of Bezos' and experts are worried they'll all start colliding before they devolve into yet more space junk.

Ironically the satellites will also, in all likelihood, obstruct the next generation of five-year-olds from even enjoying the night sky. Sorry kids!

Not that any billionaire will have to worry about a new generation of entrepreneurs coming for their thrones. The same week that Branson took off, a study came out suggesting the Amazon rainforest is emitting more carbon dioxide than oxygen.

Given these titans of industry run some of the most valuable and largest companies in human history, some cynics suggest they could potentially plow some of their hard-won billions into remedying the planet, this pale blue dot.

But to hell with that. The billionaires have the right idea. It's time to call it quits on this planet altogether.

Lest they get stuck here with the rest of us.


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