The space race is no longer the same. The “space race” was a Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop aerospace capabilities, including artificial satellites, unmanned space probes, and human spaceflight. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 as the federal agency with primary responsibility for the development of civilian aerospace research. Early Soviet successes in the space race had a major impact on US society and culture, altering strategic defense doctrines and leading to new educational initiatives. The space race existed to marshal a sense of shared purpose (and also to make spy satellites). It gestured toward higher values that are nowhere to be found in the current billionaires’ space race. What was the point of the first billionaire (Sir Richard Branson) in space and what will be the meaning of the second billionaire (Jeff Bezos) in space?
Branson spent the money he earned off the labour of low-wage workers and became a 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. He is on a marketing campaign for the Virgin name to create an image of innovation and safety that will help his group of companies pick off a satellite launch contract or two that might have gone to SpaceX.
As for Jeff Bezos, next week, July 20, he will follow Branson with his own rocket.
Blue Origin will fly its 16th New Shepard flight to space and its first with astronauts on board. The launch will be broadcast live on BlueOrigin.com beginning at 6:30 am CDT / 11:30 UTC. Liftoff is currently targeted for 8:00 am CDT / 13:00 UTC. Blue Origin’s Launch Site One is in a remote location in the US, West Texas desert and there are no on-site public viewing areas in the vicinity of the launch site. The Texas Department of Transportation will be closing a portion of State Highway 54 adjacent to the launch site and will not allow spectators on the closed portion of the road during the launch.
Bezos and Branson are going to space at a time when our earthly inequities could not be more clear, the truth is that it is obscene to allow moguls to pour their untaxed billions, earned on the backs of precarious workers, into private ventures divorced from everyday concern or accountability. Branson’s suborbital space success has pleased a few investors, and even some industry rivals, the principal benefits will flow to him and few individuals. They say however part of the plan is to usher in the new space tourism industry. As a result, Bezos and his space company announced that Oliver Daemen will be the first paying customer to fly onboard Blue Origin (New Shepard), marking the beginning of commercial operations for the programme. He will join Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk aboard the first human flight on July 20. At 18-years-old and 82-years-young, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk represent the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space.
This is a big deal for Bezos and Blue Origin, which has yet to send any people into space. Climbing on board doesn’t only raise the profile of the trip–it also sends a vote of confidence that Bezos believes his company is at least on par with SpaceX, which has mostly led the private space industry.
The Elon Musk space company, SpaceX, is probably the only company that can claim the innovation prize amongst the three. Elon has humbly not tried to score brand points by trying to become the first person in space with his own rocket. He has however championed a few innovations in the space industry.
At face value, the space race by billionaires appears futile and a wasteful exercise as innovation often appears to be in the early days. History is littered with explorers and colonies that failed, the experimental technologies that blew up in the faces of their inventors. Every human alive today is the unlikely heir of adventurers who were willing to dare despite the odds. And every new breakthrough, from fire onward, was undoubtedly deprecated by neighbours who considered the thing a pointless waste. If humanity is eventually going to the stars, the kind of innovation currently being tested by the billionaires will be an essential part of how we’ll get there. Hopefully, the end goal is not just to boost companies of billionaires to earn more but the advancement of humanity.