On the morning of July 11, 2021, the billionaire space race came to an end. Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. At that distance, the U.S. government considers his trip to be the first personally funded space travel in history. Branson’s trip took place just 9 days before Jeff Bezos will fly with his space company, Blue Origin. Elon Musk, another billionaire interested in space travel, has also made efforts to join them with his company, SpaceX.
While this is a historic moment, many are wondering why the 1-hour flight is really that important for a dying planet with suffering inhabitants. Branson, Bezos, and Musk have preoccupied their egos with this competition and are leaving behind a hurting human race. Not only that, but they have personally contributed to some of the world’s problems.
Branson boasts space accessibility for an Earth full of barriers
“We’re here to make space more accessible to all,” said Branson after returning safely from his flight. Of course, accessibility for a billionaire is vastly different from accessibility for the average human, and Branson clearly doesn’t know the difference. A trip ticket currently costs $200,000 and is expected to increase to $500,000 in the near future. It’s surreal to think that these billionaires want to make space “accessible” when living essentials like water, food, and housing aren’t even fully accessible on Earth. More than half a million people are homeless in America alone and 957 million people are experiencing hunger worldwide. Yet, Branson and other billionaires want the world to believe that their space travels are for the benefit of society. In reality, they only benefit the rich.
Branson said his mission is, “to turn the dream of space travel into a reality – for my grandchildren, for your grandchildren, for everyone.” This statement, while innocuous at first glance, is either a demonstration of Branson’s complete denial of reality or a way to pivot the public away from his personal motivations. Our grandchildren will not be concerned with space travel. They will be concerned with the habitability of Earth for themselves and their grandchildren. With thousands of scientists declaring climate change a climate emergency, billionaires should focus their resources on making the Earth accessible for human life in the years to come.
Soaring into space while employees take a nosedive
Branson’s current net worth is estimated at almost $6 billion while Bezos’ net worth is about $213 billion. Despite the incredible amount of wealth, both men’s employees have been suffering. Branson’s flight company, Virgin Atlantic, experienced significant financial problems during the pandemic. Branson lowered the wages for his employees and asked the U.K. government for a bailout. His company finalized a rescue deal worth £1.2bn while simultaneously firing 3,500 staff members.
While airlines struggled financially during the Coronavirus and needed a government bailout to support their employees, many argue that Branson should not have qualified. Branson moved to the tax-free British Virgin Islands 15 years ago and has not paid the U.K. income tax in that same amount of time. Meanwhile, Denmark labeled companies with off-shore accounts as ineligible for bailout money. Many protested that the same should apply in the U.K. Nevertheless, Branson’s company still received the money.
Jeff Bezos has also made headlines for the conditions that his Amazon employees have experienced. The billionaire will fly into space on July 20th with his personally funded aircraft from Blue Origin. Despite this personal side project, thousands of his employees must subsidize their paychecks with SNAP benefits. Amazon also faced scrutiny for the way workers are treated and the unsafe conditions they are forced to comply with. In addition, many billionaires have evaded taxes or paid very little compared to the average American. For example, Bezos paid absolutely nothing in federal income taxes for the years 2007 and 2011. He has paid very little in the years since when compared proportionately to the average American.
Unethical Flying Opportunists
Billionaires are not helping the world in their race to space as they would like the public to believe. Instead, they are engaging in a battle of egos to reach space first under the guise of scientific exploration and making dreams come true. While everyone on Earth is left to face the climate emergency and depleting resources, Branson, Bezos, and Musk are enjoying “panoramic views” of the planet among the stars. I’m sure the view is great when you can’t see the destruction you’ve left behind.