Space

Bezos Launching Into Space Will Probably Make Your Life Better Too

May our new space billionaires produce spinoff technologies for the rest of us to enjoy in due time!

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Jeff Bezos will launch into space today aboard his Blue Origin rocket, New Shepard. This follows Richard Branson's visit to space last week aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket, a journey that made him the first person to enter space on a vehicle made and funded by his own company. The new space exploration age is here, but most people aren't having it.

"Leave the Billionaires in Space," suggests Jacobin. "Billionaires In Space Are Costing Lives On Earth," says a headline from Boston's public radio station WBUR. The purportedly pro-tech publication The Verge says the nascent industry is "stuck in its billionaire phase."

Well, yeah. Just as dental care, car ownership, and airplane travel were once the sole province of the wealthy, so too is space tourism—for now, but probably not forever.

Contra popular narratives, the new private space tourism industry is not costing lives here on earth, nor will it be stuck in its billionaire phase for long; the technologies developed by companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Elon Musk's SpaceX will help us all, and in time they may even enable people who are not uber-rich to go to space.

In the 1950s, plane tickets were terribly expensive. A flight from New York to London that would today clock in at about seven hours could take up to 15 hours. Though you didn't have to bother with the Transportation Security Administration's ritual harassment and could get your meal served on china, planes were less safe than they are now—and they were much more likely to be hobbled by delays or cancelations, since weather had a stronger effect on the ability to fly.

Over the decades, flying on airplanes got cheaper, faster, and safer. In the '70s, only a quarter of Americans were flying at least once per year. Now that number has doubled, with almost nine in 10 Americans having taken a commercial flight at least once in their lifetime.

Private spaceflight, which is currently accessible only to those who can fork over a cool $28 million or who were born a billionaire's baby brother, may someday be a feasible vacation option for people who don't have such wealth. But even if it doesn't pan out that way, the technologies created by billionaires' space fantasies will propel many of us, rich and poor alike, to better standards of living in ways we haven't yet fully realized.

As NASA fans constantly tell us, the agency's spinoff technologies have improved the world. Sensors developed to measure and remove harmful moon dust have since been used to better detect air pollution here on Earth; advances in aerodynamics have made semi-trucks faster and more fuel-efficient than before; a more durable polymer material developed by NASA scientists is now used for hip replacements. It's easier than ever to get hot water on demand, to fly airplanes, and to get a life raft that will actually deliver you to safety if you're stranded at sea.

But a scientist need not be a public employee to make discoveries that better mankind. Musk and Bezos are competing to develop a satellite internet service that could drastically improve internet access and speed for unserved parts of the globe. SpaceX has been focused on improving the reusability of rocket components (while spending a fraction of what it would cost NASA to put similar rockets into flight), making space exploration cheaper and less wasteful.

And that's just the beginning. Branson and Bezos have triggered the Twitterati's well-practiced eat-the-rich routine, but their critics are selling short just how much good can be reaped from space spinoff technologies—and just how well-distributed that good may be, even if many of us never see the inside of a Blue Origin spaceship.

NEXT: When Growth Grinds to a Halt

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  1. My grandfather’s dad was a missionary to Shanghai. It took my great grandparents months to travel from the east coast of the United States to China.

    My grandfather was born on the trip to China in the days of horse and buggy. He lived long enough to take a commercial flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong–like it was no big deal.

    When the airlines were deregulated, he flew me to California when I was a little kid and took me to Disneyland. They had a ride that simulated a mission to mars.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_to_Mars_(attraction)

    We should be able to fly with our grandchildren to Disneyland on a commercial light to Mars already. Someday, people will look back on today the way we see the days of horse and buggy.

    1. I am less interested in Mars and more interested in the Moon and Near Earth Asteroids. Why spend all this energy getting payloads up a steep gravity well, only to kick them back down into another well? It is like only being excited about climbing the tallest mountain because it gets you to a valley on the other side.

      If you are solving all the problems of living on Mars, you are solving pretty much the same problems as living on the moon or an asteroid. And the cost of trade will be meaningfully lower because the round trip between Earth and your base will be much cheaper.

      1. Colonists might be more interested in a starliner cruise ship headed to Alpha Centauri than Mars, too–even if it’s their grandchildren that actually get there.

