Why are we not all gripped by enthusiasm for The Billionaire Space Race?
The battle between Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to ‘’slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of God’’, as Ronald Reagan might say, hasn’t quite caught the public’s imagination.
Maybe that’s because we’ve actually seen it all before.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Europe was the economic, industrial and military powerhouse of the world. Being the dominant powers of the world, Europeans saw no reason to prove themselves. They found excessively tall buildings to be distasteful, not in keeping with the splendid architecture of the great European capitals. Complaints Queen Victoria about the height of some buildings in London led to height restrictions which lasted a hundred years later.
However, the fastest growing city in the world at the time was New York, a place which perfectly reflected the economic giant the United States was becoming. From 1900 onwards, the race began to hold the ultimate status symbol of the world’s tallest building.
Major corporations and the New York’s richest men all vied for the status and prestige skyscrapers offered. The Singer Building, the Metropolitan Life Tower, the Woolworth Building, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center all held the title. In Chicago, it was Sears Tower
Nowadays, a look at the current list of the world’s tallest buildings tells its own story. The vast majority are in Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Countries with a point to prove.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the battleground became English football. Owning a Premier League club was an expensive status symbol for many before the penny dropped that there was serious money to be made.
Now it seems like not even skyscrapers can’t take the billionaires far enough off the ground, and football club owners now seem to be making money, which takes the fun out of it somewhat. billionaires are now competing in a new space race.
Branson, a serial adventurer, was the first to make it to zero-G during his July 11th flight. Bezos is following today, July 20th. Musk’s plans are less developed, but his Space X company is planning on blanketing the earth with high speed internet access. He also, apparently, has plans to colonise Mars.
Where it will all end up is not clear, but one thing for sure is that, just like the battle to build skyscrapers led to rapid advancements in architecture and construction the Billionaire’s Space Race will led to new developments and new discoveries in space technology.
One of these potential advancements could be safety.
In order to make a viable business out of commercial space travel, both Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Bezos’ Blue Origin, will have to take a 3% fatality rate for space travel down to a tiny fraction. People won’t want to fly on a craft that kills 1 in every 33 of its passengers.
The billionaires may also be a bit worried about the underwhelming public interest in their antics. Branson, in particular, needs lots of publicity and media coverage to attract investment. Shortly after Virgin Galactic’s flight on July 11th, the company began a bid to raise another $500 million.
There were also many questions about how high Branson’s craft flew, as while 86km is technically in space, it didn’t go into the Earth’s orbit.
Branson was first, but Bezos is expected to reach 106km high.
Just like with the first skyscrapers, we’re all left wondering ‘how high?’ and ‘how safe?’