Jeff Bezos Is Not My Astronaut
Ever since the first tribe walked out of the Great Rift Valley and crossed the Sinai into Asia, humans have been explorers. We’ve crossed continents, then oceans, and in the 20th century, left Earth itself. There’s glory in our species’ expansive nature, and as the TV show says, space is the final frontier. However, Jeff Bezos is not my astronaut.
I felt more disdain than wonder watching Richard Branson’s joyride and Jeff Bezos’s soulless flight to the Kármán Line.
Everybody Gets a “For All Mankind” Trophy
There was no ground broken here. In 1903, the Wright Brothers completed the first powered flight. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space. In 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first human on the moon. Those are milestones worthy of celebration. In 2004, Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites carried the first people into space on a privately built spacecraft — a milestone of sorts.
What was accomplished on July 11 (Branson) and 20 (Bezos)? Well, one of Bezos’ passengers, Wally Funk (great name), became the oldest person ever in space. After the flight, she reminded us that when you’re 82 you have zero fucks to give. She was disappointed in both the view and the length of the flight, and she found the cabin insufficiently spacious for the “rolls and twists and so forth” she wanted to do.
Another of Bezos’ passengers became the youngest person ever in space. This sounds like something, except that he bought his way onto the flight — actually, his father, a private equity billionaire, paid for the recent high school graduate’s estimated $28 million ticket. My youngest has been acting up (if “acting up” is terrorizing all of us — he constantly assesses the household for weaknesses and then makes brazen attacks on his older brother and anything resembling domestic harmony). I don’t have any idea how to deal with this, so I bought him a $1,000 iPad. His mother told me I was sending the wrong message. I reminded her that the message could have been 28,000 times worse. So, there’s that.
Blue Origin’s reusable rocket is a real technological achievement, but that was news … back in 2015. None of the July “astronauts” were even the first space tourists. That empty-calories honor belongs to Dennis Tito, who paid $20 million for a ride on a Russian rocket in 2001. And Tito spent a week in space, living on the International Space Station — the equivalent of nearly a thousand 11-minute trips on Blue Origin.
Astronauts, my ass. Apollo 11 and Columbus travelled 240,000 and 3,000 miles to reach the moon and Caribbean, respectively. New Shepard 4 traveled 0.026% of the way to the moon. Put another way, on Tuesday we watched a man plant a flag three feet up from base camp at Mt. Everest and expect to be knighted. This weekend, I’ll be in Montauk. I plan to swim a half-mile from shore (I can do this) and declare I’ve discovered Spain.
It’s his money, and he has the right to spend it on what he wants. But if Mr. Bezos was genuine about doing something more than crashing a canary yellow T-top Corvette into a Bosley for Men franchise, he could raise the minimum wage at his firm to $20/hour.
In addition to vanity projects for billionaires, these pseudo-events were advertisements, promotions for the brands prominently displayed throughout the breathless television coverage.
But advertisements for what? Human exploration is about the future, and space exploration is a long bet on a very distant tomorrow. What kind of future will the billionaire space race promote? One clue: After his flight, Bezos said, “I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this.”
He’s right. We did pay for it. Eighty-two percent of American households are Prime members, and the company has 1,298,000 employees. We also paid for the Apollo program, of course, only there’s a difference. To put Neil Armstrong on the moon, we paid taxes, and elected representatives to decide how to spend them.
In the 52 years between Armstrong’s July accomplishment and the Branson/Bezos “accomplishments,” the United States has radically restructured its economy. Specifically, we’ve handed it over to billionaires. Now, rather than paying taxes, we pay for our Prime memberships. Instead of NASA, we fund Blue Origin. We’ve elected people who defund NASA so businessmen can lead us to new frontiers instead of test pilots and physics PhDs.
Historically, astronauts were the best and the brightest. The pioneers of the 1960s were war heroes and accomplished pilots who combined physical skill and courage with crisp engineering minds. Neil Armstrong, a legend among test pilots, flew more than 900 different types of planes before leaving the Earth in July 1969. When the Lunar Module’s computer conked out on final approach, he manually piloted the craft to the moon’s surface. Those that followed, in the Space Shuttle and aboard the International Space Station, were scientists and engineers of distinction.
“Astronaut” used to connote something noble, something that cemented the best of what it meant to be American: Men and women of exceptional capabilities and unremarkable origins. Armstrong was the second person in his family to attend college, and his father was a state government bureaucrat. John Glenn’s parents were a plumber and a teacher. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was a PhD physicist; her father was a community college professor, and her mother volunteered as a prison counselor. Former NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson, a PhD biochemist who spent more time in space than any other American (665 days), grew up on a farm in Iowa. (Kudos to the FAA, which, just before Bezos took off, issued a new policy requiring that a space crew member actually contribute to the mission before receiving astronaut “wings.”)
In the Prime Space future, we won’t have astronauts, we’ll have egonauts.
The problems of the Prime Space future go deeper than who gets to ride Jeff’s cocket to the Kármán Line. An ever-expanding array of technological innovations, businesses, and services fall under the rubric of “space.”
One of the earliest and still most important benefits of space exploration was the Global Positioning System. It’s hard to overstate the importance of GPS, which is foundational to our mobile economy. GPS was born of a U.S. Department of Defense project in 1973; it continues to be run by the DoD, which makes it freely available to all users.
Bezos and Elon Musk are launching thousands of satellites over the next several years to enable their Kuiper and Starlink systems. There’s a lot to celebrate about these projects, which promise broadband internet for remote and underserved regions. But do we want Bezos and Musk — or shareholders in their companies — to control that access? With the number of satellites projected to grow from 3,000 to 50,000, space hauling will be an enormous business.