        Just like the people who populated the New World, it was religious fanatics, people who were brought here involuntarily, people trying to escape religious persecution, indentured servants, etc.

        You won’t need to send people out into the galaxy by force, but you need to offer them a better life on an interstellar cruise ship than what they can get Eminem’s Detroit.

        Mars may be worse than the arctic. At least you can breathe the air in the arctic. People aren’t leaving Detroit for the arctic, so why would they want to go to Mars forever?

        I’m sure Mars is nice place to visit, but maybe they wouldn’t want to live there.

        1. I’m sure Mars is nice place to visit, but maybe they wouldn’t want to live there.

          It ain’t no kind of place your kids.
          In fact, it’s cold as hell and there’s no one there to raise them if you did.

        2. My point is that if you can get to Mars, and found a permanent colony there, then you can likely do the same on an asteroid or the moon for much cheaper. Other than gravity and slight air pressure, mars brings with it most of the same problems that you get in space. It’s lack of a magnetosphere still leaves it bombarded with cosmic rays, and you still need fully self sufficient life support, and while there is some gravity, you still have the same basic problems that low/no gravity brings. And solving those problems in many cases requires blasting off into orbit on a regular basis, and slowing down stuff coming from earth- problems you don’t have to nearly the same extent on the moon or (at all) on asteroids.

  2. Bezos Launching Into Space Will Probably Make Your Life Better Too

    You’re hoping the rocket explodes, too?

  3. Much of what Liz has to say is true, probably, but I’ve always felt that the real reason billionaires have a hard-on for rockets is, well, obvious: these are the biggest penis substitutes a boy can buy! And the launch pictures of this flying boner only confirm my suspicion.

    1. What ever makes you feel better about your life, bub.

    2. I think for this generation of entrepreneurs, doing this stuff has been central to their idea of cool for a long time–going back to the days of Omni.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omni_(magazine)

      This is just the stuff that people from those generations, like Spielberg, Lucas, Paul Allen, and Steve Jobs’s, thought was cool. They wanted to take those sci-fi concepts and make them real.

      Musk’s Boring company is a concept I read about in Omni, too. If Musk’s reusable rockets hadn’t taken off, they might be building the Space Elevator. The point of SpaceX is to colonize Mars. Musk is launching Starlink to finance their Mars mission.

      I think it’s hard for people to understand that drive to make sci-fi real today for the same reason they have a hard time grokking Star Trek today. “To boldly go where no one has gone before” was to go into the future–with optimism–and optimism about the future is worse than passe with Millennials.

      You’re not supposed to be optimistic about engineering and capitalism solving our problems and freeing us from our limitations anymore. Our problem is racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and the solution isn’t technology and entrepreneurship.The solution is honest self-hatred and forced sacrifice. Hoe dare you say otherwise, Boomer!

      Bezos’ and Musk’s generations don’t have that problem. They not only buy into Star Trek; they think they’re gonna make it real.

      Commercial flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong–I bet people thought that was ridiculous in my great grandfathers’ time. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe they weren’t plagued by the defeatist thinking of today.

      1. Thought I was the only one to have read Omni.

    3. exactly its the ultimate hot rod the few can one up. that said it can’t hurt to do it if you can

    4. People say, “Azathoth, you are the blind, idiot god at the Center of All Things, you must have a surefire way of telling for certain if a man has a micropenis without having to actually look at the godawful thing.”

      And I extrude a mouth or seven and chuckle knowingly, “It’s easy, they say things like this–”

      Much of what Liz has to say is true, probably, but I’ve always felt that the real reason billionaires have a hard-on for rockets is, well, obvious: these are the biggest penis substitutes a boy can buy! And the launch pictures of this flying boner only confirm my suspicion.

      “– see, they constantly feel the need to suggest that others, particularly people smarter and more successful than themselves have the very micropenis they carry around. And now you know the REAL story.”

    5. Its amazing how people like you are obsessed with your penis.

    6. What in the world about Bezos’ rocket could possibly be reminding people of a penis?

    7. Well, this one does look most like a dick.

      But I’m pretty sure when someone talks about big toys being penis substitutes that it’s all projection.

