Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson carries crew member Sirisha Bandla on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, N.M., Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Andres Leighton/AP photo)

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson carries crew member Sirisha Bandla on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, N.M., Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Andres Leighton/AP photo)

COLUMN: Spending money on the billionaires’ space race

Concerns have been raised about the present quest for private space flight

Last week, William Shatner, the actor who played Capt. James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek television series, took a trip into space.

Shatner, 90, was one of four people aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spacecraft. He also set a record as the oldest person to travel to space.

The flight, lasting a little more than 10 minutes, is a chapter in what has been called the billionaires’ space race.

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Blue Origin is the space travel initiative of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the two richest people in the world. The company has had two space flights this year, in July and last week.

In July, billionaire Richard Branson made the voyage into space aboard his Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, and the richest man in the world, is the founder of SpaceX, a private company with a goal of space travel and colonizing Mars.

(A fourth billionaire, Paul G. Allen formerly of Microsoft and also the creator of Vulcan Aerospace, died in 2018.)

The billionaires’ space race has attracted a fair amount of criticism. Some have suggested the money spent on space tourism should have instead been directed to solving more pressing and urgent needs on Earth.

That concept could set an uncomfortable precedent. Those who would seek to determine how billionaires such as Bezos, Branson and Musk choose to spend their wealth should not be surprised if their own spending is questioned.

Taken to the extreme, this could see people defending their choice of supporting a cancer charity instead of efforts to reduce poverty, or supporting a faith-based cause instead of an anti-war initiative or combatting climate change.

Is it not wiser to allow the one who has accumulated wealth to decide how that wealth is to be spent or distributed?

There is a case to be made for allowing all to do as they wish, no questions asked. However, our world is facing major problems that can only be solved by acting together. Some of these problems and challenges will be costly and difficult, and will require effort from all.

Following last week’s space flight, Prince William, second in line to the British throne, said the focus should be on fixing global environmental problems.

In July, when the first of the private space tourism flights was launched, former U.S. labour secretary Robert Reich questioned the timing, following record-breaking hot weather.

At the time, longstanding temperature records were broken in Canada and elsewhere, and food crops were in danger from the extreme heat.

There are other global problems and challenges as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing after more than a year and a half. At present, more than 240 million people have been infected, and around five million have died from this virus.

The world has a population of close to eight billion people. Roughly one in 10 is affected by hunger and malnutrition, even though we are able to produce more than enough food to feed everyone.

And the present social media culture is fostering an atmosphere of heightened conflict, anger and polarization at a time when dialogue and conversation are more important than ever before.

The billionaires in this present space race are free to spend their money as they see fit.

Still, in a world facing immense and serious challenges, it is difficult to get excited about displays of rocket power.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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