Space Cowboys

Well, today there will be another Billionaire Blastoff. First went Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic; today will come Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Musk will come last, but as much as he is dislikable, and he really is, he has sent a rocket into real space to the ISS. He just wasn’t on it, which is okay in the Billionaire Blastoff races.

There is a lot of discussion in the social media and press as to whether these vanity flights are worth it, or whether the relative money should be spent on domestic efforts and climate change, child poverty etc. Strikes me that is a valid discussion.

It is pretty hard to argue with the “spend your cash now” on this or that. Very valid arguments. The side that, sure it is vanity by these Billionaire Blastoffers, but there is value here long term, is also right. Maybe it is not such a simple dichotomy.

I will also add, that as a former pilot, I more love the fact that actual pilots had to drive Virgin Galactictic. Bezos vehicle is the proverbial space monkeys in pre-Mercury criticisms.

There are a multitude of questions on the Billionaire Blastoffs. All, and maybe more, valid to be discussed. Personally only, I think the net good in advancement of engineering and US space capability militates in the positivities column. But that is not an easy question.

Use this thread for any launch things. Featured above is the great Steve Miller. And with plaudits to our once, and forever, Roving Reporter Rosalind.

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121 replies
    • Philip munger says:

      In college academic politics, my favorite boss called this sort of stuff “prick measuring contests.”

  1. bmaz says:

    Absolutely. But what beyond that? If NASA has been choked off from such big scale things, is not the private sector, no matter their personal motives, useful? This is the question I ask. And, honestly, I do not know the real answer.

    • lastoneawake says:

      Slapping their logo on technology that NASA spent 50 years creating, testing an refining is not an advance, an improvement or an innovation.

      • Fran of the North says:

        I’ll push back: In what way is building Falcon, a self-landing rocket slapping a logo on NASA’s work? Virgin Unity’s feathering?

        If Bezos was repurposing a Saturn 1B, your argument has legs.

        Little if any in this discussion. Where exactly did NASA

        Allow me the liberty to restate your premise:

        Why should Boeing get credit? The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is just slapping a logo on the Wright Brothers work. .

  2. pdaly says:

    I am hopeful the technology used to perfect these launches into space will produce benefits to society as a whole. Worried, however, that those benefits won’t come as free gifts of the billionaires but rather products society can purchase or license for a fee.

    Learning that merely traveling to the edge of space qualifies one as an astronaut made me feel bad for the NASA astronauts. The Virgin Galactic crew did have scientific and flight credentials, but Branson seemed merely there for the ride. Branson obviously collected the money to make the blastoff possible, but I wish earning astronaut wings was more rigorous than merely being a space passenger.

    The term “Billionaire Blastoffs” reminds me of my 1960s toy Billy Blastoff.
    Perhaps “Billi” Blastoff dolls are not far behind.

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, Billy Blastoff was exactly the genesis of my little term. The technology, whether perfection of rockets, or whatever, would seem to be a good thing. The Virgin part seems different because real pilots actually fly the thing. With Bezos’ capsule, there was none of that, it was literally a “dead head”. Sure, both were just there for the ride. That was their dream and money, so be it; but doesn’t that go back to the initial question of whether it is worth it at all? If it is, then I guess each one of these Billy Blastoffs ought take a vanity flight.

      As to the “astronaut” thing, yes. Although the Mercury folks were always termed that, some did no more than these folks, or the X-15 pilots (note Neil Armstrong was prominently one of those before going to the moon).

  3. Molly Pitcher says:

    I have a problem with Musk and Bezos doing this with what is essentially our money. They should be paying taxes and decent salaries before investing in this vanity project.

    It is disturbing to me that Musk, who self proclaimed that he is on the autism spectrum and not good at understanding others, has proven an inability to have any regard for all of the people who have been killed in the self-driving Teslas. So what is he risking to get civilians into space ?

    I am not sure that Capitalists should be unleashed on space. They have a pretty dismal record of behaving in the public good. The government space race investment in private and university R & D led to many scientific developments which secondarily benefited mankind. Do you really believe that any scientific developments that stem from Bezos or Musk’s work will filter out into society ? They are not going to share their competitive advantages.