Bezos dreams of moving pollutive manufacturing to space, which seems both insane and amazing. Musk wants to build a colony on Mars, which seems more like space execution than exploration. But as humanity expands to become a space-faring species, who should control who gets to go and what we do up there? To whom do the benefits of all this technological innovation flow?
I know two things about Blue Origin. One, Amazon’s customers and employees paid for it, just like Bezos said. Two, the commonwealth may register progress, but there will be less public spillover from the technology and an increase in private capture. Imagine the tax avoidance that will occur in space, where nobody can hear the IRS scream.
The counterweight to market externalities is democracy. And a democracy that cedes ownership of its future to a winner-take-all market will lose control of that future. Democracy acts through governments (and taxes), whether we like it or not.
The Right Stuff
While Bezos was high-fiving his employees after his jaunt into space, NASA scientists were working on projects for all mankind. The Perseverance rover on Mars has its own drone, which is sending back amazing pictures. In November, NASA, along with the European and Canadian space agencies, will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble; under development since 1996, it promises to advance human knowledge about the formation of the universe and the origins of life.
It’s unlikely these projects will attract any venture capital money or support a SPAC. Private space projects might be dressed up as achievements for humanity, but their aim is to return capital to shareholders. And when that’s the criteria, the astronauts and their efforts become limited in scope.
Mach-3 Train Wreck or Galactic ATM
Whatever you think of space travel as a human endeavor, space tourism is an awful business. Even assuming all goes well, it makes no sense. These are vanity projects, and the only people that will make money from them will be the early investors … who bail out before impact.
Most businesses are either demand constrained (the market for its product is limited) or supply constrained (it can’t make enough of its product). Virgin manages to be both. To meet its profit targets, it has to sell about 3,100 tickets per year at a whopping $400,000 each, a 60% increase from the current price. After an ad the entire world saw, the product has a waiting list of … 600 people. My Brand Strategy class at Section4 has 1,500 people, and there’s dramatically lower odds you’re going to blow up in your chair.
But even if there were an annual demand from 3,100 people willing to pay that fee, to supply the spaceflights, Virgin would have to make two flights per day, every day, without mishap. So far in all of 2021, it has flown … twice. The true addressable market for space tourism is zero. It’s the mother of all product-market mismatches. By comparison, Google Glass and Cheetos-Flavored Lip Balm (an actual thing) were on point. Virgin Galactic may achieve great things, but the stock (Nasdaq: SPCE) is a Mach 3 train wreck.
The worst-case, and most likely, scenario? Death. Rockets to space are controlled explosions of thousands of gallons of flammable material. Re-entry is a high-speed fall into the searing heat of friction. Virgin Galactic has already lost one pilot, Michael Alsbury, who died when his SpaceShipTwo craft broke apart in the atmosphere. Five hundred and ninety people have headed into space, and 19 have not returned, meaning space travel is more dangerous than base jumping. A space tourism fatality is a question of when, not if. Exploration and innovation are worth risks, even to human life. Floating weightless for 300 seconds is not.
Richard Branson understands these risks. Last May he sold $500 million of his Virgin Galactic stock, and this April he sold another $150 million, trimming his holding to less than 25% of the company. He was able to make both sales because he took the company public in 2019 via a SPAC controlled by former Facebook employee Chamath Palihapitiya. Who also shed his entire personal stake in the company back in March. Billionaires vote with their wallets, and the two largest shareholders believe their capital will achieve greater returns elsewhere.
One of 35 people selected from 8,000 applications, after receiving a PhD in Physics, Ms. Ride spent 843 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, where she was charged with operating the robotics arm (“Canadarm”). I wonder if, when peering down at Earth 300 miles below, she registered satisfaction from her hard work, or the reward of pursuing greatness in the agency of others. Was it freeing to be in space, on a craft judged only by her skills and character? I don’t know. What I am certain of is that Mission Specialist Sally Kristen Ride is a United States Astronaut and went to space for all mankind.
Life is so rich,
P.S. I’ve done OK investing. Join me on July 29 for a live lecture and Q&A session on how I navigate public and private investments both as an individual and as a citizen of good old planet Earth. Sign up here.
Jeff and Amazon – both are not good for Mother Nature. It is not sustainable. But we are ignoring it.
This article is a classic socialist piece again Scott. Why is it admirable to tax the general population to have the government run a mostly inefficient operation to send man to space? whereas Bezos doing it with money that people have surrendered to him voluntarily is a bad thing? – – I enjoy reading your work, but this article is shameful. – – I am from denmark, so i know how social democracy works to the benefit of not only the rich – – but scott,, dont become a envy shouting socialist just to gain popularity…. you are loosing credibility with pieces like this one.
NASA was expanding man’s horizons, mainly by exploration and study of the solar system and space. They shared everything they learned.
Bezos? He and the other two billionaires seem to be showing off, excepting the satellite launch business they’ve built with NASA- and Boeing-trained engineers and physicists. I expect new discoveries that are SHARED to be minimal.
In no way is this article shameful, as you say.
Stop pissing and moaning because he was able to do something you can’t. Christa MacAuliffe is hailed as an astronaut and she died in the atmosphere with the Challenger. Big money has paid for every space flight, regardless of the source.
The love ❤️ of money 💸 is the root of all evil.
“Astronaut” used to connote something noble, something that cemented the best of what it meant to be American: Men and women of exceptional capabilities and unremarkable origins” – Well Bezos is an accomplished business astronaut, who has all the above listed qualities for him to be where he is in the corporate world today.. He just channelled this attributes also for space travel and have made history weither they like it or not.
