Branson, Bezos and Musk look beyond space tourism

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This week, Jeff Bezos became the second billionaire to take a suborbital flight. But is that a quest for space tourism?

columnist Michael Hiltzik writes When it comes to the Billionaires Space Race, the stakes are much higher. In an interview for “LA Times Today” Hiltzik shared the details with the presenter Lisa McRee.


What you need to know

  • The space race between billionaires Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk reached a milestone when Branson rode a Virgin Galactic spaceship about 50 miles up into the wild blue over there
  • Blue Origin and SpaceX are also in an intense battle with each other and the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin
  • In April, NASA’s Inspector General estimated that the space agency could spend up to $ 86 billion on Artemis, a mission to return to the moon, by the end of fiscal 2025, if Congress applies the money
  • Artemis isn’t the only government program that awards contracts to private space companies; There is also a competition for satellite launches and for crew and payloads to the International Space Station

In addition to Bezos, two other key players are part of the space race.

“You have Sir Richard Branson, a British entrepreneur who has many businesses, an airline, an orbital satellite company, and he has Virgin Galactic which he thinks is growing into a big space tourism company. Then Elon Musk, he has SpaceX, which has become a prime contractor for NASA and the Department of Defense. He’s not talking about stepping up himself, but he wants to get in the space tourism business. And I think he bought a ticket at Richard Branson’s company. They’re all billionaires. All of you have obviously amassed packages of money. And that’s how they spend their wealth, “said Hiltzik.

Branson recently launched a world of “equal access to space” for people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. However, the ticket prices are very high.

“Anyone who has looked at the space tourism market thinks that it is a niche market at best. Branson currently sells tickets for $ 250,000 per trip. It’s not something that the average person has the money to do, or likely thinks it’s going to make a lot of money. The real ball game here is in contracts with NASA, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies. NASA alone is projected to spend about $ 86 billion on its next manned mission by 2025. This is supposed to be a mission called Artemis.It is a mission to bring humans back to the surface of the moon by 2028. For this, Musk and Bezos, and to a lesser extent Branson, all compete. They compete for billions of dollars in government contracts like Lockheed and Martin Marietta and Grumman and all these other traditional air carriers do. They are kept very afloat by the promise of large federal contracts, “added Hiltzik.

Hiltzik says companies have been under pressure from Congress to privatize their efforts.

“The idea was that if you give private companies more leeway and get more contracts with them, they will have an incentive to cut the cost of space travel far. And I think that happened back to Project Mercury, and even before that, private companies were always very involved in that effort. NASA signed contracts with aerospace companies to do the hard work, even though NASA had much more control over what was done than in the future, “Hiltzik said.

Hiltzik says that in addition to three billionaires, traditional space companies are also involved.

“There’s a company called United Launch Alliance, which is essentially Boeing and Partners. This is a major competitor for the same contracts. So it’s not about giving individual civilians a spin into space. It is really exclusively dedicated to government contracts, ”said Hiltzik said.

Regarding the race to be a billionaire in space, scientists have different views about its productivity and its contribution to space travel.

“Scientists who were basically in the field of manned space travel are all for it because they talk their book. That’s what they do. That’s what they studied for their careers, and that’s what they are.” But scientists who are interested in exploring the moon, seeing the exploration of Mars not only as a distraction, but possibly as a disadvantage of their activity. To send it into space, the mission consists almost exclusively of keeping people alive and healthy, “said Hiltzik.

It is the science of determining what is actually on the moon and what Mars is made of. And what we’ve seen in maybe the last 15 years is that robots and remote rovers are much better than humans at this type of exploration. First, they’re cheaper; The missions cost a lot less money because you don’t have to worry about protecting people and making sure they don’t die or get injured in space. And they are perfectly capable of doing all of the exploration and research and sending back all the data that research scientists want to see. The most amazing images we’ve got of the surface of Mars have come to us from Mars rovers and distant Mars missions. The most interesting information about the surface of Mars and even what is under the surface, we did not get from groups of humans, but from robots. And that is really much more effective, much cheaper, than sending people into space. “

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