It’s been over a month since billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson yeeted themselves into Space aboard their own companies’ spaceships. Over a month since society unanimously eye-rolled so violently that the Earth’s rotational speed was changed by a few nanoseconds. Over a month since everyone sarcastically said, “Good for you guys! Now what about the rest of us stuck on this planet that’s going to hell? Can we go to space too?”
Billionaire hatred has been at the forefront of the zeitgeist for a few years now, maybe more, seemingly peaking during the pandemic, and at this peak is when Bezos/Branson decided to do their “courageous” voyage out of our atmosphere. I try to be pretty impartial — billionaires are people just like you and I! — but the whole trope of them being out of touch with the scumbag proletariat seems to be true.
It doesn’t seem very hard, even with a drillion dollars, to successfully read the room and realize that maybe launching yourself to space is a bad idea. It’s not a good look. Take Bezos for example, the richest man in the world and the top candidate for future supervillain trying to rule the planet. He has to know he’s despised and making a big deal out of his spaceflight seems clueless at best, out-of-touch maybe, and downright supervillainesque at worst. Like he’s well aware he’s rich, doesn’t give a shit about the people that helped him achieve his fortune, disregards any factor of luck in his life, and if he wants to go to space as a joyride well, who the hell is going to stop him? He’s basically a capitalist god and will do whatever the fuck he wants. I’m not saying that’s how he actually is — I’m not privileged enough to know the guy — but as some armchair blogger who likes space related things, this is how he appears to the masses. And let’s not even get started on him suing NASA…
You have to give Branson some credit at least — he seemed like he wanted to fly to space before Bezos just to shit on his ego, classic troll style — and doesn’t seem to be as well-known or disliked as Bezos. Branson comes across as slightly aloof and awkward, content to do his own thing and not be (as much of) a pompous asshole as Bezos. Bezos is the bald-headed supervillain who wants to dominate the world and Branson seems like a pretty down-to-earth respectable guy, at least as far as billionaire CEOs go.
Suborbital vs. Orbital
As a space nerd the main thing that pisses me off about these two’s spaceflight is how useless they are. Tourism is supposed to be pointless but suborbital space tourism is even more pointless. You might recall the petition circulating before Bezos’ flight urging the government to “not allow him entry back to Earth,” or something like that. While pretty damn funny, it was pointless; there was no physical way for Bezos (or Branson) not to come back to Earth! The flights were suborbital — up and down like tossing a rock into the air — and you’d have to break some rules of the universe (just little-known laws such as ‘gravity’ and ‘general relativity’) to keep his ass up there.
“There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”– Douglas Adams
Contrary to popular belief, there is gravity in space. The astronauts on the International Space Station appear weightless because they’re effectively “falling” around the Earth. Going to space is easy — just go upwards about 50 or 60 miles and you’re there — but staying in space is hard. You need to be going sideways really, really fast (about 17,500 mph fast) where falling back to Earth is really falling around the Earth, constantly missing it.
All of the circle-jerking these two made about flying into space is either missing the point or blatantly lying about their achievements; likely the latter because as space CEOs they should know the difference between suborbital and orbital flight. Maybe they’re aware they didn’t do shit and are firing up the PR-hype train to save their egos. They went up and down, up really high so they made it into space, but still just a glorified up and down joyride. It’s cool and all on its own, but let’s not pretend flying into space on a five-minute rollercoaster ride is somehow pushing the boundaries of space exploration, especially after taking more than a decade to develop their launch systems. Shouldn’t they have more to show for their time than a five-minute suborbital jaunt?
(Branson’s other company Virgin Orbital has recently launched small satellites into orbit. Sure, they can’t bring people into orbit, but at least the guy has the ability to do something useful in the spaceflight sector. It’s some more “Branson doesn’t seem that bad” compared to
Lex Luthor Jeff Bezos.)
I’m all about spaceflight and have been waiting a long time for legit space tourism to become a thing. This should be good, right? It’s not stated but it’s heavily implied; space tourism should allow the everyday person to take a flight to space, not just the ultra rich. These pioneering flights into space by private companies seem to miss the mark quite a bit. In time the price should go down, but we’re still talking a ticket price of literal millions to fly into space on these vehicles. A million dollars is better than a billion dollars but still leaves space access far out of the reach of the normal person. By taking the first flight themselves, surely to show confidence in the launch vehicles, they’ve unknowingly set the precedent that space is still only for the ultra-rich/1%ers or trained astronauts. If you don’t have fuck-you money, if you’re not a god of capitalism, one of the lucky people, no, you cannot go to space. You cannot see the world from heaven because you’re not a god. You’re one of the people down here but you can pray to your overlords on their next spaceflight if you’d like. Hell, you might get a fat $0.50 raise after your next review.
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