The Billionaire Space Race

The world watched in awe last week as billionaire and tech mogul Jeff Bezos embarked on a 10 minute mission to space on July 20, 2021. The rocket was launched near Van Horn, Texas from a private launch site.


What some may be surprised to find however, is that Bezos’ rocket launch would be described as ‘one of the cleanest launches of rockets’ in terms of emitting greenhouse gases within the atmosphere’, as reported by LiveScience. The New Shepard rocket combines liquid hydrogen and oxygen in order to generate its engines thrust, thereby producing less pollutive substances, such as CO2, soot, and aluminium oxides.


In a statement Bezos provided to MSNBC, he mentioned that his aim was to “take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is.”


According to Blue Origin’s website, the company was founded by Bezos with ‘the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth’. Blue Origin describes its mission statement as ‘finding new energy and material resources’ in order to ‘move industries that stress Earth into space’.


The question remains whether or not the world’s favourite billionaire would be able to tackle the rampant climate change issues the world is facing today.


Bezos has largely been criticized by the media and public alike, with many satirizing his recent trip to space as a ‘joy ride for the super wealthy’. In fact, Bezos’ attempt at moving industries that stress Earth into space could be considered quite ironic from a certain point of view, considering the fact that Amazon’s carbon emissions had actually risen by 19% last year.


However, Amazon's founder himself is not the only billionaire intent on expanding humanity’s domain into space. Only 9 days before Bezos’ flight into space, the billionaire embarked his own Virgin Galactic spacecraft in an 8 minute journey above New Mexico, as reported by CNN.


Both Bezos and Branson’s trips aboard their respective spacecrafts mark a pivotal moment in what has been called the ‘commercial space industry’. In fact, tickets aboard their individual shuttles have already been offered to the wealthy 1%, providing short joy rides into space. The price for the passes into space go as high as $250,000; simple pocket change for billionaires.


Companies such as Bezos’ Blue Origin, Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and even Elon Musk’s SpaceX all seek to make ‘space tourism more common’, as announced by The Guardian. Nonetheless, excursions into space do not come without significant environmental repercussions. As stated by associate professor Eloise Marais at UCL, the new ‘space tourism industry’ could come at a heavy cost for our environment. The deployment of a spacecraft into space would require a large amount of propellants in order to make it out of the Earth’s atmosphere. The fuels used in the rockets all emit large amounts of heat, which could possibly add excessive ozone to the troposphere, and act as a greenhouse gas, feasibly worsening our climate change problem.


Though journeying into space may present itself as an exhilarating opportunity for those who can afford it, one can’t help but be reminded of all the dominant complications and worries which still need resolving back here on Earth.