    Irrationally, I don’t harbor these feeling about Branson, but it might be because he is not a US citizen, and he has given generously to charity.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I agree with @anandwrites, that every billionaire is a societal failure. I am not in favor of the increasing privatization of technology, public university-funded or private corporation, whether epidemic drug cures or rockets to the moon. In many cases, its paid for with public money. It does not spur innovation, it stifles it. The abusive monopoly-based IP system makes what is developed absurdly expensive, the resultant opportunity costs are hard to calculate.

      Branson, for example – like most of the super wealthy – gives to charity to launder his image. It vastly extends his patronage network and it’s much cheaper than paying taxes, which he hasn’t done in the UK for donkey’s years.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Branson and his peers will not forget to deduct the marketing expenses of their vanity vaventures, even the cost of filming his fake bike ride in the desert and the picture he gave to Stephen Colbert that he did not take into space.

        • Wm. Boyce says:

          Exactly right, they should be paying taxes commensurate w/their obscene incomes. The wages paid to employees are a function of capitalism, i.e., get the most for the least out of these bastards, and then discard them. See Mr. “Spaceman” Bezos’s own opinions if you doubt that.

    • timbo says:

      WWTTD? (“What would Ted Turner do?”)

      Have to agree with you that it is a gamble. But it’s a gamble either way really, isn’t it? We could wait for government to get it right or we can watch capitalism leap ahead with the current regulated exploration model and increased efficiency from the profit motive.

      This is the thing, you can’t get into space if you don’t have tons of dough to play with somehow. And that reflects A LOT of labor and expertise, years and decades of training and tech development that is incredibly focused, etc. It’s a conundrum. You have to grow that expertise in a directed fashion currently, otherwise space becomes increasingly dangerous from a number of different angels. And since safety is now one of the main parameters with the Us government’s regulation, it’s a bit of both in the US now: capitalist efficiency played against a background of safety as driving factors. Of course, the initial big customers are government(s) initially, so it can’t really be hyper-capitalist driven in some key areas…and this condition is likely to remain so, when it comes to deep-space at least, for some time to come… unless there are incredible new breakthroughs in things like interplanetary drive systems, AI capabilities, in-space manufacturing and mining capabilities, etc. Most of those things seem to be at least decades away at this point. If that was not the case, we’d already be on the moon, manufacturing materials from mined extraterrestrial resources, already have a manned mission to Mars under our belts, etc, etc.

      About the only place we’re successfully doing somewhat well at now is with solar power harvesting in space…and the tech there isn’t as far as long as it needs to be to really make a big shift in the human occupation of space possible due to lagging in so many of the key areas that could take advantage of that solar power. So, it is more likely that AI tech will be where it is at when it comes to any meaningful exploration and ‘human expansion’ in our solar system in the near to intermediate future.

      Getting a human being to Mars and back is going to be the next measure of human capabilities in space. Until humans do something like that, living in near space is going to be limited to Earth orbit and the Moon (at best), much as it has been for the past several decades.

      I personally think (as do many of us here, of course) that one big thing that we all have to consider is that until we have tech advanced enough to not spoil any new extraterrestrial environment we find ourselves in very quickly by precipitous exploitation we’re pretty much better off trying to save our own planet as best we can… as putting humans into deep space just means that we’d be using up/wasting deep space resources there too inefficiently to have any lasting positive impact on the direction of human survival generally.

      • Bruce Olsen says:

        “capitalist efficiency”?

        Get thee behind me, lackey of the capitalist running dogs.

        There’s no conundrum: the GOP wants to enable their rentier donors to make some easy money off of space.

        Luckily, the economics of serious manufacturing anywhere off-earth will remain unfavorable for a long time. Fine with me.

  4. Lawnboy says:

    FWIW, I have been a Burt Rutan fan for ever. He could have easily sat back and rested after building a plane that flew around the world non stop (using one single engine) and one tank of gas! Way ahead of his time in many ways during Regans time.

