Space Race

Space travel no longer remains exclusive to the government and public sector. The billionaire space race constitutes the feud among entrepreneurs who have ventured into the space industry after finding their riches in other industries. This space race exists mainly among Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) and Elon Musk (SpaceX). All these companies are geared towards making private space travel possible. Elon Musk has time and again boasted of his plans of colonizing Mars, making humans an interplanetary species to ensure the survival of the human race. Virgin Galactic has stated that its vision is to be the “Spaceline for Earth”. Similarly, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Blue Origin has expressed his goal of making space travel more frequent and accessible.

After 17 years, on July 11 2021, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic accomplished his dream of flying to outer space, calling the flight a “complete experience of a lifetime”.  Richard Branson was not expected to fly on VSS Unity, rather it was Jeff Bezos’ announcement of his flight to space on his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket that prompted Virgin to reschedule Branson’s flight. The billionaire became the first among space company founders to ride his own spacecraft. The launch took place in New Mexico. The company’s spacecraft VSS Unity was released at a height of 40,000 feet by aircraft carrier- VSS Eve. VSS Unity climbed to an altitude of 53.3 miles or 86.1 kilometers into Space. Virgin Galactica has plans to launch commercial services from early 2022 with an aim of 400 annual flights. The price charged by the company for private spaceflight can range from 200,000 dollars to 250,000 dollars.

Not too long after Branson’s trip to space, on 20th of July, Jeff Bezos made his first space flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. New Shepard ascended to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth  The test flight was a short one, only ten minutes in duration. One of the seats in the spacecraft was auctioned and it is reported that it sold for 28 million dollars. The month of July marked a milestone for space tourism with 2 successful test flights conducted in a period of less than 10 days.

In the end, what Virgin and Blue Origin intend is cheaper and more accessible space travel. The key to this objective could be reusable rockets which can greatly lower the cost of space travel. However, such travel will still be limited only to the ultra-rich. This actually makes the proposed space travel not so cheap. Several economists and journalists have critiqued space tourism; their vision being that millions that are invested into space tourism could be used to solve global problems such as poverty, world hunger, and climate change. Even SpaceX founder Musk has critiqued space tourism saying that SpaceX is working towards “”making life multiplanetary” and not towards generating corporate profits. The billionaire space race has just sprung. This is the beginning of something new and exciting for the commercial space sector.

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