Stop the Joy Rides

I don’t like billionaires taking joy rides in space.

This is not an objection to space exploration. I’m all in favor of space exploration. I grew up with the U.S. space program. I went to church with the people who put Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

Also, I write science fiction. I believe in the human desire to figure out what’s going on in the universe.

Further, I’ve never believed that our choices are between exploring the universe and taking care of people here on Earth. We can and should do both.

What I object to is billionaire-driven space exploration.

First of all, private individuals should not be running space programs. Governments and consortiums of governments should be developing and funding such projects. These programs are too important to be operated at the whim of some guy who figured out how to make a fortune in an economic system set up to tilt the playing field in his favor.

Yes, some businesses need to be brought into the process. There’s a lot of complicated work to do. But private enterprise should not be making the final decisions and those who run those companies should not be taking advantage of their position to give themselves thrills.

(For the record, I’m not real happy about billionaires running other enterprises that should be managed for the collective good. The current attempt by the owner of the Oakland As to dictate a new stadium without giving back anything of importance to the community is an excellent case in point.)

Secondly, joy rides in space don’t expand our knowledge. Yeah, I’m glad Jeff Bezos took Wally Funk up in his rocket — she should have been in space in the 1960s — but that still doesn’t make this a useful expedition.

And no, I’m not thrilled by the fact that Space X is doing trips that should be done by NASA. The government hands them money but doesn’t control what they’re doing.

Thirdly, no one should be so rich that they can put together a private space launch. I shudder to think of the billionaires who are going to decide they have the high tech answer to climate change and go off and do something half-cocked.

These projects need the balance of collective action. Science has never been a one-man (why yes, I said “man” for a reason) show, despite the way we’re taught about it. We keep giving prizes to one person for something that thousands made possible.

I can think of a lot of other problems with our current billionaires, some of which could be solved with a good wealth tax and an overhaul of the tax laws in general. But mostly I object to individuals doing things that should be done collectively.

I want to see a robust U.S. space program — NASA is way under-funded. I want the U.S. government to take a stake when it funds all kinds of scientific efforts by private companies.

I want to see much more international cooperation. And yes, I know that the U.S. Apollo program was driven by competition with the Soviet Union. Making it the equivalent of “war” got it funded.

Watching so-called world leaders continue to mangle responses to the pandemic does make me question whether we can develop that sort of international cooperation, but I will continue to hope that some day people will become civilized enough to do that.

But meanwhile, let’s not settle for billionaire joy rides. Let’s get a real space program going again.

2 thoughts on “Stop the Joy Rides

  1. You’re totally not alone. If the billionaires are financing space exploration, its either as their own private Disneyland, or because they think there’s money to be made. Science takes a diiiiiiistant third, at best.

    Side note: because I grew up during the “space race” when the race to reach the moon was tangled up with the Cold War, I also remember weeping when Soyuz docked with the Apollo space capsule to make the first “international space station.” If we can do this, I thought, maybe Humans can figure out all the other stuff, including the Cold War. I was much younger then.

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