    8. Maybe one day Bezos will erect a statue of his rocket.

  4. Just watched the launch. It was pretty awesome. While it wasn’t anything measurably different from a SpaceX launch, seeing a second competitor basically do the same thing SpaceX has been doing is in and of itself a big deal. With Virgin Galactic also in the mix (though I’d argue, on life support) we have three ruthless billionaires competing in a knockdown, dragout fist fight to deliver launch services to us.

    Say what you want about national pride, and NASA being “our collective accomplishment” as a country, but only these private competitors are doing real work to make space flight a reality for US, not WE.

    1. While it wasn’t anything measurably different from a SpaceX launch, seeing a second competitor basically do the same thing SpaceX has been doing is in and of itself a big deal.

      Not to throw cold water on Blue Origin’s achievement, but this was only a 5 minute sub-orbital flight while SpaceX is launching cargo and more recently astronauts to the ISS, which is not just in orbit but in a higher altitude and inclination than most low earth orbiting satellites. What SpaceX is doing is about an order of magnitude more difficult than what Blue Origin just did. That being said, good on Bezos and Blue Origin (and Virgin Galactic for that matter). Hopefully this is just their first “small step.”

      1. You cannot post a single thing about Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin without someone coming in with an “Akshewally, they didn’t get into orbit…” post. Everyone here knows the difference between suborbital and orbital flight.

        So as long as we are “Akshewally”-ing, I’ll call out that the Falcon 9 booster isn’t an orbital booster either. It delivers a heavier payload to a suborbital location (about twice as high as the New Shepard), where a second vehicle then inserts it into orbit. I agree that in all ways, the Falcon 9 is a more difficult, superior vehicle though.

        On the other hand, recovering a booster with autonomous, vertical landing is one or two orders of magnitude more difficult than just sacrificing the booster, and Blue Origin is doing that immediately with their first generation commercial rocket, while SpaceX’s first gen rocket (Falcon 1) was expendable. So, while BO’s orbital capabilities are about 12 years behind SpaceX, their recovery capabilities are only about 8 years behind, and their habitable vehicles are about 5 years behind.

        I am not trying to say Blue Origin is as awesome as SpaceX- the latter is obviously the more successful company. But Blue Origin is on a similar path of reusable space flight, that will ultimately continue to drive down orbital payload costs and unlock space for all of us.

        1. Everyone here knows the difference between suborbital and orbital flight.

          All I had to go off of was your original post where you said that what BO did this morning “wasn’t anything measurably different from a SpaceX launch” when clearly it was. Based on that I assumed you didn’t understand the difference between a sub-orbital and orbital flight. Maybe you did and that was a bad assumption on my part, but there’s plenty of morons around here who don’t and have no clue how much more difficult orbital spaceflight is.

          What BO and Virgin Galactic accomplished is impressive enough, but I’m not nearly as sanguine as some about them and SpaceX ushering in some glorious new age of civilian space flight or whatever. Shit, the first time one of them has an accident the combination of law suits and government “betters” stepping in to regulate them to death will most likely kill the industry in the crib.

          1. Yeah I see now how I was imprecise, sorry.

            My point was that Blue Origin is basically doing what SpaceX did. Correct, SpaceX is currently launching heavy loads into orbit. But 10 years ago, they were doing basically what Blue Origin did today. Blue Origin is following in their footsteps, which has led a lot of people to shrug and say, “meh”.

            But just having a second competitor in this space is a Big Fucking Deal. And while they are about 10 years behind on orbital launch, they are already catching up on human launch and autonomous landing, which means they are catching up, not just following behind spacex. I think it is unlikely that New Glen (their orbital vehicle) will take a decade to prove itself.

    2. Don’t kid yourself that these three guys feel they have any attachments to the US.

      They’ll be working for the CCP if the CCP offered them the right package.

    3. One of the things that impressed me about watching Branson’s and Bezos’ space flights juxtaposed against each other is that they pursued different concepts of how to get to space.

  5. Rocket?? That’s a dildo!!

    1. Greed; like a flashback to Flesh Gordon. Dicks in space.

      1. Agreed.

  6. Just remember, the first time NASA sent a private citizen to space….something about stardust.

    1. Melody?

      1. Ziggy. And the Spiders from Mars.

  7. Just as dental care, car ownership, and airplane travel were once the sole province of the wealthy, so too is space tourism—for now, but probably not forever.