    But no, he enters this race, what a giant. Read his book Voyageur. Branson is up front but this is all Burt.

  5. tbob says:

    Just my humble opinion, but the only benefit to our earthbound society would have been one-way trips.

    • Troutwaxer says:

      “When Bezos goes up
      Who cares if he comes down?
      That’s not my department
      Says Werner von Braun!”

      (Riffing off Tom Lehrer.)

  6. Bobby Gladd says:

    I agree with all of the skeptics here, and I am certainly no Jeff Bezos fan, but I’m just glad no one died.

    Did anyone else have the reaction while watching that rocket go up, “gee, that looks like a big dildo?”

  7. Raven Eye says:

    If, for this discussion, I was going to try plotting Good/Evil on a +/-10 scale, I wonder if I could ever end up farther than +/-2 on that scale. Every time I take a look at it from a different point of argument, I seem to end up on one side of that mid-point or the other — until I take the next look at it.

    However, I’ve recently taken to looking at some of these issues from the perspective that perhaps Billionaires are the real Anarchists. In this case, beyond the Billy (Elon/Jeff/Richard) Blastoff imagery with all of those “Freudian” associations, I do wonder if the sotto voce message is that the government has no business in the space business. Just as in health care, education, national parks, prisons, transportation, telecommunications, science, food safety, etc., we’d all be better off just leaving important things like the management of space in the capable hands of the oligarchs.

      • Raven Eye says:

        Naw. She’s a bauble. The kind of toy that might have been attractive to Soviet style communists who would use such “things” to show that communism was superior to western representative democracies. (“My hydro plant is better than your hydro plant. My stretch limo is better than your stretch limo.”)

        These new billionaires don’t want anything to get in the way of or filter their access to the controls of a shell government. That includes not letting voters get in their way.

    • bmaz says:

      That is the question though, no? If the government is not going to do it, is it a bad thing that rich people do?

      • Raven Eye says:

        Indeed.

        Hmmm.

        So is this space thing an exemplar? Or a terminal objective? Is this how they demonstrate their competence, and support their broader goals? Should we be signing up for Democracy Prime?

        (For all your occasional bombast, you can also be very sneaky.)

        • bmaz says:

          In answer to all those questions….I have no idea. But they are the right questions. Where is that line? Space, relatively speaking, originally could not have been done without the government doing it. But now what?

          And it is not just space and rockets etc. There are a lot more things that government used to do, that they are not doing so much now. Can’t tax, and as of last couple of days, the GOP has decreed that you cannot even effectively collect the taxes that should be collected (i.e. they will not permit the funding of the IRS to do so). So, what now?

          • OldTulsaDude says:

            Well, we could give it all back to the native people – the Comanche weren’t big on taxing.

          • Raven Eye says:

            A ton of stuff started with the government — and even the military. Those West Point engineering graduates did some serious work, back in the day. There is an Army general who, to this day, is both the Chief Engineer and the Chief of Engineers.

            Times like these do induce a level of reflection. It would be nice to turn it into discussion because there are arguments pro and con regarding our current situation(s). The oligarch/anarchists would really like some of the messy parts of government disappear. And there seems to be a big chunk of Senate and House members who would be happy to help them leave money on the table by crippling tax enforcement and collection. Crazy.

            Meanwhile…Why do we allow extraction of public resources (minerals, petroleum, and timber) and then let the extractors own that stuff? Why not let them bid on the extraction and storage of our resources and then act, under supervision, as the sales agents of our “stuff”.

            All a bit mind numbing. If you gather up some white boards and colored markers and arrange for a good taco truck, I’ll bring the beer (I’m thinking Shiner Bock and Zywiec).

      • BobCon says:

        The government will do it, though. New Mexico has dumped $200 million into Branson’s effort.

        I think the trend is going to be just like the NFL and Hollywood filming — huge taxpayer subsidies with almost zero control.

    • P J Evans says:

      I’ve seen elseweb the statement that the real anarchists are the wealthy – they don’t want laws to apply to *them*, just to the rest of us.

