The billionaire space race has been heating up lately, with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson boarding a test flight on Sunday to beat Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to the outer reaches of our atmosphere. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has also thrown his astronaut helmet into the ring, recently booking a flight to space with Virgin Galactic.
Many have expressed the opinion that such undertakings by disgustingly wealthy private citizens are indicative of deep societal and moral failings, particularly as poverty and homelessness continue to run rampant. Of course, the spacefaring billionaires don’t see it that way. In fact, some of them consider their jaunts as beneficial for mankind. Your own mileage may vary.
“Those who attack space maybe don’t realize that space represents hope for so many people,” Musk wrote in a tweet earlier this week, reeking of “hopes and prayers” sentiment and completely misunderstanding criticisms of the cashed up elite’s space obsession.
Musk’s attempt to spin his personal interest in space as a benevolent humanitarian effort is a stretch. Space exploration may represent hope for some people, but giving people actual hope in the form of physical assistance would be much more immediate and effective — and is well within Musk’s power.
As of 2019, 34 million people in the U.S. were living in poverty, with the country’s official poverty rate siting at 10.5 percent even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Nearly 20 percent of essential care workers in the U.S. live in poverty and over 40 percent need public assistance. Meanwhile, Elon Musk is currently ranked second on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a net worth of $183 billion.
As such, Twitter users were quick to riff on Musk’s self-aggrandising tweet, coming up with many other things that represent hope for so many people.
None of this is to say that learning about space is a completely valueless endeavour, or that we should abolish NASA. However, when billionaires are joyriding in rockets while 38 million people are on food stamps in the U.S. alone, it seems fair to question priorities.