Jeff Bezos can no longer be first. Shortly after the Amazon founder announced a trip into space with a lot of fanfare, another billionaire jostled in between. Around ten days before the all-short trip from Bezos announced for Tuesday (July 20), Brit Richard Branson flew into space with his spaceship “VSS Unity”. “I was once a kid with a dream that looked up at the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking at our beautiful earth,” commented Branson from weightlessness.
Now Bezos wants to follow suit – but the headline-grabbing billionaires race for the fulfillment of their own all-dreams and the lucrative top position in the space tourism business is facing strong headwinds from critics who warn of selfish waste of money regardless of the climate and largely without scientific research interests.
Oldest and youngest person in space together
“I’ve dreamed of going into space since I was five,” says 57-year-old Bezos. According to the magazine, he was founded around 20 years ago Forbes richest person in the world therefore the space company Blue Origin. In the west of the US state of Texas, Blue Origin has developed and tested the “New Shepard” spaceship over the past few years. The “New Shepard” has never flown manned – now the spacecraft, symbolically named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard, is set to take off with people on board for the first time to the day exactly 52 years after the first moon landing.
In addition to Bezos, his brother Mark, an 82-year-old ex-pilot and an 18-year-old whose father gave him the flight, should take a seat in the capsule with the “largest windows in space”. 82-year-old Wally Funk would be the oldest person to have ever flown into space – 18-year-old Oliver Daemen would be the youngest. Daemen’s father, Dutch investment banker Joes Daemen, took part in the auction for fourth place on board the “New Shepard” in June, but was outbid. The winner of the auction, who had offered $ 28 million and initially wanted to remain anonymous, could not be there this time because of a “scheduling conflict” and would start at a later date, it said. How much money Daemen paid for the flight was not initially announced.
Space or not space?
After the start, the spaceship “New Shepard” should accelerate to more than 3700 kilometers per hour within two minutes. Weightlessness should start after three minutes, before the capsule, which is then separated, reaches its highest point at a height of more than 100 kilometers above the earth. Then it is supposed to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and land, braked by large parachutes, in the Texan desert. Overall, the trip should take around ten minutes.
The International Aviation Association (FAI) and many other experts consider 100 kilometers above the earth to be the limit to space, but there are no binding international regulations. Branson had ascended with the “VSS Unity” to an altitude of about 86 kilometers. For comparison: the International Space Station ISS flies around 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface.
But Branson wasn’t the first tourist in space: several other companies and space agencies have already brought travelers into space. In 2001, the US entrepreneur Dennis Tito spent a week on the International Space Station and paid around $ 20 million for it; he is considered the first space tourist. Around half a dozen other private ISS visitors followed.
But despite high hopes and expectations, the all-excursions have not really gotten going. The development and implementation of a space mission are associated with great safety risks and extremely expensive – so that until now they have only seemed to be reserved for trained professionals and – in top shape – the super-rich. Branson, Bezos and another billionaire, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, want to change that. The much cheaper short trips from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic could even make a kind of mass tourism possible.
“No sign of progress” – “grotesque injustice”
But the criticism is growing. “The fact that billionaires are flying into space is not a sign of progress,” wrote former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on Twitter. “It is a mark of grotesque injustice that allows a few to leave the earth while the rest of humanity suffers.” The head of the World Food Program of the United Nations, David Beasley, called on Branson and Bezos to stand up for the hungry people on earth in addition to their space adventures.
The lack of consideration for the climate is also repeatedly criticized. Space travel is one of the most emission-rich undertakings of mankind, which the responsible national authorities always justify primarily with the excessive interest in research. The private space companies also indicate such, but it is primarily about tourism.
Carbon dioxide emissions
In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, the flight with the “VSS Unity” is roughly comparable to a round-trip transatlantic flight, and climate adjustments are also carried out, according to Virgin Galactic – but this has not been checked and verified by independent experts. Blue Origin states that the “New Shepard” runs on hydrogen and therefore does not emit any carbon dioxide – the production of hydrogen does, however.
In view of acute heat waves and fires in the western USA and the flood disaster in western Germany, but also the corona pandemic, the millionaires’ all-adventure did not send a good sign, commented the US news channel CNN. “This seems an odd moment for the richest people in the world to use their monstrous resources on an enterprise that has no immediate benefit to most of society.”