Rex Huppke: Let’s guilt Branson, Bezos and space tourists into making charitable donations before they leave Earth
We need to talk about rich people traveling into space.
On Sunday, Virgin Galactic founder and large-amounts-of-money-having human Richard Branson rode his own rocket to the edge of space, soaring more than 50 miles above the planet then descending without jettisoning billions of dollars in cash to the people below, many of whom face food insecurity and can’t afford basic health care.
Following Branson’s suborbital flight, space will remain Earth-billionaire-free until July 20, when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos climbs aboard his own rocket and takes to the heavens with a plan to travel slightly higher than the Virgin Galactic craft. (The first rule of Billionaire Space Adventurer Club is you must return to the planet with an ego larger than all who’ve gone before you.)
Advanced alien life-forms watching from afar, assuming they have a rudimentary understanding of life on our planet, might think the people of Earth finally grew tired of certain uber-wealthy denizens and are trying, and failing, to cast them out. Or perhaps they would think the uber-wealthy are trying, and failing, to escape Earth for planets where they could pay even less in taxes, as if such a thing is possible.
Truthfully, I’m not concerned with what advanced alien life-forms think about the off-and-on placement of wealthy people in the upper reaches of our atmosphere. What troubles me is space tourism and the possibility that we’ll allow wealthy people to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for quick suborbital trips without making them feel guilty.
Before going on, I’d like to stress I have no problem with rich people. When the revolution comes, I’m sure they’ll taste delicious.
I also have no problem with space exploration. Space is exceedingly cool and space travel is awesome. Anyone who says otherwise never sat in a theater as a child in 1977 watching “Star Wars” and thinking, eloquently: “Whoa.”
NASA astronauts and engineers who have stretched the boundaries of our stargazing dreams and imaginations are heroic. They are also not space billionaires, and they’ve certainly never been space tourists.
That’s an important line to draw in the lunar soil.
Branson, Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk are undoubtedly contributing to humanity’s continued exploration of space, moving the heretofore government-funded work into the private arena. SpaceX has partnered with NASA to build “the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface.”