UTA community weighs in on the merits of the billionaire space race

Aerospace engineering junior Jean Luc Reynolds said he’s an optimist when it comes to space travel. He'd rather see billionaires put their money toward space travel, research and technology than big yachts and mansions for poodles.

“I'm a Star Trek fan. I’m actually named after a Star Trek character,” he said. ''When it comes to stuff like this, it's just an inevitability. At the end of the day, [space is] just another frontier.”

On July 20, Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, traveled to space in a rocket built by his company Blue Origin. While some are optimistic for the future, others question his motive and the implications of a billionaire space race.

Blue Origin is a privately-funded aerospace developer and manufacturer. According to the website, the company works to develop partially and fully reusable launch vehicles to serve civil, commercial and defense customers.

“Blue Origin believes in a future where millions of people are living and working in space. In order to preserve Earth, our home, for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, we must go to space to tap its unlimited resources and energy,” the website states.

Political science senior Christopher Mudd said with billionaire Richard Branson already traveling to space earlier the same month, Jeff Bezos deciding to join him is nothing extraordinary.

Mudd thinks that the resources spent on going to space could be put to better use solving and improving current conditions on the ground.

Bezos could be increasing municipal sewer systems in developing countries, implementing transit systems or organizing scholarships for students, he said. Space travel is for the extremely wealthy who have nothing else to do, he said.

Reynolds believes we will become a multiplanetary species within our lifetimes. As technology progresses faster and faster, we're going to go into the stars, he said.

The mutual desire to explore space will bring humanity together.

“That's the one thing that, you know, China, Russia, United States, we all have in common is our unquenchable thirst to explore outer space,” Reynolds said.

It’s not uncommon for the ultra-wealthy to undertake expensive projects and imagine themselves as great trailblazers of humanity, said Kenneth Williford, philosophy and humanities associate professor.

Williford said the billionaire space race is a distraction and a bit of sensationalism. For the foreseeable future we should concentrate on resolving our terrestrial problems, he said.

He questioned whether solutions to the world's problems should be up to wealthy philanthropists in the first place and said if their projects distract from immediate concerns like de-carbonizing our energy systems and shifting to sustainable agricultural practices, they should be regarded as “irrational, an instance of delusional exuberance, or misguided, at best.”

We shouldn’t pursue large scale projects before technology allows us to space travel without contributing to green-house gas emissions, Williford said.

It would be nice to move all heavy industrial and mining operations into space while keeping the planet blue and green, but we can’t expect to do that in the timeframe needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, he said.

Bezos' space travel ventures could increase interest in scientific exploration, research and engineering discoveries. It could also further clutter Earth's atmosphere with debris, Mudd said.

As billionaires throw more money into furthering technology, within our lifetimes we will be able to buy a rocket ship ticket to go to Mars just as easily as a plane ticket, Reynolds said.

“It might seem far-fetched, but if you [told] somebody 100 years ago, ‘hey, you're going to be buying a plane ticket,’” he said. “They wouldn't believe you, you know?”



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