Private companies on the frontline of space exploration, such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, have been facing intense critics for spending billions of dollars and burning fossil fuels while climate change, pandemic, poverty, and inequality rages on Earth. The space budget controversy is not new and has been a hot topic since President Kennedy’s NASA Moon race days. Today, private space companies have managed to cut down costs of space exploration with new technology like reusable rockets, however, some still believe that money would be better spent on more urgent problems here on Earth.
After seventeen years of developing Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson finally fulfilled the dream of flying to space and back on June 11. Days later, Jeff Bezos reached space in a Blue Origin spacecraft. On the other hand, SpaceX has been the busiest private company in space exploration, partnering with NASA, launching Heavy Falcon 9s, creating Starlink – a global internet satellite coverage system, and developing Starship – the spacecraft designed to reach Mars.
Climate critics assure that the amount of money private companies are spending on space exploration is outrageous and target the wealthiest individuals on the planet for spending billions on “space joyrides.” In a Twitter post prior to the Bezos trip, climate activists 350.org wrote, “Billionaire Jeff Bezos is blasting into space tomorrow. Hundreds of people have been killed by severe flooding this week in India, Germany, and Uganda. The money and technology exist to halt the worst of the climate crisis.” Likewise, when speaking on the topic of tech leaders seemingly racing to be the first to space, David Beasley, head of the World Food Program said on Twitter, “So excited to see you compete on who gets to space first! But, I would love to see you Team up together to save the 41 million people who are about to starve this year on Earth! It only takes $6 Billion. We can solve this quickly!” Based on Beasley’s estimation, Global Citizen argued that people could be prevented “from starving to death 60 times over,” citing the $364.8 billion in combined total wealth of Bezos, Branson and Musk.
As to be expected, Bezos, Musk and Branson have all responded to criticisms like these by defending space exploration. CBS News reported on Bezos’ words upon returning to Earth, “When you get into space and you can see the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s so thin and fragile looking. So we do have to take care of this planet.” Bezos believes space exploration is the answer and wants to move all polluting industries to space. NBC’s Today reported on Branson’s response, “I 100% agree that people who are in positions of wealth should spend most of their money, 90% or more of their money, trying to tackle these issues, but we should also create new industries that can create 800 engineers, and scientists who can create wonderful things that can make space accessible at a fraction of the environmental cost that it’s been in the past.” Branson assures that the cost of the recent trip to space was not as expensive as everyone believes, adding the equivalent cost would be a round-trip to London on a Virgin Atlantic (Branson’s Airline brand) flight. Musk’s response to the growing anti-space exploration momentum was aligned with the usual Twitting mystic, stating, “those who attack space maybe don’t realize that space represents hope for so many people.” SpaceX’s vision to colonize the Moon and Mars is Musk’s plan-b for the survival of the human species in case a global extinction event shocks Earth.
The world food sector on Earth depends heavily on satellites in space, without them food supply would be dramatically affected. Space technology also contributes daily to the world food system by monitoring weather and drought, identifying hotspots and water solutions, working in irrigation and logistics, and preventing and understanding natural disasters, among other things.
Space exploration also helps in a variety of other industries and sectors, such as climate change science, military and security, and for communications and technology that’s used around the world. This is in addition to the airplane and shipping industry, the fishing industry, fuel supply logistics, as well as energy, water, and hydroelectric markets. If humans had never ventured to outer space, the world lived in today would be radically different, and the technological progress and benefits that are taken for granted would not exist at all.
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