Opinion: Richard Branson’s disappointing escape to space

The trip was a historic moment for the nascent space tourism industry, and with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in pursuit (Bezos’ self-funded space trip is slated for July 20) and Elon Musk. Planning To launch a fully civilian crew into orbit later this year, the billionaire space race looks set to kick off space tourism in the near future. But the implications of these developments are not as rosy as Branson’s overly optimistic message suggests – and dreaming like a big billionaire could cost the rest of us dearly.
First there is the environment cost of space travel. Virgin Galactic says the carbon footprint of passengers on its suborbital space flight is comparable to that of a business class ticket on a transatlantic flight (i.e. approximately 0.2 kilogram per kilometer or 0.44 pounds per 0.62 miles – which is a massive output of 2,220 kilograms per passenger on a typical 11,100 kilometer flight or 2.45 tonnes on a 6,897 mile flight).
But space flights are longer than transatlantics and carry far fewer passengers. Per passenger, per kilometer, the 11,260 kilometer (6,996 mile) journey from Branson to the edge of the cost of space 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of CO2. The company claims that emissions will be compensated – but it’s still a huge price to pay for a few minutes in zero gravity.
Blue Origin – Jeff Bezos’ space company – says the environmental impact of his ship will be comparatively low thanks to its liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen engines, which do not emit carbon. However, the production Hydrogen fuels depend heavily on fossil fuels like natural gas, and the steam reforming process that creates them releases carbon dioxide.

Whether or not the environmental impact of such trips is offset – let’s hope they are – it feels like an odd moment for the world’s richest people to direct their outrageous resources to a business with no immediate benefits for the overwhelming majority. of the society .

As of this writing, the western United States is experiencing another day of record temperatures, with more than 24 million people on heat alert and more than 100 deaths (which some Oregon officials refer to as a mass casualty event). In 12 states, 55 large fires burned 768,307 acres over the weekend, and Death Valley reported a low temperature of 107.7 degrees overnight – lowest overnight never recorded in North America. Scientists say the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest was “virtually impossible“without the effect of man-made climate change. Mitigating further climate damage is the most pressing challenge facing the planet today – a challenge that should be of interest to the world’s billionaires far more than just crossing the threshold. threshold of space.
The oft-cited financial incentive to get into the space tourism game – which seems set to boom to the tune of around $ 5 billion by 2025 – that seems relevant until you factor in the fact that men who hope to make money are already rich beyond the wildest dreams of Most people. Branson is worth nearly $ 8 billion, with its Virgin group operating in 35 countries around the world, owns more than 40 companies and employs more than 60,000 people. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were trip over each other throughout the coronavirus pandemic, swapping places as the richest person in the world – with Bezos currently valued at around $ 211 billion, an all-time world record. If these three men pooled their resources, they could tackle any number of pressing global issues – and still be richer than almost anyone on Earth.
Despite Branson’s enthusiasm for the imagination, his space trip was actually a very watered down and much more chic version of a feat already achieved over 60 years ago by Yuri Gagarin’s revolutionary flight in Vostok 1. Gagarin, the son of a Soviet carpenter who survived the Nazi occupation of Russia, actually accomplished something much bigger, in orbit for 108 minutes before returning to Earth. With tickets reserved for future Virgin Galactic flights price between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000, the only barrier Branson broke is the one between the super-rich and their ability to spend a few minutes just floating in the sub-orbital zone, allowing passengers to experience weightlessness.
Astronauts who have traveled far beyond Richard Branson tendency to describe a sense of oneness and coherence, and an overwhelming sense of the fragility of the Earth, as they gaze back at the luminous globe suspended in the darkness of space.

In his book “The Orbital Perspective”, NASA astronaut Ron Garan said he couldn’t help but think, as he gazed at this “paradise”, “to the nearly one billion people who have no clean water to drink, the countless numbers of people who go to bed hungry every night, the social injustice, conflict and poverty that remain pervasive on the planet. ”

If only Richard Branson had paid a little more attention to those who led the way.

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