Billionaire Richard Branson shot through the stratosphere last week with a test flight of his Virgin Galactic space plane. His childhood dream came true: for four minutes he floated weightless above the ground with his five-member crew. He brought the special journey forward especially to be ahead of Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos. Bezos will be boarding a Blue Origin rocket next week.
the new space race Not among competing nations, but among vain billionaires. After announcing Branson’s launch, Bezos resented his rival’s wishes for a safe flight, even though it would not officially go into space. The 80-kilometre limit used by ‘SpaceShipTwo Unity 22’ was named the start of space by NASA in the 1950s, but the 100-kilometer limit has been maintained above Earth.
The message was clear: Branson could be ex, Bezos up. Boss over boss. Then there’s another boss: Elon Musk, who with his company SpaceX had the first commercial gig last year leading a manned spaceflight into Earth orbit.
from space barons They are called. In short, Musk and Branson basically want to “colonize” Mars, while Jeff Bezos wants space around Earth.
They are men who share more than one color, stage of life, and big ambition. As kids they often read the same Science Fiction-Wrote. As young men, they were all incompetent; They are obsessed with missiles and above all they want to win. With millions of fans, and billions of dollars to invest and deal with major aviation organizations, it is now a hallmark of space travel.
They remind me of American evangelicals who once sent settlers to take out someone else’s land with God’s blessing. It is in the focus on a chosen people, on a new world in which we find redemption. Then they were meadows, and now they are planets.
Their use of language expresses a worldview. They call space “the frontier,” a place to “colonize,” as the Wild West once did. Every time I read it, I stumble upon it. colonialism. As if this word does not sigh under the weight of the past. If our language determines how we view the world, and therefore space as well, we must be careful with our words. Why not “visit” instead of “colonize”? There is also perhaps a less complex term for “border”. My suggestion: the unknown, but I think that term is very humiliating.
You might be wondering if we wretched people on earth should be concerned about that now. Why not let a small group of interplanetary nobles have fun in outer space?
Because space is now critical to Earth, that’s why. We can’t live without all those satellites out there for that long, and there’s something to be gained. The first exotic mining companies have already been created. Lyndon Johnson, later President of the United States, predicted this since 1958: “Conquer space controls the world.”
According to the space treaty that forms the basis of international space law, we must regard space as “a province of all mankind” and that is exactly what it should be and remain.
Our starry sky is the source of our scientific knowledge and humanity’s oldest stories. Culturally and scientifically, the universe is of great importance to each of us. Everything that happens there should be in the interest of as many earthlings as possible. The problem is that the idea of a common human boycott is having a hard time translating into strict laws. The space treaty dates back to the 1960s, and is not designed for commercial exploitation by private parties.
Read also: Gold Rush and No Rules: Space Like the Wild West
It would be naive to say that money should not be made outside the atmosphere. But if we Cowboys in space Leaving it undisturbed can turn a space into an exclusive area for the wealthy.
They themselves do not primarily associate their interplanetary ambitions with financial profit. About the launch of Virgin Galactic, called it Branson Overview Effect As an incentive to rise.
This effect occurs in many astronauts who look at Earth from space and realize the fragility and amazing beauty of our planet. Because of the great distance, they suddenly see how everything below forms a whole. No tree, no human, no cloud stands alone. This deep awareness of Earth’s interconnectedness means that many space travelers will devote themselves to preserving and enhancing our ecosystem when they return from their mission.
Bezos and Musk know that space travels in big stories
Branson says he wants to offer as many people as possible that experience with his plans for space tourism. But it is very doubtful whether a four-minute float at an altitude of eighty kilometers produces an overview effect. Research the effect It shows that one look is not enough for a long-term effect. Moreover, not only the view plays a role, but also the great distance and complete isolation. So that’s a little more accurate than what Branson makes it look like.
Bezos and Musk also like to frame their plans as charitable projects. They know very well that space travel is based on big stories. Rocket fuel is a mixture of kerosene and myth-making, Danish religious scholar Thor Bjornweg wrote.
It’s up to us to hack those stories, to see what’s left when the air escapes.
We won’t get there with a cash position on our own. Better organization is needed. For this, the international community can take Antarctica as an example, comparable in prestige to space. Governments must agree that the extra-atmospheric area may not be exploited for commercial purposes.
The universe still has much to teach us, about our origin and our future. The starry sky can help us find wonder and perspective in a tight time. But for that, space must remain the place. Not the playing field for big money and vanity.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on July 17, 2021
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of July 17, 2021
“Twitter junkie. Lifelong communicator. Award-winning analyst. Subtly charming internetaholic.”