One Small Step

Bezos, Branson, and Musk are doing the world a favorite with their space programs

Today is the anniversary of a pretty significant moment in human history.

Fifty-two years ago, Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the Moon. We were no longer bound to be stuck on Earth forever.

It was quite an accomplishment, when you think it about it. It took only sixty-six years from the Wright Brothers flying a plane at Kitty Hawk to landing somebody on another planet, only fifty-eight years from the first flight to the first astronaut.

A year prior to Apollo 11, Pan Am Airways began taking reservations for their first trip to the Moon, which they expected would take place in the year 2000.

Needless to say, the first commercial flight to the moon was not in 2000. Private space travel hadn’t even commenced by then. Nor will Pan Am ever be able to deliver upon these promised lunar flights considering they didn’t even make it to 2000.

I’ve always been a proponent of opening up space to private exploration. While NASA had plenty of leeway in the 1950’s and 1960’s to be agile with their projects, since the end of Apollo it has become just another bureaucratic nightmare. Private companies have the ability to be more nimble, develop faster, and adjust quicker than NASA can. And the private sector’s ability to help not just themselves but NASA can through quickly once SpaceX rockets and capsules began taking NASA astronauts into space

Since 1969, itseems like we have lagged behind. In the years since Yuri Gagarin left Baikonaur in 1961, only 580 people have gone into space.1 That number will increase by four today as Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen are scheduled to take the first manned mission of Blue Origin’s “New Shepard” spacecraft.

Blue Origin’s launch comes less than two weeks after Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22 mission became the world’s first commercial spaceflight.

The space race between Branson, Bezos, and Elon Musk looks like it won’t be slowing down any time soon. Branson’s company was the first to space, way back in 2004. Musk’s was the first to send astronauts to the Space Station. Bezos is the new kid on the block. And who knows what will come next.

There’s been a lot of sturm und drang from people, particularly on the left, about the fact that the space race is just a bunch of billionaires who are trying to outdo it each. To a certain extent, yes that is true. Rich billionaires with big egos have the opportunity to fund these sort of things and who should be giving away their money or paying more taxes to the government instead.

But that kind of caveman thinking does not do anything for the “democratization” of space. One of the benefits of rich guys spending money on new technology is the fact that ultimately it will bring that new technology closer to the reach of the average citizen.

There was a time when cell phones were $4,000 bricks that were only affordable to the rich. Now, everybody has at least one.

There was a time when flat screen TV’s were cutting edge, thousands of dollars a piece, and only affordable to the rich. Now, you can’t even find TV’s in the stores these days that aren’t flat screens. The price of entry level flat screens is around $200.

There was a time when cars were silly luxuries only affordable to the rich. Now, they are indispensable.

So too space travel will become more accessible in the long term thanks to the investments of Bezos, Branson, Musk, and other billionaires. It was that very thinking that led to innovations in air travel:

Byrd, meanwhile, announced his aim was not simply the prize, but “to demonstrate that the world was ready for safe, regular, multi-person flight across the Atlantic” and that he would head for Paris, as planned. He and his crew, Acosta, Noville and, as a late addition, Bernt Balchen (who actually did most of the flying) set off in America for Paris on 29 June. However, after a 40-hour flight they were unable to find the airfield at Le Bourget and turned back to ditch on the coast, landing at Ver-sur-Mer, Normandy, on 1 July.

Advancing public interest and aviation technology, the Prize occasioned investments many times the value of the prize. 

I don’t know if I will be able to afford to go to space. I’d like to think, however, that one day my kids might. You may not like these billionaires, but their investments are going to help you maybe get to space one day, among countless other potential innovations that have been created thanks to space travel. We should not deride them for their efforts. Instead, we should thank them.

1

Assuming you use the US definition of space being fifty miles high.