100% on the mark! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
brilliant, nothing else to say but fucking brilliant, TY
Did anyone else think the conversation and antics in the capsule were shallow? Vapid even. Seemed like Bezos was looking for instagram moments more then peering out the window!
Another important space hero is Jerry (High Eagle) Elliott, who became the first NASA rocket scientist of Native American heritage, fulfilling his destiny while receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom for helping to save the Apollo 13 crew from disaster. https://vimeo.com/542932472
It’s pretty sad to see people actively complaining about space exploration. Maybe if NASA had stepped up and been the leaders they should be, it wouldn’t be falling to private industry to lead the way today.
Complain all you want, but if billionaire joyrides pave the way to more exploration and innovation then I’m all for it.
Every single. complaint. I’ve heard about this basically boils down to someone whining because others have more than they. I doubt Musk, Bezos, or Branson got where they are by whining.
PS: the author can buy their kid a $1,000 ipad for bad behavior? Pot meet kettle.
Well put, I add that contrary to the article, actually many PhD,s are hired / employed by Blue Orgin. NASA could learn the whole process proved it can be streamlined saving billions of taxpayers money. All these people should work together.
I agree with your assessment. I relate space travel to air travel. The Wright Bros. and Charles Linberg were the Trail Blazers of air travel. The rest of us are just pilots or passengers. John Glen, Neil Armstrong, etc were the space trailblazers, people like Bezos are nothing but just space passengers.
I don’t see Space Tourism is the ultimate goal with these ventures… In my view tourism is merely an excuse to get this venture going…they are opening up access to space by innovating on cost reductions and NASA is benefiting from this first and foremost and all of us will too ultimately… government should start thinking how and what to regulate for the safety and cleanliness of space access …
I’m thinking that the government should first start thinking about how we are going to stop the trend of life expectancy decreasing for the first time in 100 years, or perhaps how we are going to have any political representation at all with such severe economic inequality.
That’s an orthogonal argument, akin to saying lets stop working on faster internet or developing self-driving cars so long there are poor people in the world.. your argument is well intentioned but the world doesn’t work this way
“moving pollutive manufacturing to space”:
1. Rocket starts add lots of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is polluting (even if they use H as fuel, for producing H is not straightforward).
2. A single rocket starts add the thermic equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb to our already heated atmosphere.
So Bezos plans to stop polluting by polluting?
Yes. This is the economic acumen of the richest man in the world.
Well said Scott, the “space flights” were of little or no value except to stroke two very large ego’s…. Egonauts for sure.
That’s all you can muster up after a lengthy, poignant article lamenting the dilution of our ‘space warriors’??
Do better, Mr. Salt Mine. Do better…
I think it’s to soon to be this judgmental. Perhaps things will look a lot different in 10 years just like a little book selling company turning into a giant Amazon.
If Amazon paid any taxes, perhaps I’d be less judgemental. Who funds the highways that all these goods are shipped over, anyway?
If only more people created as many jobs as Amazon who cares if they pay taxes. Think about how much that saves the government (that’s all of us) not paying them unemployment money.
Read about SLS and NASA/ Boeing… then apologize for wasting all of our time. $20Bn R&D for a $2bn launch on a non reusable rocket that’s years late. Are u a Boeing lobbyist?
You left out the carbon footprint part. Everything else is 100% accurate though. “Space” tourism is a waste in so many ways.
The Blue Origin rocket used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. I.e., very little if any carbon emissions.
Wow. Are you serious? And what do they do, just go to Oxygen Lake and the Sea of Hydrogen and take whatever they need? The gases have to be cooled to below -250C and -297C, respectively. Somehow, I doubt you are going to see the “Energy Star” logo on a rocket anytime soon. People are dying of heat exhaustion out west this summer. People are sleeping in “cooling centers” to avoid that. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to cool oxygen and hydrogen to a liquid state?
So only PhDs and test pilots should go to space ?
Ridiculous article. Full of envy and left wing rhetoric.
No, the point isn’t that only those folks should go. It’s that “space” tourism is a gigantic ego trip and a galactic waste.
Coming from a Trumptard.
or as I like to say, brainwashed trump cult member,
Is that not preferable to whoever can pay the most goes? PhDs aren’t just a status symbol. They have them because they need them to go there. The same with being a test pilot. It’s _merit_, as opposed to merely being able to pay. It is that they actually DO things up there. They conduct experiments on behalf of universities. It is an attempt to actually have it benefit the rest of us. I swear, what is with you people and advocating against your own interests? I doubt you even know what “left” and “right” mean or why they are called “left” and “right”. You just identify with some tribe (that doesn’t actually exist). It’s hilarious that you said “PhDs and test pilots” yet lack the insight into what they might have in common: excellence. It’s not as if YOU are going to pay the ticket price anytime soon! And besides, the issue isn’t that there is a private space industry per se. It is that we no longer have any public space program. One could argue that there is no point in going to space until we have solved the huge problems here, but I’m not even going that far. What I am going to say is this: you didn’t actually say anything. You just ridiculed the article, apparently on the basis that the author is envious (I might as well call you envious of the author’s rhetorical prowess) and that it is “left-wing rhetoric” (I don’t see any evidence that you know what left and right-wing even mean). Simply calling something “left-wing” or “right-wing” is not an argument against it. You just think you know what the terms mean, and you think that there are two teams, and that you are on the team that is going to space. I assure you, you are not on that team.
This is the 1st No Mercy/ No Malice…I’m impressed!