    • Fran of the North says:

      Reminds one of the gold rush, doesn’t it? He who claims the best ground first prevents access to others and reaps the lions share of the upside.

      Taking your ‘leave management of space to the pros’ argument one step further: If you can eliminate the public space effort, then there is no public entity who can prevent you from any commercial opportunities that arise.

      And that is the definition of “unfettered oligopoly…er…ah,..oh yeah…what is best for the common man.”

  8. jonf says:

    So what taxes does the wealthiest man in the world pay? And what benefit did this flight of ego give to mankind?

    I am happy everyone got home safely to a waiting press conference. They are calling it historic. That’s nice.

  9. yogarhythms says:

    Bz,
    Steve Miller says we are all space cowboys n cowgirls “ bet you weren’t ready for that”. We look up from our rock and see space. We are in space orbiting our star. Thankfully safety prevailed.

  10. ernesto1581 says:

    Let us pause to consider the magnitude of our heroes’ achievements. Rocketing to some 53 miles above the earth, Branson fell only 14 miles short of the altitude record set by the X-15 rocket plane (also dropped from a mother ship) some 58 years ago, in 1963. Likewise, the flight of the richest man on earth, while motoring out a little further, still fell short of Joseph Walker’s mark of 67 miles high, sitting in, as you say, bmaz, a monkey ship. Two naughty boys standing on a curb, seeing who piss furthest across the street.

    The big difference, of course, is that in those years of relative postwar equality, you couldn’t turn a profit taking rich people on joyrides to space. Now, you can. That’s progress!

    Buy your tickets now! Must be this high to get on ride. (insert carnival warning here.)

      • Justlp says:

        I loved that too. And Bmaz, I feel similarly. The technology coming out of this new space race is pretty amazing, although the fact that these people legally pay essentially no taxes also makes my blood boil. I also share other commenter’s concerns about the fact that it will all be commercialized unlike so many of Nasa’s achievements which were shared for the greater good in many cases.

        I also used to fly (gliders & a tail-dragger), and what I wouldn’t give for the chance to see the earth as these lucky people did.

        And I loved both of the Steve Miller songs shared, thanks!

        • bmaz says:

          Completely agree. If I had enough money, I probably still would not spend it on that. But, whoo boy, would I also love to see the curvature of the earth and view all those people have now witnessed. Whatever else one makes of all these folks, it probably really is somewhat life changing, and in a good way.

  11. John Paul Jones says:

    This isn’t real spaceflight, so the tech, impressive as it is (1950s style tail-down landings) is nowhere near as impressive as, for example, the shuttle (partly based on the old Dyna-Soar idea). These are sub-orbital hops which don’t even go high enough to need a heat-shield for re-entry. Gives the term “high-fliers” a more literal meaning. The point is to set up sales to the “public” and make money, that is, I don’t see either of the billionaires as extending their research into orbital flights. Look at it that way and they’re proposing to set up super-expensive roller-coaster type thrills. Billionaire bandits from around the globe will book flights for a quick PR cleanse, deflecting attention from their labor practises. Apologies for sounding so cynical, but I really can’t see the technology going much further than guaranteeing the safety of the flights, certainly not extending it into orbital flights, orbiting hotels, moon and Mars tourism, etc etc. Reminds me of all those 1950s SF novels where a billionaire funds a space program because the government is too cheap to do.

    • BobCon says:

      The basic problem is that putting humans in space is a dead end.

      Colonization of Mars in any significant way isn’t happening. The twin dangers of long zero G flights and radiation mean that it won’t happen. It’s not sustainable.

      What is potentially feasible is robotic exploration and development. The costs would be a fraction of human-focused efforts and the technological applications on earth would be vastly greater.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Good place to send those new dancing robots, better than the streets of Portland, Chicago, or Afghanistan.

  12. P J Evans says:

    happy Moon Day!
    Am happy for Wally Funk. Not for the billionaires and their toys. They need a lot less money and a lot more humanity.
    How about lotteries for trips on their toys, so non-billionaires have a shot at “astronaut”?

