Of course billionaires like Elon Musk love outer space. The Earth is too small for their egos | Arwa Mahdawi

This week, Musk’s SpaceX will launch the first US astronauts into space in nine years. We’re meant to be inspired, but back on the ground the workers are struggling

Here is the bad news: Earth is a bit of a mess at the moment. Here is the good news: there is still an entire universe out there for humans to destroy. And thanks to the ingenuity of a few space-obsessed billionaires, we might be poised to destroy it sooner rather than later.

On Wednesday, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company will (unless bad weather delays things) launch astronauts into orbit from US soil; the first time that has happened in nine years. It’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for the commercial space industry. We are at the beginning of a new era of privatised, and mainly billionaire-backed, space exploration. Musk has SpaceX; Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin; Richard Branson has Virgin Orbit.

There are some people who find billionaires with big rockets very inspirational. Axios’s space reporter, for example, opined: “If SpaceX can pull it off, its first crewed flight … will mark a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark time for the world.” Hope for whom, I want to know? The World Bank estimates that between 40 and 60 million people will fall into extreme poverty (earning less than $1.90 a day) in 2020, thanks to Covid-19. What hope, exactly, does a rocket blasting into space provide when you can’t put food on your plate?

Of course, space exploration is not a zero-sum game. You can solve problems on Earth while also trying to expand humanity’s understanding of the universe. However, a lot of billionaires seem far more interested in colonising – and profiting from – space than they do in making life more bearable for their workers. Last year, for example, Bezos cut health benefits for 2,000 part-time workers at his grocery store Whole Foods, saving him a few million. He did that after boasting that he is so rich, “the only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is … space travel”.

Seriously, if you think that billionaires are exploring space for the good of humankind then I have a bridge on Mars I can sell you. They are doing it for their ego and the commercial opportunity. They are doing it because they think they, quite literally, are the masters of the universe.


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Elon Musk v Jeff Bezos: the ridiculous rivalry of the world’s richest men
The wealth of the Tesla boss and would-be space coloniser has overtaken that of his Amazon rival. How does he plan to celebrate? By being as puerile as possible

29, Sep, 2021 @3:11 PM

Article image
Rocket men: Bezos, Musk and Branson scramble for space supremacy
Experts say three billionaires have upended the traditional model for human spaceflight and are shaping a thriving new era

Richard Luscombe in Miami

12, Jun, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Why are billionaires obsessed with going to space? | Thomas Moynihan
If civilisation perishes on planet Earth, Musk, Bezos and Branson seem to think humans have a backup elsewhere, says author Thomas Moynihan

Thomas Moynihan

16, Jul, 2021 @2:30 PM

Article image
Rocket men: how billionaires are using celebrities as PR for their space projects
Critics see the ‘awful business’ of private space tourism as having little technological or exploration value

Richard Luscombe

13, Oct, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
The space race is back on – but who will win?
Alliances are shifting as states led by China and Russia compete with the US and tech entrepreneurs

Luke Harding

16, Jul, 2021 @9:39 AM

Article image
Space Titans review – Bezos, Musk and Branson battle to blast their loads
This wildly hagiographic documentary about the billionaires fiddling with their massive rockets will have you cringing all the way into suborbital space

Lucy Mangan

04, Nov, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
I know Elon Musk does good, but he's still a bonehead | Hannah Jane Parkinson
For every extraordinary feat, there’s something else bizarre or shameful, most recently calling a Thailand cave rescuer a ‘pedo’, says Guardian columnist Hannah Jane Parkinson

Hannah Jane Parkinson

17, Jul, 2018 @8:46 AM

Article image
Billionaire capitalists are designing humanity's future. Don't let them | Matt Shaw
Tech barons like Jeff Bezos want to colonize space and our oceans. Their visions of the future aren’t public-spirited or democratic

Matt Shaw

05, Feb, 2021 @11:21 AM

Article image
Space: how far have we gone – and where are we going?
Billionaire entrepreneurs are trying to create rockets fit for human travel, while government agencies spend billions furthering their explorations. But we are still a long way off from making our way to the red planet

Oliver Holmes

19, Nov, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
At £140 a mile, how does Elon Musk’s moon trip compare with other journeys?
From car to rail, it’s hard to find a terrestrial journey that matches SpaceX’s astronomical cost

Simon Usborne

28, Feb, 2017 @1:47 PM