Absolutely first-rate piece! Someone had to say it and I’m glad it was you…
Agreed! As the daughter of a test pilot and NASA astronaut, I totally agree with this article. So many things in our world today were researched and developed and tested by brave and courageous souls. Those that have the bucks to poke their craft into the edge of space HEB failed miserably to benefit anyone else but themselves. Egonauts indeed.
Someone had to say the exact same thing every other media outlet is saying?
How stunning and brave. Get the author a medal!
I agree with the this article in general (some nitpicks but minor stuff). If we’re talking egonauts, please add the 2020 Presidential runs of Tom Steyer & Mike Bloomberg. Take a wild guess how much $$$ (combined) was blown of these bids. Take about egos!!! JFC!
Crossing the international date line one Royal Caribbean doesn’t make you a Shellback
I’m not sure it’s a majority yet, but a lot of people would agree with the above! Spot on.
Unfortunately, these days it won’t matter if a majority agrees.
I’m imagining Virgin Galactic over the next few years offering a Los Angeles to New York trip. The passengers then take a week or two on vacation on the east coast then fly back on the spacecraft or conventional jet. How about LA to NYC, NYC to Orlando, Orlando to LA?
That’s a nice vision. Until we have the energy infrastructure to create all that liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, it is insane. Perhaps it would be better to figure out how to provide air travel to more people, period, without burning fossil fuels.
For the most part I agree with Galloway’s take, but also recognize the history of similar explorations and inventions and how they paved the way for what we have now without that’s being known at the time.
How much different our understanding of these space flights (sic) would be if Bezos, Branson, and Musk had not booked themselves on the first flights. Is it a public demonstration of their confidence in the safety of their teams’ work? Perhaps, but it comes across as a vanity statement. With different passengers (like Funk) it could have avoided that, at least.
i dont love jeff bezos but my girlfriend does!
Thanks for this article, eye opening and engaging! They should invest all this money in protecting the natural environment, let SpaceX do this job, there’s much more to save here on this planet.
Wow! What an ego. I think it’s bigger that the billionaires. But at least they did something with the potential to change the world. A whole long article about who were your heroes. Who f’ng cares who you think deserves your praise. My father was in NASA and it was an amazing time back then in the 60s and early 70s. They were men. By the best definition of what it means to be a man. The space shuttle astronauts were the beginning of the smarter than brave astronauts. I take satisfaction that the astronauts who landed on the moon would have been embarrassed by your leftist woke jealousy. On the bright side. I had been giving to a charity, but your article was the last straw. I am cancelling it. Investing in Virgin Galactic instead. Government is giving away too much money as it is. This country was founded in rugged individualism not socialism.
I’m not one for comment sections, but Scott, as one of my intellectual mentors, is the first to be self-critical, self-depricating, and self-aware. His favorite topic is himself, because he deserves it. Refreshing for young men, seeking their way in the world, amongst the Fratitudes that clearly permeate your take, Mr. Wannabe Buzz. You can always choose not to read!
Screw you idiots that love bashing leftists. You are the TRUE parasites of the world! It is Socialism for the wealthy and the hind twat for the rest of us!
Yes. Privatizing gains while socializing losses. If you want anything else, you’re a commie (or something). McCarthy would blush with envy.
Huh? You are cancelling giving to a charity to protest big government?
Nothing is as phony as a guy in a nonfunctional “spacesuit” wearing a cowboy hat. Wearing a cowboy hat while not working as a cowboy is like wearing a fireman’s hat while not fighting a fire.
Well you nailed it perfectly !! 🙂
Scott is probably my most favorite writer and current thinker. Some good thoughts in this one. You go, Scott!
Scott Galloway’s Investment Strategies. Is it for free ?
What’s your point, that the author of this also provides a service for money?
“My Brand Strategy class at Section4 has 1,500 people”. At $875, that is $ 1,312,500. Can I get a rebate ?
Why would you get a refund, were you not satisfied with the content of the class?
“It’s unlikely these projects will attract any venture capital money “. Agreed. But, I might be wrong, the first British colony in America was a private funded for-profit project, if I quite remember.
And if I quite remember , the colonists raped , murdered, pillaged and stole everything and anything they could get their greedy hands on, what a way to make a buck
Scott, do you read these comments? I have a grudging admiration for these two, tho I would have preferred that they and Musk also spent some money on earth to improve the lives and climate for those less fortunate. I like your outrage, its good to clear the pipes and vent. But for every problem raised, it would be good to have your thoughts on solutions too.
The problem with such extreme wealth inequality is that they become completely detached from the reality the rest of us live in, while their wealth allows them to buy political representation. No individuals should have as much power as they do. Anything resembling democracy cannot exist like this. We already have solutions, and they have been used in the past. In 2020, amazon paid federal taxes for the first time since 2016.
I was watching the movie, Ford vs Ferrari as I read this article. I couldn’t miss the similarities in the role of the “suits” in each….and also $$$
Bezos is a douchebag no doubt. But you’re forgetting the bigger picture with your woke hate. People like Branson are paving the way for the normalization of spaceflight.
Air travel was ridiculously expensive early on. It took 50 years for it to become cheap enough for the average Joe. What the hell do you think is going to happen at this point? You think Branson is going to stop now? The next step is a bigger parabola. Wanna get from NYC to Tokyo in an hour? We have a space plan for that.
But I less you trail blaze you get nothing. People like would have mocked Magellan when he said he wanted to circumnavigate the world too.
Um, this doesn’t contribute to that in any meaningful way. What are you gonna power this spaceplane with, optimism? There isn’t any major innovation happening here. Zero. The trail has been blazed already–in the 1950s. We have different challenges now–an energy/climate crisis. How about they first figure out how they are gonna produce all of that liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen? You should look up how much it costs just to keep an MRI machine running. Where is all of this energy going to come from?