  13. Stephen Calhoun says:

    Because irony died some time ago, the billionaire space jumpers, easily remark about the cosmic insights evoked by seeing our warming planet from ‘space.’ Something about being part of the solution. . .?

    For me this was balanced out by Hubble coming back to its senses!

  14. Molly Pitcher says:

    Jeff Bezos just created a courage and civility award and gave Van Jones $100M to give to charity as he sees fit. Van Jones is accepting it as I write this.

    There is a second recipient they have not announced yet.

    Talk about sanitizing an image.

  15. Jim Roy says:

    Useful innovation is a given with any large difficult endeavor. The trouble with “big scale” projects is that we don’t get to do them all. The only rational measure of one then, is the opportunity cost of not doing another. So the public/private question that counts isn’t who owns the Velcro when we’re done. It’s who ought decide what shot is wise to take in the first place.

    I’m not sure that is well answered yet either. Our Three Amigos here don’t show any imagination, much less wisdom. On the other hand, we knew in the 60’s of at least three separate global existential threats: climate change, pandemic, & catastrophic loss of natural diversity. Yet the public, via a democratic system that arguably worked better then than now, chose to go to the moon anyway, in what amounted to a national dick off with the Soviets not unlike this one among our Billionaires.

    • Kenster42 says:

      Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos don’t show any imagination. Yeah, Musk only invented online money transfer and affordable, luxury electric cars. Jeff Bezos created the modern e-commerce marketplace. I know it’s fashionable to hate these guys, but c’mon dude.

        • Kenster42 says:

          Branson certainly did, that was embarrassing for him and the rest of us. But all three have been quite serious about space for a very long time and both Musk and Bezos have been developing their respective products without the “me too” thing.

          Unfortunately, as you can clearly see on this very post, the vitriol and hatred of these guys even from smart people blinds them to the fact that all three have made significant contributions not only to commercial crewed spaceflight, but also uncrewed spaceflight. Love him or hate him, Musk’s Space X is an actual, successful, 20 year old commercial company with multiple divisions that are working in space every single day.

          Side note – yes, it was definitely a dick-off with the Soviets, but the American Spaceflight program has generated countless innovations that benefit our lives every day. Anyone who tells the public differently is gaslighting us with their own narrative and is not to be trusted.

          • Jim Roy says:

            Sure. I wouldn’t argue with any of that. In fact I didn’t.
            My point is, that giant stupid projects can’t be justified by their spin offs. Not when the world is in desperate need of giant non-stupid projects.

  16. Ian says:

    Having worked on Bezos divorce mansion for a minute (he had all the workers gather in a small tent at the start of the pandemic so he could walk through), I was bummed he didn’t decide to colonize the moon. Also, a billionaire getting caught with a dick pic completely obliterates the idea that being rich the result of intelligence. As to the original question, I think sending stuff to space will result in tech advancements that you can be damned sure will be used to widen the gulf between rich and poor. So, neutral?

  17. drouse says:

    I would like to mention that the various treaties governing the use of space are getting really long in the tooth and revisiting them would be a good idea. Just letting anyone launch any number of things they want to is not going to work in medium term let alone the long term. China has announced it’s intention to put a up constellation larger than the combined size of our proposed ones. Some sort of increased international cooperation is going to be required to limit the risks of losing the use of the lower orbitals to catastrophic chain reactions. We are already having regulatory failure here by agencies too slow to adapt and frankly the wrong ones to do the regulating. I mean, why the fuck is the FCC the one to approve these things? Outer space doesn’t belong just to us and some external constraints might be good.

    Just as an aside, Branson’s subsidiary Virgin Orbit has successfully put payloads into orbit. Not to the ISS but still into orbit. Virgin Orbit will never be a major launch platform due to payload limitations but it fills a very useful niche in the launch market. That leaves Bezos with just his sub-orbital phallic symbol. Blue Origin was supposed to delvelop a new heavy lift booster as well as provide engines to UAL and the SLS program. All that exists of the New Glen rocket is a fairing half, not even the whole fairing. As it stands right now, the number of flight ready engines delivered is zero. This is a company that was founded several years before SpaceX.

