Lately, the news has been dominated by the “billionaire space race,” meaning, of course, the news has also been dominated by critics of said space race by said billionaires.
Politicians and pundits on the left have criticized the likes of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in recent days for “wasteful spending sprees” and the “joyrides” of going to space rather than using their fortunes to help those in need (which they already do, by the way).
Though Bezos himself acknowledged their point, critics’ hot takes on the billionaire space race are wrong and shortsighted.
The likes of Bezos and Branson going to space serves to lower future barriers to space travel and democratize it. People on both sides of the aisle should be able to get behind that idea.
Nearly every new innovation starts out as expensive and unattainable to everyday, working-class people. Flying in a plane used to be a luxurious experience reserved for those at the very top. Now, average people around the world rely on it, and it has never been so affordable and attainable. Due to competition and improved technologies, the barrier to entry for air travel has been severely lowered over the last century. Space travel is likely to follow that same route.
Though right now only people at the very top have access to space, people like Bezos and Branson are beginning to build out the infrastructure needed to get everyday people there.
Another billionaire who operates in this arena is Elon Musk, who is also innovating the space sector with his company, SpaceX.
A study from NASA and the U.S. Air Force found that the cost of going from the initial design stages of the Falcon 9 rocket, one of the rockets designed and used by SpaceX, to its first flight was $440 million, about a third of what it would have cost NASA.
NASA’s current budget for the year is more than $23 billion, and their request for the next fiscal year is nearly $25 billion. SpaceX is valued at $74 billion, but it regularly receives contracts from the Department of Defense and even NASA itself.
As noted by Reason, “Bezos, Branson, Musk and others have overtaken a wildly expensive, ineffective government program and built a competitive industry, driving down the cost of getting a kilogram into low-Earth orbit by 44-fold already. Which billionaire goes to space first, how high he flies or how big his rocket is, or how much he pays in income taxes, none of that matters. What matters is what the rest of us are going to do with access to those same spacecraft, and bigger, better, weirder ones in the years to come.”
Private investment in space travel far outpaces the efficiency of public investment through NASA, and the billionaire space race is just another chapter in that story. SpaceX can do what NASA cannot more quickly and efficiently, and without cost to the taxpayer.
Bezos, Branson and others are working to lower the barrier to space travel for average Americans, and those criticizing them fail to see the big picture.
Progress is progress, and that should be celebrated. These billionaires going to space is the first step in the democratization of space travel, and they are doing it far more efficiently than the government ever could.