I reread the column and noted the ‘$20/hr comment. Why just $20? If you believe that some other entity should set wages, why not $50 or $200 an hour? Why limit what the ‘workers’ get? Make them all millionaires. We wanted delivery TOMORROW of our stuff on Amazon, so we paid Bezos for Prime. If he wants to go to space with our money, fine. We both got what you wanted Don’t like it? Shop WalMart.
Write about something that matters? The”people we elected”? The rigging of primaries to give us 1%r tools?
Primaries? Try general elections.
It matters because the same people who celebrate this shit are the people who’ve been drinking the Kool Aid and enabling this sham of a political system.
Not to mention the media cronies who’re trying to make Bezos a hero are the same ones responsible the political crises of the past year and then some.
There are many things in your article that may be true, but “sour grapes” still seems to me to fit.
I liked reading the article as always. However, I don’t agree with the point where you elude that only the best and the brightest have to be astronauts, like in the past?! I found it very patronising. High tuition fees in American schools eliminates many brilliant students from getting accepted. So what difference does it make if somebody pays for the college education or for space travel, it’s just that space travel is for richer people only!
This is the first article of your’s I’ve ever read and whilst I could be what my son would call a “capitalist pig” I agree with everything you have written about the two egotists who have recently had their little joyride. Space tourism will not be something profitable for many years (if at all) and Richard Branson will have exited for a tidy profit like he has done in previous businesses.
Let’s save our hero worship for people who actually make the world a better and safer place rather than creating carbon emissions for their own ego. Also in relation to items being sent into space don’t forget it is not just the USA doing so, China will be sending a lot of things up and given the mess we have made of Earth I don’t see how anyone can expect we won’t do the same in space.
All living things venture forth, expand and grow. Humans are no different. We make mistakes on the way, & hopefully we get better (and as an optimist I will always believe we do). You look backward too much Mr Galloway. The kids on the space YouTube channels that have all sprung up recently are wild eyed and bushy tailed optimists, kids who will build our future. Don’t shackle them with your prejudices and negativities. The future won’t be built this way.
Your jealousy is sad. Very sad and you know it. Sadder still is I have taken hour classes and now I am questioning the wisdom of that. Feel free to look me up by eMail address in your Section 4 database to validate this statement. Sad little man..Sad an jealous
You should binge watch For All Mankind, the alt reality TV series, so you’ll have good feelings about real astronauts again. It’s better than real reality by a long shot, which as we know is getting worse all the time.
Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott said in his acceptance speech (I paraphrase) that one of the advantages of growing up on a poor island (St. Lucia) is that you couldn’t afford too much mediocrity, cf. Sidney Poitier’s comments on growing up poor in the Bahamas, a rich life in many ways it seems… Is there a genuine parallel here, that in affording excessive mediocrity (I have Netflix, Disney Plus and 60+ cable channels plus streaming), we are no longer able to recognise that we are also affording superficiality in the form of righteous self-gratification? Yes, I am from the Caribbean. No, I have never watched keeping up with the Kardashians.
Excellent. I witnessed (the middle of) Branson’s adventure into space but found it felt flat. Barring his smile in the face of a boundary, it seemed too short lived to have real meaning. But your article hits at the deeper truth of a shallowness that characterises our time. So, thanks! Didn’t see Bezos.
As an aerospace physiologist in the Air Force, I still can get over how whacky the idea of leisure space travel is. People can hardly survive in aircraft that fly between 30K-50K feet. The enormous amount of stress on the body (or the requirements to compensate for it) isn’t even feasible when we think about “colonizing Mars.” I mean, Elon Musk is the biggest troll of all trolls. But in the click-driven social media world, what is a realist to do?
**can’t get over**
Yes! I keep thinking and saying the same thing! While studying neurobiology, NASA scientists lectured at our university and we studied the effects/challenges of real space travel and research projects around it. Spoiled wealthy won’t address real space challenges, certainly won’t put their own bodies at risk as do all true astronauts.
Spot on, well written and I agree with everything you said. Completely vanity BS. Won’t end well. The media fawning and extended coverage was sickening. We’ll lost all perspective when we put these billionaires on a pedestal for this. They are all accomplished and should be given kudos for their business accomplishments, not for being faux astronauts or for ripping off spoiled rich people who want 8 minutes of vanity.
Damn! Usually I get a kick out of your particular brand of pissed-offness. But this post is not worthy of you. It should have run in the Times maybe. Or some other reflexively “liberal” pub that doesn’t appreciate individual accomplishment. Read what Chas and Jim wrote below, willya?
Not sure I agree with your thesis. Bezos brought along people who simply paid for the trip. True, but after a few years of developing airplanes, the Wright Bros also were part of companies that took paying passengers. Do you believe that people shouldn’t fly coast to coast simply because Kit Carson had to walk? Is American Airlines an affront to Lewis and Clark? Should we expect every person scaling Everest to dress like Sir Hilary, and not bring Oxygen?
We cannot ask Sally Ride what she thinks. Best not to speak for her.
The point of the article is that we shouldn’t be celebrating and making a huge news event over a billionaire splurging.
Are you aware of any other companies besides Amazon, Facebook and Apple? Is there some slight possibility that you might discuss them at some point? And no, that doesn’t mean Wework.
Really, I started watching your videos years ago on youtube, when all this was fresh. I’m just getting tired of the repeats. You’re in danger of jumping the shark.