  18. gmoke says:

    It was probably inevitable that private enterprise take over at least some of space and good on those who do it well.

    Bezos, Branson, and Musk are living out their teenage daydreams and, since it’s at least putatively their dime (probably filched from our tax coffers but nonetheless…), let them have their fun.

    However, Bezos, Branson, and Musk are not at all as smart as they think they are. If they were truly good businessmen, they’d have already figured out a way to house, clothe, feed, and gainfully employ all of us on this planet and still be able to make money on it. That they haven’t is indicative of their lack of imagination and will.

    As R Buckminster Fuller put it, long ago now, “Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” Any of these 3 billionaires could support the resuscitation of Fuller’s World Game to accomplish those goals for much less than their little “space” jaunts:
    https://worldgameworkshop.org

    Personally, I’d like to see an online/all the time version of the World Game for all those who are inclined to work for the benefit of all. But I ain’t holding my breath.

    • P J Evans says:

      They’d be treating their employees a lot better, and putting more money into social/environmental cleanup and the like. They sure weren’t paying attention to what it took to get to the Moon, or even long-term orbital facilities, never mind Mars.

  19. Leoghann says:

    As a white, male boomer, I voraciously consumed all Heinlein and Asimov had to offer as a child, and really wanted to go to space to see it for myself. Then I got to see the Space Race in its entirety. If I had the financial resources any of these three men do, I would definitely have a trip to space, or “space,” on my bucket list. So it’s hard for me to fault these three billionaires. In the last two decades, Musk, the man people love to hate, has greatly contributed to development of workable, non-fossil-fuel power, and especially transportation. Bezos has revolutionized the retail industry. Branson has helped make it okay to “have fun with your money,” and put charitable giving in the realm of expectation from the wealthy. All three have piggybacked on previous developments BECAUSE THAT WHAT SCIENCE DOES. Future developments will no doubt piggyback on any innovations that come out of any of these three endeavors.

    I was going to contrast Bezos’ spending millions or billions on riding into space with McKenzie Scott’s annual giving away of billions of dollars of her Amazon proceeds. Then, Jeff announced his two gifts of $100M to other philanthropists. Maybe, instead of just a Billionaire Blastoff Bonanza, there can be a race of philanthropic giving among the ultra-rich.

    • Leoghann says:

      Even though none of these Billys went higher than anyone has done before, they have proven that man can Fly Like an Eagle.

    • Rayne says:

      “…there can be a race of philanthropic giving among the ultra-rich.”

      Yeah, we can ensure there is such a race. It’s called taxes. Bezos is just asking to be taxed when he has the balls to thanks employees for helping him achieve his personal goal. I’m sure Amazon employees didn’t have Bezos’ dick-in-space in mind when they took their job.

    • Bruce Olsen says:

      Musk, the man people love to hate, has greatly contributed to development of workable, non-fossil-fuel power
      — thanks to that those who supported the fossil fuel industry (and mocked Jimmy Carter for putting solar panels on the WH) you’re correct on this one.

      Bezos has revolutionized the retail industry.
      — Do you work there? Do you have any idea how he treats people? Not just in the warehouses, or the drivers: he refused to pay business class flights for SFBA-to-China flights where the flyer, who was responsible for one of the Kindles, was expected to step off a 20-hour flight directly into a business meeting, and back on the plane at the end of the business day. Find enough people you can push that hard, and you may find the “revolutionizing retail” is a little easier than you seem to think.

      Branson has helped make it okay to “have fun with your money,”
      — OK, then. I will say the pre-flight experience on a SF-London flight I took was by far the best on any flight ever. Great fun. And the cabin lighting was pretty cool, too.

      • P J Evans says:

        I have yet to see any reports/stories on those batteries/power systems after they’ve been installed and in use for more than a few weeks.

        His cars have a distressing tendency to catch fire without warning, and it’s difficult to get repairs because all the parts go to making new cars – there are people who have Teslas that have been in the shop almost since being picked up.

