The Billionaires’ Race for Space

The Billionaires’ Race for Space

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, July 22

Jeff Bezos’ journey to space took 10 minutes and 10 seconds and cost about $550 million per minute. The flight came only nine days after British billionaire Richard Branson took his own flight to space aboard a spacecraft designed by his company, Virgin Galactic. Billionaire Elon Musk, a founder of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla, also announced his upcoming plan to fly to space. Branson’s and Bezos’ trips onboard their spacecraft, designed by their respective companies, sparked wide interest and controversy. Of course, there were those who shared the two men’s sense of adventure and considered their flights a pivotal step in mankind’s progress toward space tourism. But there were also many voices who spoke up against the move and cited it as a waste of money that would have served a much worthier cause had it been spent on treating disease, hunger, poverty, or climate change, or funding scientific research and study. US Congressman Earl Blumenauer criticized the environmental impact of these space flights and demanded that Bezos’ and Bronson’s tickets be taxed the same way that regular airfare is taxed. Blumenauer said he would promote legislation that would impose a tax to offset the pollution caused by these flights, which are expected to increase over the next two years. Other critics claimed that the companies that made these two men billionaires and allowed them to take these trips, have evaded taxes and exploited their workers. Bezos’ Amazon generates hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues yet pays very little, or nothing, in taxes. For example, the tech giant generated sales income of €44 billion in Europe last year but didn’t pay business taxes on any of these earnings on the grounds that it posted losses. In America, too, the company faced criticism for not paying sufficient taxes in the past few years, and for two consecutive years, it has paid zero federal taxes to the US government. This led to an agreement last month between G7 states to impose taxes of no less than 15% on giant companies, a step directed mainly at companies like Amazon. But this criticism is unlikely to prevent these billionaires from implementing their crazy ideas and fantasies of space travel. They look at things in a different way, and they have an adventurous spirit, which makes them talk with excessive confidence about their projects. Following his nearly 50-minute flight in space, Branson said, “We’re here to make space accessible to everyone, and we’re going to turn the next generation of dreamers into the next generation of astronauts.” But will these billionaires really put space within everyone’s reach? How many people can afford $250,000 or more for a ticket? Bezos, Branson, and Musk speak of space exploration as a potential solution for the disasters facing Earth. They’re promoting a wild fantasy of human settlement in space. But the question remains: What is easier and more realistic: escaping our problems by fleeing to outer space or addressing the crises we’ve caused on Earth and ensuring the survival of our planet? –Osman Mirghani (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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