    “Yeah, we’ll just see about that!” – government bureaucrats

    1. Just as dental care, car ownership, and airplane travel were once the sole province of the wealthy, so too is space tourism—for now, but probably not forever.

      True: if the Democrats have their way, they will all be the sole province of the wealthy again.

  8. But what about space equity? That Bezos crew looks awfully white.

    1. He paid VanJones for that sin, like the church used to charge for Indulgences.

      As long as you pay off a colored or queer person, your unwoke sins are forgiven by the woke mob.

  9. Nothing like billionaires emitting tens/hundreds of thousands times more carbon into the atmosphere (for joy rides into space) than 99% of Americans (whose emissions those same billionaires and their left wing Democrat allies want to sharply curtail).

    1. Got a source for that? I’d be very interested in learning a how a rocket fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen is somehow emitting carbon

      1. good point it comes out as steam, H20, water. just like many would like us to propel our cars with.

      2. BE-4 is a liquified natural gas rocket. Used on the New Glenn 1st stage.

        https://www.blueorigin.com/engines/be-4

        I’m not sure which rocket Bezos is going up in.

        And then take the space shuttle – hydrogen main engines but also those two solid fuel boosters.

        1. I’m not sure which rocket Bezos is going up in.

          New Shepard.

      3. In fairness, generating and then compressing that much liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen is a very energy-intensive process. I am skeptical that they did it all with solar and wind power.

      4. Takes a lot of energy to make that liquid Hydorgen.

    2. The New Shepard emits absolutely zero carbon into the atmosphere. The engine burns liquid oxygen and hydrogen, producing water vapor.

    3. https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/news/the-climate-impact-of-wild-pigs-greater-than-a-million-cars-

      Do you truly want to help the environment? Then get yourself a rifle and go kill yourself some pigs.

      That or get yourself a big ole cup of shut t he fuck up.

  10. Upper atmosphere, weee.

    In any case whatever technology comes out of any of this, while it may subtly improve lives, it has the potential for harm as well.

    One of the funniest is the ludicrous reliance on GPS that people use for driving around their own town.

    1. Not all who wander are lost.

    2. I love using maps to get where I’m going however I’ve turned to my phone and gps since my eyes can no longer focus on little street signs

  11. May our new space billionaires produce spinoff technologies for the rest of us to enjoy in due time!

    Like TANG! And Dustbusters! Life changing stuff came from the race to the moon like de-hydrated ice cream and pens that could write upside down. Where would we be without all that?

    1. Velcro was one of the products that came from space. Sure has a lot of uses in the world.
      I bet duct tape was used up there too. haha

  12. I’m delighted that more companies are making it to space; but after watching SpaceX for a while, I’m finding it hard to work up enthusiasm.

  13. I’ve got no problem with billionaires spending their money on space (or literally burning it if they want), but Bezos or Branson aren’t doing anything new that defense contractors didn’t do 50 years ago. There’s not going to be spinoffs because it’s all been done.

    At least with SpaceX they are doing 1950s Sci-FI stuff like landing rockets on their tail

    1. “Bezos or Branson aren’t doing anything new that defense contractors didn’t do 50 years ago.”

      No contractor ever launched a payload into orbit, recovering the booster so that it could go again. Even the space shuttle system expended 50% of its material and needed to be rebuilt at a cost of hundreds of millions between each launch.

      Lowering the cost of launch by a factor of 100 is a big deal- a bigger deal for most of humanity than even the moon landings, if you ask me.

    2. The Soviets were landing rockets on their tails in the 70s.

      1. The Soviets landed on Venus. Fucking boss. If only the shit had worked right. I want 4k pics of that hellscape.

  14. I am probably months behind, but why did they make it look like a dong? Are we penetrating space’s virgin folds with progress’s massive cock?

    1. Sometimes a rocket ship is just a rocket ship. Get your mind out of the gutter!

      1. I prefer to think of it as a canal.

        1. Gives a whole new meaning to re-entry.

    2. Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut’s, “The Big Space Fuck”?

    3. I saw an explanation. Basically the wanted to make the capsule bigger and the rocket smaller and lighter.

      But yeah it sure does look like one.

  15. Your people’s theory has no mechanism to prevent unregulated capitalism from “innovating” ways to completely consume the resources of the planet, or do any number of socially undesirable things. It’s all rainbows and lollipops, like you’re fucking children.

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