Moon, Mars, billionaires: what’s going on?



On, in an opinion piece titled “Sorry America, We’re Not Going Back To The Moon,” astrophysicist Ethan Siegel comments on the current administration’s assertion that the U.S. will return people to the Moon.

“Trump,” Siegel writes, “made a promise that should sound familiar to American citizens, as many incoming presidents (including Obama and both Bushes) have made similar plans and proclamations. Like all plans, to bring this one to fruition will require a tremendous investment of resources: in people, in equipment and facilities, in research and development, and in terms of money as well. With no plans for adequate, additional funding to support these ambitions, these dreams will simply evaporate, as they have so many times before.”

I agree. Since I joined the space community in 1983, I’ve been watching various iterations of “the Moon-Mars thing” come and go. It’ll cost too much, and the rationale for pursuing these goals is not compelling enough to justify the cost.

Meanwhile, in an article titled “Billionaires May Be the Future of Space Policy. Here’s What They Want: Space nations, UFOs, and Mars colonies are on the wish list,” Foreign Policy staff writer Emily Tamkin reports, “a number of private individuals of great wealth are charting the future of space policy, whether through money or influence….” She cites billionaires Igor Ashurbeyli (net worth unknown) and his wacky idea to create a “space nation” called Asgardia, Elon Musk (net worth $20+ billion) and his disturbing focus on colonizing Mars, Yuri Milner ($3.5 billion) and his fringe-y Breakthrough Starshot and Breakthrough Listen initiatives.

And there are more. For example, there’s Jeff Bezos (net worth $98 billion, give or take) – the richest man in the world, depending on what day it is (his net worth depends on the price of stock in Amazon). The Scotland Herald, in an August report on “The world’s weirdest billionaires,” quoted Bezos as saying, “People will visit Mars, they will settle Mars, and we should because it’s cool.”

(Because it’s cool? Oy vey….)

And then there’s Richard Branson ($5 billion), who, along with Bezos, intends to make money off of space tourism (which I view as “joy rides for the ultra-rich”). Tamkin reports that Branson said in October on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that he and Bezos “are more interested in how we can use space to benefit the Earth.”

Really? How does space tourism benefit the Earth?

Meanwhile, Florida Today reported yesterday that the Brevard County (FL) board of commissioners “approved a plan that would allow the county to borrow money to pay for an $8 million economic incentive to rocket manufacturer Blue Origin…. The cash grant to the company was approved in 2015 by the County Commission and the North Brevard Economic Development Zone board.”

Wow. A county government is going to borrow money in order to give it to a billionaire. Why would a businessman worth $98 billion need an $8 million “incentive” to do business in Brevard County?

Branson’s and Musk’s space enterprises have also benefited from local, state, and federal “incentives” and other subsidies.


2 Responses to “Moon, Mars, billionaires: what’s going on?”

  1. Brett Says:

    I don’t think any of the billionaires are going to Mars, either. Most just don’t have that much money, and none of even the richer ones are willing to mortgage their assets en masse to make it possible. I’m just hopeful that Musk will eventually lead to a situation where the cost of launching stuff into space gets a lot cheaper, because that benefits anyone who wants to do space research.

    What they could afford would be a lot of really good and useful robotic space exploration missions, at the cost of a few hundred million to over a billion each. But almost none of them seem interested in that, just the “space opera” human spaceflight stuff.

    I do think we will get that orbiting “Deep Space Gateway” they’re talking about in Congress, if only because ISS will be ending its mission in ten years, and they won’t have political support for the overpriced SLS rocket if there’s nowhere for it to go except orbit.

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