You might be wondering, like me: Is there any point in rocketing Jeff Bezos and “Star Trek” actor William Shatner into space?
Wendy Whitman Cobb, the Air Force’s political scientist for space, says yes. Our conversations challenged my ideas about space projects, such as Bezos and Elon Musk, who envisioned a distant future.
If you shouted “Midlife Crisis” when Bezos touched space last year or asked why Musk’s SpaceX company attracted so much attention, today’s newsletter is for you.
Whitman Cobb, who holds a Ph.D. Political Science said that tourist travel was the first step in transforming space travel from foreign to regular. And she believes that amateurs in orbit are a proven ground for justifiable ambitions – including settling on Mars, as Musk imagined, or colonizing space to support more people and industries than is possible on Earth, such as Bezos. Wants.
To me, it sounds like the escapist fantasies of billionaires. But Whitman Cobb’s optimization is a useful counterpart to the regular warnings of this newsletter that technology is not a magical solution to our problems. Whitman Cobb agrees, but also said that technology sometimes did magical things in space exploration.
To rewind the last decade, corporations such as SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin, Northrop Gruman, and New Zealand-based start-up Rocket Lab have sought to become big players in spaceflight. Companies have always worked with governments on space travel, but now they are more involved in carrying astronauts, enthusiasts, satellites and cargo into space.
There is debate in space about the proper role of corporations against governments, but Whitman Cobb believes those companies have made rotation space operations cheaper and easier. It frees NASA to pursue lunar colonies and dream big on projects like deep space exploration.
Spesaeksa, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin has also led the Space Pleasure Cruise. It’s fun for a few, but Whitman Kobe said they helped increase the safety of space travel and created excitement to explore beyond our planet.
“The more ‘normal’ people we see flying in space, the more people will see this as much as possible and get excited about it,” she told me. “That public opinion is key to a lot of things that these companies as well as the US government are doing in space.”
(Whitman Kobe said the views are hers, and not those of the US government, which employs her. She also said she did not receive funding from commercial space companies.)
The ultimate goal, however, goes far beyond tourism. Musk and Bezos envisioned people moving into space or polluting industries or creating a Mars culture. I worry that this is an excuse to ignore the problems on earth.
Whitman Cobb understood why I asked if it was a reckless delusion, but he also did not want us to lose the potential benefits of dreaming. She said the history of space exploration is intrusive and does not necessarily make the vision of higher thinking possible and helpful.
US missions to the moon in the 1960s were driven by a desire to prove American superiority over the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, nationalist space missions helped promote the development of the ever-smaller electronics we use every day, improved health technology, and even gave us memory foam. The boom in commercial spaceflight over the past decade has reduced the cost of space access and enabled novel ideas such as small-scale satellites to map the earth from above.
“The advanced technology developed by commercial space companies for spaceflight could similarly help us in other areas,” said Whitman Kobe.
Self-described space geek, she also said that awe of space is a worthwhile goal. “It’s an itch too, so to speak, humanity has a longing to find, discover and understand the world around us,” she said.
I asked Whitman Cobb if he wanted to stay on Mars. “Sure,” she replied. “Probably not forever.”
I don’t dispel all my doubts about rocket tourism or the billionaires’ space ideas. While corporations play a large role in space, they may store inventions rather than benefit the public. Space tourism also harms the environment, and it is not clear how appropriate space travel and commerce are. We know that technology, even helpful, has downsides.
Cobb Whitman also wants to discredit those of us with excitement. She said, showing the history of space travel is selfish dreams can offer the benefit of us all.
Before we go
More Earthbound Musk News:
What does philanthropy do with cryptocurrency luck? Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, is one of the richest people in the world and a believer in using scientific reasoning to do the best. Bloomberg News tells us about the 30-year-old bankman-Fried and asks: “Should anyone who wants to save the world raise as much money and energy as possible, or will this business corrupt him along the way?” (Subscription may be required.)
Related: The Times Opinion interviewed my colleague Ezra Klein, Dan Olson, a video essayist who warns of the dangers of crypto ideology and culture.
How to properly recycle your gadgets: Landfills for batteries and electronics recycling centers is not uncommon to catch fire. Washington Post explains how to safely dispose of your gadgets and batteries. (Subscription may be required.)
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