As Jeff Bezos blasts into space on Tuesday, his voyage has some people asking whether the billionaire’s time, or at least money, might be better spent here.
Bezos, the Amazon founder who has an estimated net worth of $206bn, is taking off from Texas on Tuesday morning on the rocket New Shepard, owned by his company Blue Origin.
It will be a moment of celebration for Bezos, a noted space enthusiast who said he has “dreamed of traveling to space” since he was five-years-old. But many others are unimpressed with Bezos spending his fortune on space travel, given the long-running complaints about working conditions at Amazon, and broader concerns about income inequality and the amount of taxes the wealthiest Americans pay – or don’t pay – to the government.
In June, a ProPublica investigation revealed how the wealthiest Americans have consistently avoided paying income tax, stirring anger from struggling Americans taxed at normal rates.
Bezos isn’t the only billionaire with a lust for space travel. His fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk have been engaged in a space race for some time, with Branson arguably winning when he flew in a Virgin Galactic flight last week.
The competition has left Warren Gunnels, a staffer for Bernie Sanders, distinctly unimpressed.
Bezos addressed some of the criticism on Monday, when he was asked about the claim that he was taking a rich person’s “joyride” instead of focusing on problems on Earth.
The critics are “largely right”, Bezos said.
“We have to do both. We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those and we also need to look to the future, we’ve always done that as a species and as a civilization. We have to do both.”
Bezos, who has stepped down as Amazon CEO, saw his net worth increase by $70bn during the pandemic, as hundreds of millions of people looked to his company for food deliveries and entertainment. Amazon has been criticized for years over the conditions for its workers, with reports of staff urinating in bottles for fear of missing delivery rates and regularly working 14-hour days.
Andy Levin, a US representative from Michigan, pointed out the discrepancy between owner and worker in a tweet.
While others noted that as Bezos did a round of interviews to discuss his spaceflight, the media largely avoided asking him about his company’s procedures.
Bezos’ flight comes after the British billionaire Richard Branson flew to space in his own Virgin Galactic aircraft. Branson reached an altitude of 53 miles (85 km) in his vessel, lower than the 62 mile (100 km) Kármán line which Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the Switzerland-based world body, defines as space, though other organizations – such as Nasa – have it lower.
Blue Origin engaged in some social media bickering of its own after Branson’s return from the air. The company’s Twitter feed posted a side by side comparison of its own space trips with those of Virgin Galactic, pointing out that its own trips definitely will go into space, and describing Branson’s ‘space craft’ as a “high altitude airplane”.