        So far, the only good stuff Musk has done is his rockets.

        As for Bezos – I’ve seen more than a few stories about people working long days for barely-living wages, in poor working conditions. He knows about that, so do his underlings, and *none* of them seem capable of improving working conditions.

        I understand that Branson’s train system performed so poorly that it was shut down.

  20. scribe says:

    I have no problem with their spending their money on it. It’s their money to spend, just like it’s my $2 for the coffee I’ll go out to get after posting this comment. The future involves space travel, even if the time scale is such that we won’t see much of it. Either we can get in on it through government, private investment or we can be left behind, shat upon by those who do it (I’m looking at you, Red China).
    As with most other things, if you throw money at something you’ll get more of it. To those whining we should spend the billionaires’ money on child poverty or whatever other Worthy Cause du Jour is their favorite, I remind them: throw money at something and you’ll get more of it. We did that in the Sixties – I watched it happen – where we threw money at “social problems” and got more of them.
    A fundamental thing people just don’t get is this: going to space, once the decision is made, is primarily an engineering problem. The USG decided during WWII they were going to put a man on the moon and, after sussing out the nature of the problems involved, figured it would take about 25 years. We know this because after Armstrong landed in July 1969 William Stephenson (“Intrepid”) sent Roald Dahl (one of his spies/agents in wartime DC) a telegram congratulating him for having reported that decision and prediction in 1944. Once the decision to go forward was made, it was just a matter of doing the basic science and engineering to make it happen. And happen it did.
    The problems of poverty, abuse – all the social problems people want to throw money at – are problems of consciousness. Unless and until people decide, on an individual basis, for themselves, that they no longer desire to be poor, to abuse or be abused, or whatever ill you can think of, and then live that decision, their problems will never go away no matter how much government money is thrown at them. I see immigrants in my neighborhood, who landed here with very little, going out, hustling up jobs and working two of them, covering their bills and making sure their kids learn actual useful stuff in school. Because they decided they would no longer be poor, oppressed or whatever drove them to leave “home”. At the same time I see locals born here staring woefully at their navels and decrying their poor lot, drinking themselves into oblivion and demanding government help.
    Bezos, Branson and Musk (sounds like a bad law firm) earned the money they’re burning by giving people what they want – direct sale and cheap delivery of just about any material thing, flights to where-ever, electronic payment and now battery cars and such. If you don’t want them to have money, don’t buy what they’re selling.

    • P J Evans says:

      Maybe they can spend some of that money on better pay and working conditions for their employees.

    • timbo says:

      “Problems of consciousness”? WTF does that even mean? Some people are living on the street in the city I live in. Their problems are more a problem of the greedy lapping up as much as they can for themselves…and to heck with the rest of us “lazy people” who don’t want to work for “obviously smarter folks who are successful—it’s obvious!”. And I might add that some of us no longer want to be even near such people for very long, as all “the brilliant success” is killing our planet? Or hadn’t you noticed?

      And as for the “engineering problem” that doesn’t mean that its possible. What’s your solution for making sure that our planet doesn’t turn into a burnt cinder in a few hundred years of “brilliantly lead continuous growth”? Is it “100% employment”? Is that going to save humanity and Earth? What are your ideas there? That somehow all will be miraculously well while the “truly successful” waste all of our resources trying to get away from…’us’?

    • Bruce Olsen says:

      “You want to know what this [the war on drugs] was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
      –John Ehrlichman

      I lived through this. It became the template for the GOP, and it still is.

      • P J Evans says:

        And since Reagan was governor at the time, and was fine with those policies at state level, my siblings and I won’t vote R.

