When Sir Richard Branson flew above the U.S. definition of “space” at an altitude of more than 53 miles, he succeeded in making his childhood dream come true.
Along with his crew, he became one of the first passengers soaring into space on his Virgin Galactic rocket plane. An ebullient Branson suggested everyone should seek this opportunity. He’s even planning some giveaways to enable a few people who can’t afford the estimated $250,000 price tag for space tourism to get the chance.
Here’s another perspective: If you have $250,000 that you don’t need, there are a thousand ways to spend that money to help your community and make an enormous impact on people in need.
Space exploration has become an elite playground for billionaires. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, plans to take his own rocket to space later this month. And Bezos claims his consumer space travel experience will be superior to those offered by Virgin Galactic. Hey, he didn’t get to be the richest person on earth without knowing how to plug his product.
Another contender in the space-tourism market is SpaceX’s Elon Musk, another of the planet’s richest men. Branson, Bezos and Musk combined are worth more than $380 billion.
That’s a tough number to process. But it’s more than enough to hire 1 million more teachers and pay their salaries for five years. It’s more than enough to build 20,000 new schools. A U.N. report says the food insecurity problem has grown so much in the pandemic that it would take $10 billion to stem the tide. Just think what $380 billion could do. Could it cure cancer? We’ll never know.
Now, that’s not to say that billionaires should give away all their money. And all three of these men have supported charities with their wealth. Further, there is much to be learned from space exploration.
But if we made a list of the things the world needs, and the things on that list that money could buy, would recreational space travel really make the list?
Perhaps rocketship rides are to the uber-rich as roller coaster rides are to the middle class. Yes, it costs money, but it’s fun and exhilarating, so if you can afford it, why not?
This proposition takes it many steps further, however. This latest frontier will create a new revenue stream for NASA — a private, nongovernment stream. So, now we have a faction of the U.S. government having its budget shored up by private sources. Do those sources get a say in the direction the space program moves? Once NASA is reliant on the support, do we really think Musk, Branson and Bezos’ billions will carry no sway? NASA has already said it is open to advertising on the space station.
If private funding is the only way to increase NASA’s budget, government must at least maintain control. And we’ll hope the Pentagon doesn’t decide it needs more money.
As for private citizens who could afford to buy a thrill ride on a rocket, please consider spending your money in a more charitable way. There are so many people with feet planted firmly on earth who could use the help.
Branson was giddy as he described the experience of weightlessness. Spoken like a man who has never felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.