Over the past two weeks, a couple of the world’s richest people have made their way into space.
Billionaire Richard Branson ventured up first, rocketing to the edge of the final frontier aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane. Then Jeff Bezos traveled to space in his Blue Origin rocket. They were about 60 miles up in the air and experienced two minutes of weightlessness.
Journalist Tod Mesirow tells KCRW, “NASA, the Air Force, the FAA, and NOAA are all in agreement that 50 miles qualifies as the edge of space, and anyone who visits that height can call themselves an ‘astronaut.’”
The billionaires have been criticized for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a two-minute trip to space, while many people on Earth struggle with access to basic needs like shelter and clean water.
Bezos is the world’s richest man, and a ProPublica study revealed that he paid about 1% in taxes from 2014 to 2018. Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and a handful of other politicians raised concerns about how little Bezos has paid in taxes.
These trips are kicking off a new era of space travel for those who can afford it. Mesirow says trips on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will be on the market for around $55 million as early as next January. Meanwhile, a Fontana-based company called Orbital Assembly is creating the first luxury space hotel.
But Mesirow says the satellite imagery data that companies like Planet generate and sell is more of a money-maker than space tourism.
He also points out that the fatality rate for astronauts is 3.2%. But this doesn’t seem to be stopping the ultra wealthy from booking their suborbital flights.