By Aaron Shaykevich
In July 2021, two billionaires, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos traveled to space on rockets built by their own companies. They are the first and second billionaires to go to space respectively. Bezos’ flight is unique (and arguably better) than Branson’s since Bezos went beyond the Kármán line. The Kármán line was created to separate the earth’s atmosphere from space, which is approximately 62 miles above the earth, while Branson reached around 53 miles above the earth’s surface, which is below the Kármán line. However, Bezos broke this boundary and went around 66 miles above the earth.
Bezos did not fly alone, however, with three others joining him. An anonymous bidder originally paid $28 million to fly with Bezos, but due to scheduling conflicts could not make it. Therefore, Joes Daemon, the person scheduled for the second flight got the “privilege” to ride with Bezos, who then granted this opportunity to his son. This is how, at age 18, Oliver Daemon became the youngest person to travel to space. Another record was broken by Bezos’s enterprise ‘Blue Origin’ with the inclusion of Wally Funk on the flight. Funk was an aspiring astronaut who was rejected by NASA multiple times in part because of her gender, but has now become the oldest person to travel to space at the age of 82! Jeff Bezos’ brother, Mark Bezos, also joined the historic moment.
Branson and Bezos did not only fly for enjoyment but also as a stunt, the goal of which is to promote future commercial space travel for their respective companies. While commercial space travel is a novel idea for many, seats on future flights are already being sold or even sold out. Virgin Galactic, the company Branson founded, originally sold tickets at around $250,000, but recently changed their pricing to $450,000 per seat. While Blue Origin hasn’t officially reported costs for their upcoming commercial flights, Reuters reported in 2018 that the cost would be an estimated $200,000-$300,000 per seat.
This event does not come without its own controversy, however. Jeff Bezos, founder and former CEO of Amazon, has had many criticize his work within Amazon. Firstly, the alleged “mistreatment” of Amazon employees has become more recognized, and many blame Bezos. Furthermore, the wage disparity between Bezos and his employees shocks many, with him making around $3,700 per second. For reference, the median Amazon employee salary for 2020 was around $29,000. This means that every 7.8 seconds, Bezos earns the salary of an average worker for a year! The flight Bezos took to Outerspace only exacerbated tensions between Bezos and his criticizers. The creation of Blue Origin alone cost Bezos nearly $5.5 billion, a sore point for some. Joe Mcarthy, a writer for Global Citizen, points out 7 more philanthropic ways the money could have been used. For example, Mcarthy describes that the money could have been used to save 37 million people from starving or used to plant nearly five billion trees. Others point out that Bezos does not make much of his money from a salary, rather through stock options. In fact, 90% of his net worth comes from his Amazon Stock holdings.
There are certainly positive and negative aspects to commercial space travel as a whole. There are certainly more practical, thoughtful, and environmentally friendly alternatives for those with that much excess cash. However, the prospect of space travel becoming accessible to more than just astronauts is still the dream of millions. While not as practical, it allows space enthusiasts, researchers, and basically anyone with at least $300,000 lying around to partake in the extraordinary endeavor. Wally Funk, one of the passengers with Bezos, has stated that her dream did not need to die because others told her no. With the newfound access to commercial space travel, many can now live out their lifelong, “out of this world,” dreams. Furthermore, as commercial space travel becomes more popular, the technology behind it will improve in order to increase capacity in flights and pricing. Maybe one day, we’ll all have the incredible opportunity to experience space for ourselves.