The Guardian reports Jeff Bezos is scheduled to go into space later this week with his brother and some space tourist who wins an auction. It will be the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship, which has been tested many times without crews and, I guess, pretty much flies itself. As far as I can tell, this will be the first time a Blue Origin spacecraft has ever had passengers. It’s supposed to happen June 20.
The New Shepard has big windows to gawk from. This flight is only going to be a few minutes, long enough to enter official outer space at the 100-kilometer altitude, enjoy weightlessness for a bit and then parachute the capsule down to a desert in Texas.
I think it’s great that other people besides me want to have space adventures. Good for Jeff Bezos, good for his brother Mark and good for Thurston Howell III or IV or whoever gets the chance to come along for $2 or $3 million.
I’ll watch the livestream while eating nachos.
As I’ve discussed here before, Jeff Bezos has articulated a dream of moving as much of Earth’s population as possible into orbiting space stations, with the idea of preserving both humanity and the Earth, by freeing the Earth from us. He would eventually like Earth to be a park. At which point, I suppose, he’d be in a position to charge people millions of dollars to be temporary Earth tourists.
I like his dream a lot better than Elon Musk’s of sending a sizable fraction of us to Mars. Mars is a planet. Planets suck, literally. It’s called gravity. It’s hugely overrated.
Both ideas have considerable technical challenges, and I don’t know how either approach could work, what with radiation and all, and as far as I can tell it’s a whole lot of effort to get to live inside a mineshaft or something similar and have to work out constantly to avoid wasting away, but it’s good that these guys are keeping themselves occupied instead of just rolling around in their money all day long, like Scrooge McDuck.
One of the first thoughts I had when I read The Guardian article was I don’t recall whether Robert H. Goddard or Wernher von Braun ever even considered firing themselves up in one of their rockets. This may be because they were actual rocket scientists, not just guys with fat wallets who could hire people to do the science and the engineering. So they knew how the rockets worked.
It’s sort of like knowing how sausage is made.
Fun fact: There’s an engineering reason behind why, in the test phase of development, rockets so often explode on their launchpads or flip over seconds after the launch and plow straight into the ground. It’s how the engineers find out what doesn’t work. They really don’t know what design features have to be tweaked until the rocket shows them what to look for by blowing up a certain unique way.
Contemplating all that, then, I thought, Elon Musk is probably going to want to top this. So far Elon hasn’t shot himself into space; he’s only sent a Tesla up there, a vicarious act. I’m sure he isn’t happy thinking he’ll always be only the second billionaire to ride a rocket. He’s going to want to do a better “first,” such as be the first to complete a full orbit.
After writing that last paragraph, I learned another dilettante, Richard Branson, is rumored to want to beat Bezos and get himself launched into space by a Virgin Galactic rocket. If so, it’s just the sort of spur-of-the-moment decision I would expect from the man. I’m surprised Branson hasn’t yet smoked pot on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Meanwhile, SpaceX and Blue Origin are fighting over who’ll get the contracts to send people back to the moon and set up colonies. Another forsaken place where people are going to have to live in mineshafts and exercise continually. And Bezos would want to charge people to go do that, instead of paying them.
Like I said, I’ll be watching the livestreaming version, eating nachos with cheese dip.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more of the June 16-22, 2021 issue.