Cryptheory – Just Crypto

Cryptocurrencies are our life! Get an Overview of Market News

Space travelling :‘Is it just the latest plaything for billionaires?’

6 min read

As SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin ramp up competition over space travel, not everyone is over the moon about it. This week, Richard Branson beat Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to the punch by travelling 50 miles into space in a Virgin Galactic rocket.

Although he’s elated, a sense of aversion to the commodification of space has swept social media platforms, especially when inequality on Earth is rife. A tweet that’s been shared more than 20,000 times reads: “I think my favourite thing this week has been Richard Branson going into space and absolutely nobody giving a shit,” while another sarcastically claims that Branson had “begged the government for a handout last year”, yet he just took to space in a rocket costing millions.

Eyebrows have been raised over the environmental effects, too. Jeff Bezos has been vocal about his belief that new approaches to combating climate change could lie in outer space. But, travelling there in the first place might be counterproductive to that approach.

The higher a spacecraft flies, the more fuel it needs, while it also emits black carbon and CO2. The Blue Origin spacecraft will run on hydrogen, which is carbon neutral, but to produce it, carbon is often a byproduct.

Then there’s the issue of boredom. Not just at the perceived hedonistic whims of the unfathomably rich, but at space exploration itself. Last year, communications research professor Linda Billings who works with Nasa told the BBC that while the space agency continues to do “tremendous work”, she thinks the response from governments and corporations is still dominated by “thank you very much but we don’t care” reactions.

To the average person, there hasn’t been much in the pipeline since the moon landings of the late 1960s.

“You might be waiting for someone to land on Mars next, and that hasn’t happened,” says Zachary Goldberg, a space-research manager at Trilateral Research, a UK-based tech-insights firm.

Storm clouds and a rainbow appear over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Aerospace Manufacturer building as Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, on August 31, 2019 in Cape Canaveral. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images).
Storm clouds and a rainbow appear over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Aerospace Manufacturer building in Cape Canaveral (Photo: Getty/Mark Wilson)

Ironically, it’s a lack of public interest that set the pace for giant tech companies, headed by billionaire chief executives, to swoop into the space-travel market, he believes.

“Governments cut funding for space programmes in the 1990s and early 2000s, creating a gap,” says Goldberg.

“A lot of that had to do with public perception, governments felt like they couldn’t garner the public support for space development in the way they could in the 1960s and 1970s, when everything was new and seen as a human pursuit towards knowledge and discovery.”

While India is making strides in the remote sensing area, gathering data on masses in space from a far, and China is eyeing further exploration on Mars, after a successful uncrewed mission – the collective frenzy that the original space race inspired, just isn’t there.

Arguably, this public scepticism might have deepened. Especially as tech giants have entered the space.

From inadequate working conditions, questions over tax contributions, and dives into the crypto space, an industry that involves huge electricity outputs for mining coins – criticisms of how Bezos, Branson and Musk approach business are widespread.

And many argue billionaire status and sound ethics can’t coexist. This sentiment gave rise to the #EatTheRich movement, a socialism-driven campaign that’s now commonly used as a rallying hashtag across social media.

An Oxfam study from 2015 found that 71 per cent of global billionaire wealth has benefitted from cronyism, inheritance, or monopoly. To top it off, a single ticket on Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which isn’t yet operating tourist trips into space (these are set to start next year), will set you back just over £180,000. It’s no wonder we’re seemingly disinterested, then, as people online claim we simply can’t afford to be.

However, Joe Sercel, founder of the California based Trans Astra, who build space exploration tech, warns not to underestimate the average person’s interest in space exploration. “The public knows instinctively that we are at a very important time in history as we make moves into space that are commercially sustainable,” he says.

Sercel even suggests that the private sector taking the wheel will speed up the process to accessibility and affordability, eventually. “Sooner than we know, the average person will be able to travel in space,” he explains.

“Just like cars, colour TVs and computers, at first it will be too expensive, but if private sector innovation is allowed to flourish, cost competition will drive down prices every year.”

Pondering the concept of “ethical” space development, he adds, “The key is to make sure it’s not dominated by unethical players”. And, he stresses that countries with better human rights records should play a leadership role, too. Though, deciphering what nations can truly take a moral high ground on human rights might prove tricky.

Sercel also rejects the idea that space exploration is being dominated by the ultra-privileged, viewing those at the helm as simply driven innovators who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

“The private sector is investing in small space businesses with vital growth potential,” he says. “The founders of these businesses are not rich fat cats, they are middle- or working-class folks like me. Fighting poverty is about creating opportunities.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station carrying satellites as part of SpaceX's Starlink broadband internet network. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images).
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off (Photo: Getty/Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket).

A viral tweet once floated the idea that once viable for human habitation, a Starbucks chain would appear on the moon in a flash. To avoid space monopolies, there’s been intervention in space dealings before.

“We saw this in the 1960s, when the UN got involved over jurisdiction in space as the US and Russian programs took off, leading to an international consensus that no single country would have property rights,” says Goldberg. “Space is an area where international collaboration without political squabbling could be really successful.”

Even so, as new activities such as tourism and mining minerals in space become realities, legal and political tensions could arise if anyone makes claims around ownership or sole use. Goldberg points out that Branson, Bezos and Musk have been “successful as business minds, not as ethicists,” and urges vigilance, not resistance, on that front.

“We do need to ask what it means if these private companies want to put cell phone towers on the moon, or build a hotel orbiting it,” he says.

Sercel warns of the danger of over-regulation, instead. He reckons some companies might push for regulations on ethical grounds, while truly motivated by something else. “The big, old aerospace companies lack the innovation and agility to compete, and they know it,” he says.

“Minimal but effective regulation is needed to make sure the resources of space are not squandered by bad actors, but those companies want excessive regulation that gives them the advantage to [dominate unfairly].”

On the flipside of ethical concerns, Goldberg says the potential for levelling inequality must be considered, too. “Satellite technology can monitor climate changes, and provide educational opportunities to rural areas, or facilitate information sharing around political uprising,” he says. “Technology can have a democratising effect.”

As for dwindling earth resources, there’s urgency around necessity, too. “Accessing resources on extra-terrestrial bodies like the moon or asteroids might be something we need to do,” says Goldberg.

“As long as we change our approach, it’s possible for resources to be distributed equally, not just for the few. But asking, is space just the latest plaything for billionaires? That’s still valid.”

All content in this article is for informational purposes only and in no way serves as investment advice. Investing in cryptocurrencies, commodities and stocks is very risky and can lead to capital losses.
BlackRock (IBIT), the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC), Fidelity (FBTC), Ark Invest/21Shares (ARKB), Bitwise (BITB), Franklin (EZBC), Invesco/Galaxy (BTCO), VanEck (HODL), Valkyrie (BRRR), WisdomTree (BTCW), Hashdex (DEFI)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *