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Jeff Bezos is a space cowboy

Bet you weren’t ready for that

By Ricky Browne

Jeff Bezos of Amazon, the world’s richest billionaire, made it into space and back today – nine days after fellow billionaire Richard Branson of Virgin fame did a very similar trip.

Bezos rocketed 107 kilometres above Earth to the boundary of space, with three others — his brother, an octogenarian astronaut who never got the chance to travel into space before as she was a woman, and a teenage boy.

The New Shephard crew — Jeff Bezos with his brother Mark on his left, Oliver Daemen — the youngest person to make it to space and Wally Funk, at 82-years-old the eldest. Photo: Blue Origin

The journey to the Karmen Line and beyond in the New Shepard took 10 minutes and 10 seconds. Bezos went a little further than Branson – and so has greater claim to saying he was the first billionaire. And with his cowboy hat, taking off and landing in Texas, Jamiroquai could see a boost in downloads of their song Space Cowboy. click here for link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPkjnRIdQXQ&ab_channel=JamiroquaiVEVO.

“This is the return of the space cowboy
Interplanetary, good vibe zone,” goes two lines from the acid Jazz funk hit from 1994.

Choosing 82-year-old Wally Funk for the flight was a PR masterstroke. Funk could have been an astronaut in the 1960s, but despite passing all required tests — some with flying colours — she was not chosen by NASA primarily because of her sex. Her dynamic personality, optimism and can-do attitude shone through in her appearances on TV.

Jamiroquai and the Steve Miller Band both sang of the Space Cowboy

Meanwhile, Elon Musk of Tesla, who has himself held the title of the world’s richest billionaire, is expected to do the same soon.

All three own their own space exploration companies – Blue Origin for Bezos, Virgin Galactic for Branson and Musk’s Tesla.

There have been a lot comments online and elsewhere around the billionaires’ flights about it being a waste of money, which would have been much better spent feeding the hungry or planting trees or doing something to slow down climate change.

US$28 million might be a lot — but that’s round trip

The ticket price for the trip is estimated to be about US$28 million. That was the price paid by an anonymous bidder – who withdrew from the flight due to a conflict in his diary. A trip to the dentist perhaps?

As a result, the 18 year old Oliver Daemen – who had been scheduled for the second trip – took his place.

BIG MAC

But US$28 million, as a proportion of Bezos’ wealth, is about equal to what I would spend on a Big Mac, if my risk profile would allow be to do something as daring as that. Spending my hard earned cash on a junk meal from an American chain restaurant is no doubt a waste of my money, especially given global concerns of world-wide hunger and climate change.

Change for a Big Mac

But the money does go back into the economy, and some real people, not just the cooperation, benefit from me using my money in that way. The same holds true for Bezos’ US$28 million.

However concerns remain that Bezos wasted US$28 million of his own money, which many people consider an ego project of no value to humanity.

These same concerns of wasting money could also have been said to Queen Isabella of Spain when she decided to fund Christopher Columbus on his quest to find a westerly route to Asia.

“That’s a colossal waste of money!” her courtiers could have warned her. “Toledo needs an aqueduct! We need to build more churches! We need to plant more trees in the desert!”

NEW WORLD

In fact, most people with wealth thought that funding such a fanciful voyage was folly – which is why the Genoese Columbus had to leave his native city state to try Portugal and then Spain to find a benefactor.

If Queen Isabella had only listened to them, Montezuma and his followers would no doubt have been very happy.

Christopher Columbus in the court of Queen Isabella Image: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C

Terrible things happened to what became known as the New World, as a result of Christopher Columbus’s trip – thousands, perhaps millions of the original inhabitants were wiped out – thanks to warfare, but also thanks to the introduction of diseases that they had no protection against.

Syphilis from the America’s was no match for measles or small pox, unfortunately for the Aztecs, Mayas and many other civilisations.

But that voyage transformed world history, and helped to establish Europe as the world’s leading civilisation, or better and for worse.

Up to that point the Americas existed as a separate entity, developing largely on their own, with no connection to Asia or Africa or Europe and barely to each other.

The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria

Even without Columbus, that would have changed in time. Under different conditions, maybe a fleet of ships from the Americas would have discovered Europe – and we would all be writing in hieroglyphics now instead of using this Roman alphabet.

The point is that at some point the diverse regions of the world were going to become known to each other, and that the planet would become aware that the only new worlds were the ones that were extraterrestrial.  

Its true that Toledo may have missed out on getting a better water supply, or that some areas of Spain may have missed out on their own development because of the money expended on Columbus’s trip. But in the end Spain benefitted big time, becoming the world’s dominant empire for more than 200 years.

Had Columbus not ‘discovered’ the New World, someone else would have. It’s man’s destiny to explore and push at boundaries, known and unknown.

WHAT NEXT?

The pittance that these billionaires have spent on their minimal space exploration is not much compared to the rest of their wealth.

A view of Earth’s New World

So they still have lots of cash to spend on whatever causes other people think are more important.

In fact, when Bezos was questioned as to whether his spending on this was a waste of money given all the problems in the world, his answer was along the lines of both should be done.

Bezos in a promotional shot before his flight

Back on Earth, Bezos — who stepped down as CEO of Amazon on July 5 — also thanked all Amazon customers and Amazon staff, who helped to make the journey possible.

On the trip, Bezos said “Oh my God! My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded!”

Up to now, the world’s billionaires have appeared to be fairly uninterested in spending their cash – only in acquiring it, spending some on luxuries, but with an eye to winning the prize of ‘Richest Man on Earth’. Though some have made charitable contributions of a considerable size –  percentage wise it might not be as great as i

Meanwhile, all three billionaires have either achieved, or (in the case of Musk) are about to achieve one of their life-long childhood dreams – to go to space.

Will man soon stand on Mars? NASA’s Perseverance rover will store rock and soil samples in sealed tubes on the Martian surface for future missions to retrieve and bring back to Earth. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Man has already started to explore space – normally trained individuals who have gone through an intense government-sponsored training programme. Now anyone with a couple billion dollars to spare can do the same thing – and take some ordinary mortals with them.

This is the beginning of a new phase in space exploration, where — unimaginable as it might now appear– regular people will be able to visit space stations or the moon or even Mars – and who knows where after that.

At the time of Christopher Columbus’s voyage in the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria, it was impossible to imagine that people would fly from Madrid to New York City on a daily basis. It might have taken about 440 years to get to that point. But it happened.

Fortunately, as far as we know, there are no beings on Mars for us to wipe out – or them us. So that’s a plus.

And while it may be undesirable to live on a planet that is so devoid of the type of beauty that exists here on Earth – that is not enough reason on its own to explore our solar system, and to discover, if it exists – Planet B.

Mars aka Planet B?

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