Let’s take a spacewalk down billionaire lane. With the recent billionaire space race coming to a close, Richard Branson accomplished a historical feat by being the first billionaire in space. His company Virgin Galactic launched its first fully crewed aircraft 80 km (almost 50 miles) into the atmosphere.
Yes, whether Branson is actually the first billionaire in space is up for debate. The international community (The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) defines the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space as 100 km (62 miles) up. This is known as the Kármán Line, which Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket plans to reach when it launches later this month.
But despite the extent of Branson’s accomplishment, these billionaires have gotten a lot of negative feedback, saying they’re flaunting money by going to space while the world deals with a pandemic, global warming and millions of suffering people. Why is it that every time a rich person does something, they receive criticism?
Can we get a little space here?
It’s an unfortunate reality, but bad things will always happen. Suffering and financial class disparity in the world is inevitable, even in socially economic societies. However, that’s not a good reason to not celebrate success. Can’t we be happy for billionaires and their accomplishments? Branson’s flight is a huge achievement for Virgin Galactic, as Bezos’s flight will be for Blue Origin.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic launched their first full crew of people into space. So, that success means we are one step closer to commercial space travel and maybe even being an interplanetary species.
Rich people aside, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin would have launched eventually, whether Branson and Bezos were aboard or not. But since Blue Origin is Bezos’s company, he wanted to be on the first flight. That’s how this whole billionaire space race started: because shortly after, Branson announced he was going to space nine days before Bezos. So, their rivalry made the feat happen.
But ultimately, the accomplishment is not that billionaires went to space. The accomplishment is that their first fully crewed flight was a success.
Private companies can be more efficient than the government.
Some people might argue: “Governments and publicly funded programs— not private companies owned by mega billionaires—should colonize Mars and explore space. That way, our country accomplishes it together. Billionaires are just trying to gain power by taking control of space.”
First, governments are just as power-hungry as billionaires. The space industry has money to be made: If it didn’t, these billionaires wouldn’t be trying. If money isn’t involved, we have no incentive to innovate.
Second, private companies are better suited for the complicated job of flying to space because they encounter less red tape and are more efficient.
You still might not like the situation: “So, we are one step closer to commercial space. We still can’t access it. Only rich people can access space now.” You would be correct; only rich people can afford to pay for these space tours. But commercial space travel eventually will become more common and, therefore, more affordable.
Rich people spark innovation.
Rich people spark innovation: If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have many of the technological devices we use today. We need wealthy people to finance the early markets of new products and services until they are cheap and efficient enough to sell to the non-wealthy.
Here’s an example. Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb was very expensive in its early stages. It cost $1 to buy in 1881, which would be $26.39 today, accounting for inflation. This amount of money was a day’s pay for many people back then. And the early light bulbs also used four times more power, which was not cheap. So, rich communities were the first to get electricity and light.
We’ve seen this trend again with computers, cars, phones, televisions, and now with space travel. Whether you like it or not, rich people are the reason we use these technologies today. They spark innovation, and those opportunities trickle down in society.