Why Does Bernie Sanders Think Billionaires Should Get Out of Space?
In his 1982 high school graduation speech, Amazon founder and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos regaled the audience with his pie-in-the-sky aspirations of building space hotels, amusement parks, and yachts to populate extraterrestrial colonies. Merely four decades later, he hasn’t quite achieved his lofty goal, but he launched himself (and friends) into space via his self-funded space company—something that hadn’t seemed possible for pretty much the entirety of human existence, up until a mad-dash billionaire traffic jam earlier this year.
Not so shabby given that space used to be only the province of astronauts who’d completed years of training, a select few of whom would eventually be lucky enough to see this pale blue dot from high up above. Now, it’s for Bezos, and Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson, and Captain Kirk/William Shatner. But no longer, if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) gets his way.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “It is not acceptable that the two wealthiest people in this country, Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos, take control of our space efforts to return to the Moon, […]This is not something for two billionaires to be directing.” pic.twitter.com/Bi4VcXi08T
— The Hill (@thehill) November 18, 2021
“Frankly, it is not acceptable…that the two wealthiest people in this country, Mr. [Elon] Musk and Mr. Bezos, take control of our space efforts to return to the moon,” said Sanders in a Senate floor speech criticizing components of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which might include a $10 billion government contract awarded to Blue Origin. “This is not something for two billionaires to be directing; this is something for the American people to be determining.”
It’s fair to be critical of the market-distorting effects that public-private partnerships between NASA and commercial space exploration companies may have (just as it’s fair to be critical of the way these companies’ satellite internet projects routinely sic the Federal Communications Commission on each other in attempts to suppress competition). But he’s not really fixating on that part when criticizing the bill on the Senate floor, instead launching yet another jeremiad against rich guys and their cool rockets.
In Sanders’ flawed view of the world, billionaires cause the problems and central planners cough up the solutions—contra observable, real-world results.
Competition in the realm of non-NASA rocket development “has reduced the typical space launch cost by a factor of 20,” according to a 2018 analysis that compared the cost of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch to a NASA launch. There’s good reason to believe that the course charted by commercial air travel—initially expensive, lengthy, less safe, and reserved for the elite few—will be mimic
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