Crazy idea – Don’t fly into space. Also maybe learn how to write about things that benefit society (I’d really love to hear how much govt has helped us) instead of griping about how other people use their money. At least, my rep Bluemanure, has endorsed and sees it as a great vehicle for a new and creative tax.
Also stop using Amazon – However, you’d be in a small group of people. I realize Amazon is so terrible that they just keep getting more of our dollars in a free market.
Finally, shut up people like me and come up with a better solution.
I can recommend “The Space Barons”.
Remember: Tesla’s are a step to DER electrification and Mars. Tesla started with sports cars as a market leverage strategy.
The idea that this is actually about tourism is uncharacteristically naive.
Well done, Scott, in detailing all the ways the 2 ‘space missions’ were truly f’d up. This was one of your best, and keep them coming!
Aline W retired from Stern
Great story Scott and fully agree with you on this one. My wife has been yelling at the TV for days that Bezos and Branson should spend their money helping people here on earth. The old but still worthy chestnuts, feed the hungry, cloth and house the poor, etc. She is so not impressed with these billionaires and their vanities. She is right. You are right. Thanks again.
Expending energy yelling at a TV makes about as much difference as complaining about what people do with money THEY made. I would ask if your household also yells at celebs and their well publicized $1M wedding, $50K Grammy Awards Dresses, or their NBA heroes stable of Ferraris. Likely not. We admire people for unnatural looks or athletic skills, but not for hard work and risk taking. What media has done to us.
I guess It’s more trendy to respond with snarky, sarcastic, negative criticism of someone’s accomplishments than to go out there and accomplish something on that scale yourself. Billionnaires like Bill Gates, Elin Musk and Jeff Bezos could just sit back and enjoy their money with an attitude of “to hell with the rest of us”. Instead, they are devoting their lives to solving problems that effect all of us. That Blue Origin flight took place 52 years to the day of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing. Question: What has NASA done since that time to further manned space flights back to the moon or to other planets? Yes, I am aware of the Space Shuttle program. My son worked on the Space Shuttle at the Cape for many years until it’s demise. I’ve heard the comments about how only the rich will be able to travel to space. Well, only the rich were able to fly commercially at the beginning of air travel. Instead of the snarky criticism, which of course makes you sound so intelligent and in the know; let’s take a moment to celebrate these moments of accomplishment. After all, with the ways things are going, we don’t have that much to celebrate these days.
I find it remarkable that we celebrate those who’s success is primarily based on gene pool rather than those who worked hard and smart.
All of the people mentioned by Patrick Fekula are self made businessmen. I’m not sure which gene pool you are referring to. Like it or not, these people worked very hard and smart.
I was essentially agreeing with him. We are angry at self made, jealous really. Yet we admire 7ft NBA stars or actresses with ‘perfect’ bodies. We bash Bezos who delivers high value to us the next day, but buy $40 Nike T-shirts because a jock told us to.
What has NASA done? Far more than Bezos, in fact, it is laid out in plain English at the beginning of the article. However, what have they done lately? Well, it doesn’t seem to be a lot because they have used logic and evidence in their decisions not to send people to sure death.
You’re “I work for the government” prejudice is showing. Elon musk did in 5 years what NASA never even considered doing. Why? NASA has no profit motive. They just take money without considering the source. Sure nada has done a lot, but what has advanced human space travel more in the pat 20 years? NASA or the private sector. Elon musk is sending people up in rockets that look inside and out like something befitting the 21st century. NASA still hasn’t completed Orion.
Bigelow arrowspace has invented I floatable habits in space that will dwarf the ISS. NASA hasn’t done any of that.
Sure it’s done some cool science and you can’t take away the martian helicopter and rovers from them.
But give. The right motivation, SpaceX would have done it faster and cheaper… And likely better
Lefties hate fun. You just like to complain. Thankfully you weren’t in charge of the Spanish Throne when Christopher Columbus was fund raising. Step back and take a breath. If you want to spend a fortune on climate change read ‘Unsettled’ by Steven Koonin, President Obama’s scientist.
Not everything has to be boiled down to politics. (See my comments above.) We can have civil discourses without bringing liberal and conservative bias into the discussion.
Unfortunately, the media finds everything is politics, as do many unrelated columns in all fields. Fly into space by someone they dislike gets a lecture on pollution in the upper atmosphere. But not trips by Hollywood icons, John Kerry, or NBA stars alone in their private jets. Few have a sense of right or wrong, just variable morality that fits into whatever political tribe they have joined.
I can’t believe you spent your entire newsletter (which is great, and I love it btw, although I hate when you bring your lefty political side to them) to talk about those rides to be ego trips.
They are of course trying to do money on a new market, they are free to do that without being judged.
Is like the hotel industry, first we were explorers, than we needed place to stay when we were traders, now we travel for leisure and fun….
So after all I think, this was one more left oriented texts and I feel sorry having missed the chance to read some forecasts or something really relevant
Love your newsletter/blog post. The amount of free advertising for Bezos was out of control.
Amazon Prime penetration of U.S. households looks overstated at 80%+. Think you may be taking the global Prime members and dividing by U.S. households? I’d be surprised if Prime was much more than 50% of U.S. households given income levels and the required annual fee to be a Prime Member.
funny exactly my first thoughts on this article I found that number just implausible and then it makes one wonder what other inaccuracies
What a grumpy rant. Why are you so obsessed about how other people spend their money? If you don’t like what they’re doing do your own thing. You can spend your money anyway you want, why do you think you get to spend Bezos’s money on what you want as well?? Well below you usual standard Scott.
