Billionaires break into the space race

2 min
Richard Branson's first space wannabe

One of the key episodes of the Cold War was the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, which culminated in man's landing on the moon in July 1969. Today there is a certain consensus that this race with political undertones boosted scientific research to unprecedented levels, and a series has recently been released, For all mankind, which asks what would have happened if the Soviets had landed on the Moon before the Americans did. Well, at present, the closest thing to that race of the second half of the twentieth century is the competition between three billionaires, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, to be the first to exploit so-called space tourism, that is, allowing anyone to fly beyond the atmosphere and see the planet Earth from space.

At the moment, British multimillionaire Richard Branson is inching ahead. On Sunday, he made a successful flight aboard a ship built by his company Virgin Galactic. This is the company's 22nd test flight, the fourth with crew and the first with all passengers: six people. Branson is a few days ahead of Bezos, founder of Amazon, who is planning a flight with his aerospace transport company, Blue Origin, on July 20. In third place comes Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and known for the luxury electric car brand Tesla, who has created his own company, SpaceX, and promises trips to the moon by 2023.

The fact is that this competition, positive in principle, raises a number of ethical questions for humanity that should find a way to solve. Until now, the space race has been a matter for the different powers, mainly four: the United States, the European Union, Russia and China. The first three collaborated in the creation of the International Space Station, an initiative that seemed to bury the competition in favour of international collaboration. But what happens when the private sector steps in? And in particular, what happens when those who lead this race are extravagant characters like Branson or visionaries like Musk who seek above all prominence and presence in the media for their own benefit?

The international community, if it is possible to speak of this concept with clarity, would have to debate what is the best way, for humanity as a whole, to approach everything that has to do with the space race. Although they may be complementary at some point, a project that seeks to obtain economic returns, such as the ones these three companies are leading, is not the same as a state-led space race with aims in scientific research for the benefit of all mankind. It will also be necessary to decide whether space has to be treated as a public space, or whether it can also be privatised and on what terms. Or whether these trips for the super-rich are sustainable from an environmental point of view. It sounds like science fiction, but this debate needs to be addressed urgently.