Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson and former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are duking it out as to who can get to “space” first this month. I put space in quotation marks because they’re not orbiting the planet or anything; they’ll both be getting to the very beginnings of space and very briefly leave the Earth’s gravitational pull.
While I certainly understand the “cool” factor of flying to space like this, I’m not sure I understand the scientific benefits. When SpaceX provides a ride for astronauts to the International Space Station or launches satellites or brings payloads to wherever they need to go, it’s for science stuff. Or, in the case of Starlink, they’re making the Internet available to remote locations. And that’s rather cool (aside from the pollution it’s providing for astronomers). When the likes of Sir Richard Branson or Jeff Bazos go up, it’ll be to say “look what we can do” and is essentially an expensive amusement park ride. Yes, there is innovation required to make these events occur, but just imagine how the world would benefit if the funds for these joyrides were used to help combat hunger or homelessness.
I really like Sir Branson and Mr. Bezos are just trying to outdo each other, much in the way muscle cars were raced in the mid 20th century. With these two I don’t really care who gets to “space” first.
I just wish the human race could win from these endeavors.