Wow, I just read a lot of responses and it seems like most of your readers are really serious. Bursting out in tears!? Lighten up folks (that term – ‘folks’ – applies to all humans).
Honestly- you’re bitter and offer a strawman by asking Bezos to increase minimum wage to $20. Firstly, why $20? Did a tooth fairy drop this number? Why don’t you ask for a lot more if you really cared about the state of his workers?
Secondly, in the great tech revolution, individuals make decisions. I know it hurts your ego that people care less about high fulluton Academics, than they do about rockstar CEOs (not my words) but the world has changed. Having a PHD so you can tell the rest of society what’s good for them is exactly what people are rallying against. And what exactly is good for them? To fund a dying organization, bleeding money bit by bit, so that you can say NASA is American pride?
Let’s start here- since you care so much about worker health, why don’t you start a company, scale to let’s say even a million in revenue and offer your workers an above market wage rate? And that’s minimum wage..I’ll wait and watch while you do that.
Oh look, another troll simping for the elitists. Why do you idiots keep defending billionaire CEO’s that don’t pay taxes and exploit workers for cheap labor? I know, because you don’t give a shit about anyone but yourselves. F off loser!
Bezos’ stint (or stunt) as an Astronaut is the equivalent of me taking batting practice with the Pirates in spring training and then calling myself a ‘major league baseball player.’ My experience was just a little less expensive, but on the bright side lasted longer…
I agree that the space telescopes have been perhaps the most widely appreciated space investments that the vast majority can share. It helps us all to know we share this special planet which is so delicately interconnected. There are multiple satellites advancing meteorological research, archaeological research, and atmospheric research currently in ways not possible before. Satellites will continue to benefit multiple areas of earth’s research, communications, and other needs. I agree that joy rides for the rich are simply a bit irritating for the average humans to watch as there’s no practical benefit. Space exploration and equipment which benefits the planet benefits mankind. Democracy which you mentioned is a very precious form of governing. Insuring democracy requires insuring voting for the governed and we don’t want oligarchs or corporations having such profound influence through Super Pacs where any democracy is being “bought” by very few. It seems that this has been the trend and lawmakers control through legislation how campaign finance and voter access are possible. This is what concerns those who favor a true democracy of those governed. I’ve seen far too many trends of the process of democracy being bought. Our government is literally for sale in bidding wars which lease the actual voter in a far less informed position at the voting booth assuming they are able to register. You’ve combined two very unique topics into this weeks email which might be worthy of addressing separately. However, you keep us thinking Scott which is most appreciated.
Can’t begin to list the causes who would benefit and the changes that would be ignited on THIS planet with 5.5Billion – it’s more than an ego play – it’s heartbreaking . Jeff came from humble beginnings – this doesn’t make sense.
Dear Scott, I’m with you in more ways than you can consider. Nothing happened with the recent billionaire space venture except a lot of bragging by big egos.
Please do a thing for me and all women everywhere, refer to all as humankind instead of mankind. I’m not included in mankind because I am a woman.
FFS, talk about big egos and out of control wokeness. Get over yourself and pick up a dictionary to find the word “mankind”. It has nothing to do with gender. You’re one of those people who feed off of being offended. It’s like air and water to you. Meanwhile so many women are doing great things because they don’t have time to be offended. Join us!
The profit taking, media provided free advertising, and space-face time can be avoided with a sound investment strategy and a good remote control. What cannot be avoided is the loss of ozone and the imposition of thousands of pounds of needless pollution – all at the expense of current and future citizens of the planet.
You nailed it Scott, Awesome read as always.
Amen, you nailed it Scott, Awesome read as always.
I had a very visceral response to your article over my coffee this morning. Instead of anger I burst into tears. Yes, tears. There is no more pride in education nor accomplishment it seems… only wealth made on the backs of others labour. The bullies only lose in movies, in real life they win, with their fake trophies, gold stars and bogus paid for awards. (Top 49 under 40 / top 500 / best of lists paid for by marketing funds) They demand accolades. then like any textbook narcissist, they expect us all to watch them “win”, cheer them on, and then get ourselves back to work making them wealthy while they hit the golf course for another round.
Yes. What is being proved here?? Alan Shepard – our first man in space, 1961. A little sub-orbital flight: ONE HUNDRED MILES up! SIXTY! years ago.
Prof.. he’s proving out prod-market fit. I think they (Bezos and Branson) are on to something (even if it ain’t for me or my wallet). everything else it’s hype and branding.
I completely agree. Add two other insults to these joy rides. 1. The way that the media, particularly CNN, fawned over this as news jumping up and down like kids who had to go pee and couldn’t hold it in. 2. At a time when so many people are suffering in so many ways and how they brazenly flaunted their next diversion as wealthy guys seeking thrills that go with their stations in life.
And then they frame it all in how this is going to benefit humanity, the planet, the future, the economy, as if they are doing all this through altruism. We’re living a world of growing bullshit.
Well, let’s see… they put their money where their mouth is… and they put their lives at risk. What are you doing to make this world a better place?
Great post! I was listening to a podcast recently and they made an interesting analogy that private space exploration was at a stage similar to early explorers sailing from Europe in search of trading routes and riches. Financed by wealthy monarchs and all in the name of commerce. At that point no one would have been able to predict a modern insurance industry, massive container ships connecting the planet or cruise ships with 3000 people on board fuelling a massive global tourism industry. So it’s a good reminder to always be open to the possibilities of what can be!
