The rich are different from you and me. In fact, some of them have so much money they are in a new “space race” for the 21st century as an alternative to Planet Earth in case of climate catastrophe.
Several billionaires are investing their personal fortune into space travel, and eventual colonization of the Moon and the planet Mars. Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Elon Musk of PayPal are some notable examples. Musk’s plan goes beyond the Moon, as he envisions planting a human settlement on Mars. Mr. Bezos has his own company, Blue Origin, for this purpose
There are plenty of reasons to want to push the limits of space travel. As actor William Shatner’s Star Trek character, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, said about outer space, it is “the final frontier.” If you have multi-billions of dollars remaining after owning several mega-mansions and every other conceivable luxury, boredom may kick in. Why not invest in the chance “to boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Exploration and discovery aside, other reasons for the current pursuit of space from some of these super-rich include fear of another world war. Elon Musk, for example, noted that there were two world wars and the Cold War during the 20th century, and that one cannot rule out another conflagration. Setting up shop on Mars would ensure at least some of humanity remains.
Mr. Musk may generate more money in an hour than most people in a year, but this is stretching things a bit.
Then there is climate change, and the purported existential threat to the Earth. Author Douglas Rushkoff has written that space settlements are one idea being considered to serve as “a lifeboat for the elite” if/when this planet becomes intolerable. In 2018 he described a meeting with five billionaires concerned about planning for the worst, and “insulating themselves from the very real danger of climate change, rising sea levels…resource depletion,” and more.
Space travel remains very risky. We have not been to the Moon since 1972, and two American space shuttles were tragically incinerated (though there have been 135 shuttle missions – a number much higher than I realized since, over time, going to and fro into orbit became less newsworthy).
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a ship also was once very risky, especially centuries ago when most of humanity believed the earth was flat, ships were made of wood, and telegraph and radio did not exist. Absent a world war, ocean crossing brought risk as late as 1912 when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, killing 1,500 men, women and children.
On the other hand, space missions are so common these days, they hardly make news, which is one indication it is becoming almost routine. Christina Koch is a perfect example. She is the American astronaut who just completed 328 days in orbit, having returned to Earth earlier this month. Ms. Koch made history by spending the most time in space by a woman. Still, we remain a long way from the breezy travel notion sung by Frank Sinatra, in “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Time and technological advances will continue and space exploration is a positive thing to be pursued. This has been understood for decades, even prior to President John F. Kennedy setting the goal in 1961 for an American to walk on the Moon and return safely to Earth before the end of that decade. Amazingly, of course, his goal was realized.
In the present day, governments and increasingly the private sector are pouring resources and investment to pursue the final frontier. President Trump wants Americans to return to the Moon within five years, and space tourism for billionaires may be similarly just a few years away, with plans for a luxury space station in the works.
The notion of fleeing to a full-blown outer space community to avoid a future war or the over-wrought fear of climate change is too fantastical and absurd to consider, and centuries away from any serious possibility. Nonetheless, if such notions motivate the super-wealthy to spend their billions for future space travel and development, then it is worth encouraging them by quoting that great American character, Buzz Lightyear:
“To Infinity – and beyond!”