Staring at the sky isn’t a pastime restricted to daydreamers, even the rich stargaze while they contemplate life and its mysteries. The difference being that, for the wealthy, stargazing can mean more than just looking through a telescope. For example, Elon Musk’s SpaceX already has one of his Tesla Roadsters vehicles floating through space manned by the aptly named dummy, Starman.
Although the orbiting vehicle is seen as just a bit of fun, Musk has expressed interest in exploring the stars, and he’s far from the only billionaire to do so. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are both contending to be the first to offer commercial space flights. Considering the cost of space travel (which, at minimum, demands $500 million per launch), what is there to gain from these ludicrously expensive investments?
Some of these efforts have shown to have very real and practical applications. Reusable space rockets, for example, could not only save millions of dollars on launches, but also conserve costly resources. Both Bezos and Musk have successfully launched and landed reusable rockets.
While expanding space travel in some capacity is a possibility, it’s probable that only the super-rich will be able to afford such a luxury. What else is out there?
Several US presidents have expressed interest in a non-NASA space program. Space militarization entered the public mind during the Ronald Reagan presidency, when he announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. It was mocked by critics – even garnering the nickname “Star Wars.” Of course, this was before the proliferation and unexpected dependence on orbiting satellites for uses beyond nuclear arms (i.e. cell phones, television, GPS tracking, weather, etc.) When in 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared the US unprepared to defend its dependence on satellites, it led to changes years later.
In 2018, the former Vice President of the United States Mike Pence announced ”Space Force”, a new military branch with $8-billion in funding. Rather than fight off extraterrestrials, the goal is to protect American satellites from potential damage or destruction from jamming, missiles, or other satellites. It’s difficult to argue against an initiative to defend the public’s digital streaming and cellphone usage.
A modern-day space race has begun, but with no finish line in sight. While it doesn’t seem like Musk, Bezos or Branson are competing for any lucrative government contracts (at the moment), the option exists. The technology manufactured by their companies expands beyond military or government-funded use. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin are working with private companies, providing necessary technology and equipment. Blue Origin, for example, has a contract with Jeff Manber of the space company, Nanoracks, to help construct a private space station.
The super rich are able to see a potential the rest of us can only guess as to what it may be. Will we see Jeff Bezos treat employees better on another planet than he does on Earth? Or will Richard Branson open up a Virgin hotel on the moon? Maybe intergalactic real estate is on the horizon, with the idea of Mars colonization expressed by Elon Musk. What sets this venture apart from the Cold War space race is the ambiguity of it all. Billions of dollars are being spent with no end in sight, but at least it leaves us with imaginative outcomes – and plenty of jokes to be made.
Alex Correa | Contributing Writer