Shaffer is a journalism and international relations student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is originally from Carmel Valley.
“Launch. Land. Repeat.” That’s the motto of Blue Origin, the aerospace company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that transports civilians to the far reaches of space.
While the so-called “billionaire space race” has generated much controversy, the accessibility it has provided deserves credit.
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a pilot and cosmonaut from the Soviet Union, became the first human to fly in space. Sixty-one years later, just over 600 people have joined.
Although years are brewing, it was not until 2021 that a door opened to welcome a greater number of participants. Space tourism refers to human travel in space for recreational purposes. Space tourists are ordinary people, and they visit space without any specific boundary beyond space itself.
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While there is sure to be industry competition between the three major private sector aerospace companies – Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin – Virgin Galactic has since suspended its space tourism efforts to perform renovations and SpaceX is currently prioritizing orbital flights, so Blue Origin dominates the suborbital landscape with its New Shepard rocket, named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space and the fifth to walk on the Moon.
The flight lasts approximately 11 minutes, but even in this short time, participants have found their experience to be totally transformative.
After going into space, Blue Origin space tourist Glen de Vries told me, “I still wake up every day thinking about exactly how to articulate what I’ve been through and how I feel. changed by it.” De Vries, who has since passed away, was on the crew of NS-18, Blue Origin’s second civilian spaceflight, which launched on October 31, 2021, with crew members including the “Star Trek” William Shatner, Vice President of Blue Origin. president of mission and flight operations Audrey Powers, and co-founder of Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based satellite earth imaging company, Chris Boshuizen. Bezos himself was on the first flight, which launched on July 20, 2021.
A third flight on December 11, 2021 named six new Blue Origin space tourists, including TV personality and former professional footballer Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of Alan Shephard. A fourth Blue Origin flight took place on March 31, marking another successful manned mission for the company.
While space experts see these missions as huge advancements for the aerospace community, many other people aren’t ready to celebrate. For starters, many people aren’t thrilled with the amount of money being invested in space tourism. For weeks after Bezos flew into space, memes swirled around the internet clowning around about his decision and explaining why he hadn’t used the money to raise salaries for Amazon employees or to help fight climate change.
Politicians and celebrities have come forward, also voicing their criticisms of space tourism. Last July, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, tweeted“Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to eat, struggling to see a doctor – but hey, the richest guys in the world have gone to space!”
These critics are right. According to one analysis, Bezos alone earns almost $205 million a day. That’s over 1.4 million times the money the average American makes in a day. There are countless ways to spend your fortune. This begs the question: what makes space worth investing in?
According to de Vries, when you travel through space, “you realize that the lines that divide states and countries, races, genders and sexual orientations…none of that is as important as the fact that we are all one species in one giant civilization.
What de Vries describes is the “big picture effect,” which refers to the cognitive shift in consciousness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often when viewing Earth from space. It’s a common sentiment felt by those who have traveled through space – and could be the key to ending global conflict.
“I want people to understand how important these things are and to celebrate human achievement,” de Vries said. “When someone says, ‘Space tourism is unsustainable’, I think they may be looking at the wrong picture and they may also need to zoom out and look at something more. big.”
More can always be done to limit the cost and environmental impact of space tourism, but let’s not overlook its benefits, such as how it increases accessibility for space travel, transcending cultural barriers and uniting people across borders.
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