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Advice to Bezos, Branson: 'Read the Room'

Critics weigh in on the billionaires' space race
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2021 1:11 PM CDT

(Newser) – With Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos planning their first trips to space as dangerous heat waves intensify, some people suspect the billionaires are planning futures off the planet. Not going to happen, says Sim Kern in an essay at Salon. "As a scifi writer and the spouse of a NASA flight controller, let me assure you that the rich escaping the earth for a space utopia is only a trope in fiction," Kern writes, noting that life on the International Space Station, the "most comfortable living situation we've ever devised above Earth's orbit," is a very long way from luxurious, and crews are only able to survive with the help of thousands of experts problem-solving on Earth. Kern notes that ISS astronauts have to exercise two hours a day just to stop "their bones turning to goo"—and that Scott Kelly, after a lifetime training to be an astronaut, found his record-breaking year in space "physically and psychologically grueling" and retired when he returned.

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"So rest assured, Bezos and Branson will not be sipping champagne next to their space-pool on Low-Earth Mar-a-Lago," Kern writes. "For all their wealth, billionaires do not have the power to make space a more comfortable place to be than Earth." Kern describes the billionaires—including Elon Musk, whose Mars colony plans are "astronomically less feasible"—as "egotistical robber barons" who made their money in a system that is rapidly destroying the planet we live on. "Branson and Bezos aren't investing their money to forward science or expand the bounds of human possibility," Kern writes. "They're doing it to be the first rich guy to bounce around uselessly up there."

  • "Read the room." Shannon Stirone at the Atlantic says Branson and Bezos should "read the room" and consider delaying their jaunts to the edge of space. "Leaving Earth right now isn’t just bad optics; it’s almost a scene out of a twisted B-list thriller," she writes. "The world is drowning and scorching, and two of the wealthiest men decide to ... race in their private rocket ships to see who can get to space a few days before the other." Stirone suggests they wait "until people around the world are no longer desperately waiting for vaccines to save them from a deadly virus."
  • "These guys have contributed a lot." New NASA chief Bill Nelson, however, is a fan of Bezos, Branson, and Musk and their race to space, the Houston Chronicle reports. "I love it," Nelson said. "These guys have contributed a lot." He says the rise in space launches in recent years has been "extraordinary." "All of those abandoned launch pads on Cape Canaveral, they've come to life."
  • Compared and contrasted. Reuters, which notes that the billionaires are all trying to "usher in a new age of space tourism," compares the ventures' spaceship designs, passenger capacity—and ticket prices.
(Read more space travel stories.)

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