Prof, as always, pure gold. It’s Christmas morning every time I get this email. One thing I’m ever so bummed you didn’t comment on: the fucking Skittle game played on the Blue Origin flight. Nothing against Skittles, a fine candy indeed, but what a perfect demonstration of how utterly useless these flights really are. Finally, to your astute point, WHEN (not if) something goes wrong, these useless flights are going to add more space junk, a real problem with grave consequences. Sure, the orbit is so low, all bits will likely re-enter and sizzle away. But is that what our environment really needs right now? Anyway, less cock rockets and more actual exploration please! Thanks for being you Scott. CHEERS!
Would you use the same logic if this were people you follow/like/admire/voted for making similar ‘useless’ trip in their private jets, spewing pollution into the upper atmosphere?
You’ve crawled so far up the billionaire’s arsehole that it’s surprising you haven’t suffocated. Quit being such a twat, “Chas”
You just compared the ‘billionaire’ driven space race, and its achievements, to the ‘government’ driven space race and its achievements, and concluded that the government version is better, by far, by every measure: Private astronauts = lame, while government astronauts = “the best of us” …and the government did it with taxes, while private still makes us all pay for it, but the decisions are made by unelected CEO’s,… Most damning of all, in your telling of it: The government achieved real, historic milestones, that produced valuable “public spillover” technology benefits, while private space efforts produce non-events for narcissistic rich people, that produce little public benefit….
In order to fully grasp the total absurdity of this post, I ask all readers of this comment on it to compare what SpaceX alone has achieved in space in the last decade, and the amount of money SpaceX spent to achieve it, and the resulting technology that is in use right now as a result….and compare that to what NASA achieved in the same decade…and what NASA paid to achieve it…and what we all have to show for NASA’s efforts…If you want a shortcut, Google “NASA SLS, Space Launch System delays and cost overruns…”
As a matter of degrees, the difference is as massive as you say it is, but you have the players backwards: NASA has spent trillions of taxpayer money to get 3 feet above Everest basecamp, while SpacX spent 1% of that amount, to go to the top of Everest, then back to the bottom…AND THEN REPEATED THAT FEAT 250 TIMES OVER, all while the NASA team waited at basecamp for Boeing to send replacement laces that actually fit the holes in the boots they were given for the trek…
The criticism is of Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. He clearly says space hauling (putting payloads into orbit) is quite valuable and makes sense. Which is what SpaceX does.
I will also point out that SpaceX’s achievements, which are quite real and impressive, happened by building on what NASA already figured out over the decades starting from scratch and without the benefit of all the powerful computers and material science we have today. So of course it cost them more to do. It’s easier to open the jar when it’s already been loosened up and you have a bigger wrench.
Scott Kelly’s recent year in space advances us towards real space travel including how to survive the time it would take to travel to, or survive on, a planet like Mars. The ISS serves a function for multiple countries working together towards sustainable space exploration. It’s highly unlikely most uber-wealthy will take part in this as they run to a spa if stressed here on earth and the real, lasting effects of time in space are more significant than their perceived stressor on earth. Yes, we all keep hearing the “yeah, but” criticism of anyone who dares to question these billionaires; yet that is the point.
Loved it all, especially your personal experience with your son. Laughed a lot there.
Loved it all, especially your personal experience with your son. Laughed a lot there.
Great article that hit it all point by point. Ready for the t-shirt now …
Love the post Scott! Bravo. You hit on two great points simultaneously. First, that Chamath P. took advantage of the SPAC buyers and jumped ship, and second, that rich assholes are rich assholes. And thanks for giving credit to the real heroes in this story…the Sally Ride’s of NASA.
Whoa this column will go down as one of the Prof G classics. Too many great turns-of-phrase for me to count but among them… “cocket…” “…in space where no one can hear the IRS scream…” swimming halfmile from Montauk and proclaiming discovery of spain… I am DEAD. Rock on, Prof G
Cute, but no cigar…
Great post. I enjoy almost all of them. Sorry. I do appreciate the issues with your children since I have raised 4 sons. Question I raise is about the number of space vehicles ie satellites or other in space. If we are heading toward 50,000, shouldn’t that have some commentary on the wholly negative impact to space not to mention back here on earth when they leave orbit and drop on our cities? I mean haven’t we done enough with the global warming to earth much less what we’re going to see with the galaxy around us? Will too much space junk finally bring the space aliens to come for a visit? What does better Internet get us then?
I too came for the “egonaut” coinage. Scott, did you invent that one? When tweeting I’d like to credit you but not if you don’t feel it’s yours to take the bows for creating.
Hehe, I love this man! Spot on!
The term “egonaut” is a great addition to the English language (and accurate in the cases you described).
Great Column and on point. Space Tourism is nothing more than a billionaires ego trip. Your spot on calling Bezos rocket a Cocket (reminds me of an Austin Powers Scene) you’re right, the economy is being increasingly captured by an increasingly small number of people and it’s scary. Human Endeavour enriches the world and many inventors never got rich from their inventions but that was never their intention. The intention was to leave a positive lasting legacy. It’s hard to see what legacy (if any) that commercial space tourism leaves to the world, other than ego and bragging rights. Instead of spending billionaires on a folly jolly to space he should be paying his employees who helped pay for this, much better. The American style of capitalism is corrosive to social cohesion and eventually to democracy. When on the richest country on the planet families need food stamps to survive, they aren’t the least bit interested is a bald egomaniac goes to space. They care about survival. And the system is broken. Let’s hope it can be repaired before it’s too late.
I enjoyed reading your comment. I want to add, as a footnote, that Big Business in the United States controls the US government at least Executive and Legislative.
Are we surprised by the breathless media coverage of these ego trips? When a huge chunk of the country can’t be convinced of the merits of getting vaccinated, it’s no surprise that personal aggrandizement supersedes genuine human progress.