I read, see and hear much of what has been said about the Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson flights, and I now mention the three stages of development of the nascent private space flight.
1) These billionaires just want to show up and spend money on frivolities.
2) All of these people who travel into space are rich, a lot has fivefold access.
3) These elites can’t stand to see poor people in spaceships anyway.
The reference is Arthur C. Clarke’s sentence, according to which every revolutionary idea elicits three successive stages of reaction, summarized in “it is completely impossible”, “it is possible but it is not worth it” and “I have always said that it is so is a good idea”.
We are in the first phase of private space flights. And that’s even more true when it comes to self-promotion billionaires. The liver decides it’s wrong and the brain turns to explain why.
Then we hear that it is a waste of money, that it is an environmental threat, or that it is escapism. Perhaps the most honest argument is that the timing is the worst.
None of this makes sense. Come on, one at a time.
Waste of money. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s important to create jobs for the hundreds of professionals who work in these companies. Sometimes I have the feeling that critics imagine the guy putting a billion dollars in the ship, igniting the rocket, and sending it all off into space.
Environmental concerns. Nice try. But has anyone checked what is used to propel the rocket, which was developed by Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ company? Liquid hydrogen and oxygen. When burned, they leave behind water as a by-product. H2O.
Ah, but water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Yes, but if you’re using water to electrolyze to produce hydrogen and oxygen for the rocket, the total in the environment is zero. What you put back you take with you. Ah, but electrolysis uses electricity that may not come from a clean source. That’s right, but that’s not a problem with the missile, it’s a problem with our daily intake.
It is true that not all vehicles are that clean. Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft burns a polymer with nitrous oxide, which leaves nitrous pollutants in the atmosphere and releases CO2. SpaceX’s current missiles use kerosene and the next generation will use methane, both of which will emit CO2.
The key is not to denigrate the activity, but to regulate and demand climate-neutral solutions. Incidentally, these companies are already concerned. According to Virgin Galactic, each passenger’s carbon footprint is the same as that of a business class passenger on a transatlantic flight. And Blue Origin points out that their rocket is even less polluting. If we feel that this is not enough for the time being, we must be ready to get the entire global fleet of aircraft on the ground from now on.
Next article: Escapism. It seems we have not yet completed the Copernican Revolution that began in the 16th century. Not only is the earth not the navel of the universe. It’s just that the earth is just a different place. Very special, but only one place. And from that point of view there is no escapism; there is an expansion of human activity.
The usual comparison is to the Great Navigations, where travel through hostile environments leads to new worlds. You have a certain disgust at European submission. Okay, forget about them. But don’t forget that the “indigenous” peoples of America and Oceania were never really native. They are the descendants of ancient explorers who crossed the Behring Strait or promoted shipping to Polynesian islands. Was that escapism? Only in the sense of the search for new spaces and possibilities, not as an escape from reality.
The same applies to the current room advance. Nobody has the idea of destroying and leaving the earth, using up all of its resources and then moving to another planet. That would not only be incredibly stupid, but also impractical.
Instead, the plan is to expand the human domain and ultimately save the earth. How about if the occupation of space moved our heavy industry and mining elsewhere, leaving our planet as the environmental sanctuary it deserves? The idea comes from Jeff Bezos, who publicly presented his vision for Blue Origin in May 2019.
That might sound like science fiction. And it will certainly continue to be so if space travel continues to be stupidly expensive, using one-way vehicles (previously the rule) and is rare. Breaking the old paradigm is the premise of all of these efforts.
The debate remains about how timely they are in the midst of the pandemic. Blue Origin was founded in 2000. SpaceX in 2002. Virgin Galactic in 2004. That they matured for the first manned flights amid the pandemic is incidental and refutes the hypothesis that it is a temporary vanity of magnate eccentrics who don’t know where they should spend their money.
Just to enjoy an ego trip into space, anyone would have bought a ticket from the Russians, spent a ridiculous fraction of their investment and burned a lot more kerosene for a rocket designed in the 1950s to open the frontiers of space for mankind. The day they complain that the elites don’t like poor people in spaceships, the mission will be accomplished.