WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

To inanity–and beyond!

Are you, like me, a little miffed at billionaire space fantasies? Everyone watched over the weekend as Virgin’s Richard Branson shot himself into “space” in a test flight that has no positive potential for humankind (i.e., we all won’t be moving to Mars one day) and is really just R&D for a space tourism op. Virgin Galactic has collected lotsa cash from investors and is apparently spending billions of dollars to set up a rich man’s thrill ride. 

Same with Bezos. His company, Blue Origin, will be selling “access to space.” He’s invested hundreds of millions of his own dollars (liquidating Amazon stock), and the company has spent more than a billion dollars a year, to develop reusable rockets that will “benefit Earth.” We’ll see about that. Meanwhile, space tourism. 

And same with Elon Musk, whose Space X (so lame) is up to a similar mission. Ultimately heading for Mars, yada yada yada. 

Imagine if these billions had been invested in clean energy. What if the space mavens had directed their considerable resources and imagination toward ensuring that Earth remains inhabitable for the foreseeable future? Instead of catering to the Flash Gordon wannabes, they might have pumped billions of dollars into research on fighting droughts, slowing and ending climate change, reducing the impact of wildfires, eliminating hunger, cleaning up the oceans, creating clean, efficient public transportation, and protecting democracy (and these come just off the top of my head). There are so many pressing contemporary problems that you don’t even need to use your imagination. Just pick from a grab bag. 

I just watched the spectacular Summer of Soul, the Black concert series that was shot over several weekends in the summer of 1969 in Harlem, and in one segment many interviewees questioned the value of the Apollo mission, which had just put men on the moon. They, for the most part, resented the massive spending and didn’t see a benefit, as far as their own lives were concerned. It’s hard to argue with them, considering that the project was really an arm of the Cold War more than anything else. Certain advances in technology came of it, but most people suggest “benefits” that seem on the esoteric side, like “We got to see Spaceship Earth from 250,000 miles away.” 

This is why billionaires throwing money into space tourism strikes so many people as a tragic waste. Sure, from the moon shot we got some products like plastic sneakers and dust busters and fire-retardant textiles (says at least one NASA engineer), but what if we put trillions into sustaining and improving life on Earth instead? I could do without Tang* if I knew millions of human beings could have clean water and freedom from poverty and easily cured diseases. 

But that’s just me. Anybody want to help me see the awesomeness of Jeff Bezos shooting other billionaires into space? 


*Does Tang even still exist?

[Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash.]

10 comments on “To inanity–and beyond!

  1. Gary Trujillo
    July 15, 2021

    It seems like a double-edged sword. Human Kind has a curiosity and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, yet we may obliterate ourselves before it can expand any further. I feel like this story has been written 1,000’s of times in Sci-Fi pulp novels. There may even be a Star Trek episode in there.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 15, 2021

      True. I guess it boils down to human motives. Billionaires probably have personal motives that don’t coincide with what would be best for the species and the planet, so there’s a lot of waste. I guess all we can do is sit back and watch the show.

  2. pinklightsabre
    July 15, 2021

    That’s a great piece Kevin, I hadn’t thought of it like that. And now I’m eager to watch that Harlem film from ‘69. Looking forward to that, and funny how history repeats itself. Those same tropes keep revolving around and around, locked into our own selfish orbit.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 15, 2021

      Thanks, Bill! It’s a little ironic, because I was a huge space buff as a kid–built models of the Saturn rocket and lunar module–and really bought into the “one small step for man” thing. But Bezos? Musk? They’re our Magellans? Sheesh!

      • pinklightsabre
        July 15, 2021

        They’re little kids too, with a lot of cash.

  3. Robert Parker
    July 15, 2021

    Tang is still out there, although I imagine it doesn’t taste quite the same, if it isn’t mixed with recycled urine. Freeze-dried astronaut ice cream was another disappointment. But NASA did help develop solar panels and other valuable technology. And don’t forget, NASA provided employment and a comfortable life for some former Nazi engineers, we can all feel good about that.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 16, 2021

      Tang never tasted particularly “good.” There was always grainy sludge at the bottom. Something about what you said reminded me of Donovan’s song, “The Intergalactic Laxative.”

      I do appreciate what NASA has been doing for decades now in terms of unmanned probes and even Mars landers. Solar panels = good.

      As for those Nazi rocket men, America believes in redemption, so it all worked out in the end.

  4. Marie A Bailey
    July 20, 2021

    Given that their exploits are likely to exacerbate climate change, yeah, it would be nice if they actually did something meaningful with their billions instead of pump their own egos.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 21, 2021

      Or, like many are pointing out, they could pay their fair share of taxes.

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