Space tourism is not just a pleasure ride. vaccine

Maybe you’ve wondered like me: Does it make sense to take wealthy people like Jeff Bezos and “Star Trek” actor William Shatner into space?

Wendy Whitman Cobb, an Air Force political scientist for space, says yes. Our conversation challenged my vision of space projects, like those of Bezos and Elon Musk, that envision a future far from Earth.

If you shouted “midlife crisis” when Bezos touched down in space last year or asked why Musk’s SpaceX company has garnered so much attention, this one’s for you.

Whitman Cobb, who earned a Ph.D. in political science, said that tourist travel was the first step in transforming space travel from outdoor to routine. And he believes the orbits are a proving ground for amateurish ambitions—including colonizing Mars, as Musk envisions, or colonizing space on Earth to support more people and industry, as That’s what Bezos wishes.

To me, they sound like the escapist fantasies of billionaires. But Whitman Cobb’s optimism is a useful counterpoint to this author’s regular warnings that technology is not a magical solution to our problems. Whitman Cobb agrees, but added that technology has sometimes done magical things in space exploration.

To roll back the past decade, corporations such as SpaceX, Bezos’s Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and New Zealand-based startup Rocket Lab have tried 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 about the proper role of governments versus corporations in space, but Whitman Cobb believes those companies make rote space tasks cheaper and easier. This frees NASA to dream big on projects like chasing moon colonies and exploring deep space.

SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have also pioneered space pleasure cruises. They’re rides of joy for a few people, but Whitman Cobb said they helped improve the safety of space travel and fueled excitement for exploration beyond our planet.

“The more ‘normal’ people we see flying in space, the more likely the public will see it and be excited by it,” she told me. “This public opinion is key to a lot of things that these companies as well as the US government are doing in space.”

However, the end goal goes far beyond tourism. Musk and Bezos envision taking people into space or polluting industries or creating a Mars civilization. I worry that this is an excuse to ignore the problems on earth.

Whitman Cobb understood why I asked if they were reckless delusions, but she also didn’t want us to lose sight of the potential benefits of dreaming. The history of space exploration, she said, is devious and high-minded visions don’t necessarily have to be achievable and helpful.

American missions to the Moon in the 1960s were motivated by a desire to prove American superiority over the Soviet Union. Still, nationalist space missions helped lead to the development of the tiny electronics we use every day, improved health technology, and even gave us memory foam. The last decade’s boom in commercial spaceflight has reduced the cost of space access and enabled novel ideas such as small-scale satellites to map Earth from above.

Whitman Cobb said that advanced technology developed by commercial space companies for spaceflight could similarly reach other areas that help us.

A self-described space geek, she also said that the awe of space was a worthy target. “It also scratches an itch, so to speak, humanity’s longing to explore, discover, and understand the world around us,” she said.

I asked Whitman Cobb if she would like to live on Mars. “Absolutely,” she replied. “Maybe not forever.”

I’m not giving up all my doubts about rocket tourism or the space fantasies of billionaires. When corporations play a larger role in the space, they may hoard inventions rather than benefit the public. Space tourism also harms the environment, and it is unclear how worthwhile space travel and commerce is. We know that technologies, even helpful ones, have drawbacks.

Whitman Cobb wants us to hold that skepticism along with the excitement. He said the history of space travel shows that selfish dreams can benefit all of us.

Shira Ovide is a technology columnist with The New York Times

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