  21. mospeck says:

    bmaz, they are overall good. Jeff and Richard are employing rocket scientists and building great interest in the space tourism industry, while Elon* is building rockets.
    *spaceX did a 2 sec static fire on 3 raptor booster 3 mon night. They’re now thinking about a 9 raptor follow on for B3. Trouble is they have a 29 raptor booster 4 + ship 20 coming right up for a suborbital try to Hawaii in a month or two and they don’t want it to blow up. Each raptor sucks 510 kg/s LOX and 140 cryo methane, and when you press start the turbo pumps go from zero to 650 kg/s in 1 sec (which spaceX judges is best for their (FFSC) full flow staged combustion cycle). Their boosters have this medusa-shaped fuel manifold which has to feed 29 very hungry raptors, all within 1 sec with no mistakes, since voids cause instabilities in the turbo pumps that’ll blow the whole thing up (SN11). 7:25 in vid shows how each raptor lights off (spaceX engineers get no sleep).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxDZYuAZxSc

  22. MMVA says:

    Bezos also donated $200 million to the National Air and Space Museum about a week ago. This will be the largest gift to the Smithsonian since the Institution’s founding gift from James Smithson in 1846.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The guy must have some really dirty laundry he needs washing. But it’s pocket change for him – and tax deductible.

      • Kenster42 says:

        You’ve revealed yourself with this comment, namely that in your eyes none of these guys are ever going to win. They’ll never do anything in terms of taxes or charitable contributions that will redeem themselves. Every time they do something charitable you’ll just move the goalposts. He’s given away $400M in the last 3 weeks, but it’s “pocket change”. If he gives away $1B then it will be “he doesn’t pay enough in taxes”. If he then pays more in taxes then it will be “individual people shouldn’t have as much money as he has”.

        You diminish your logical credibility with arguments like this – if you want to put maximum limits on wealth, just say so.

        To be clear, though, you’re not alone, which is why these guys are going to ignore the noise and keep on rolling.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          You must be new here. As bmaz says, for the richest guy on the planet, a $200 or $400 million charitable gift is pocket change. You’d have to move the decimal point two places to the right before he noticed it, Even a $20 billion gift would scarcely drop him in the ranks of the super wealthy. I’d rather he paid income tax at the rates paid by most people on this site.

          As with the corporate apology industry, Bezos is not sincere. Like the Sacklers and Jeffrey Epstein, he is buying social prominence and acceptance, a larger network, and reduced resistance to his predatory business practices. He is executing a marketing strategy. The goals of the charities he gives to are incidental. Unlike taxes, he alone controls where to send his money, his gifts are whimsical, and can be withdrawn without notice.

          In America, the practice goes back to the late Robber Barons (though many of today’s wealthy find it unnecessary, because they don’t give a shit how hoi polloi see them). Andrew Carnegie, at least, was sincere in his effort to enhance the public welfare. In an era when few people went to school more than a few years, the 1000 libraries he built were an essential tool in the self-improvement of the average American.

            • P J Evans says:

              The one in Livermore still exists, with the park around it, and is now a museum and art gallery. But the fountain hasn’t had water in it in decades – it was always fun to sit on the edge and watch the fish. (It’s 110 years old.)

              • bmaz says:

                Wow, that looks very much like the one here. Are they all of a common design? If so, I did not know that. But it would very much make some sense to have common architecture.

          • Kenster42 says:

            I’m well aware of the scale, thanks. But I appreciate you going to the robber baron comment, because it continues to reveal your bias. The average manager salary at Amazon is $91K. The average warehouse worker salary at Amazon is $16 per hour. All those jobs have full benefits. This is a multiple of at least 2 of the wage of any major retailer or fast food joint, and they don’t get benefits.

            The average Tesla manager salary is $125K. the average Tesla assembly line salary is $20 per hour. Same situation on benefits.

            The average Virgin Airlines manager salary is $70K. The average Virgin Airlines flight attendant salary is $30 per hour. Same situation on benefits.

            In other words, all three “Robber Barons” pay much better wages that the majority of American and British companies, with better benefits. So how are these guys like them?

            • bmaz says:

              What a load of cherry picked shit. And you have no data for Branson, while you blithely support all three. I’ll tell you what, next time some Amazon delivery driver, whether one of their own or one of the off mark ones they relentlessly use, seven days a week, try to talk to them about their working conditions. I have. They literally cannot take the time to do that because they are monitored second by second while being paid shit wages. You are full of bunk

            • P J Evans says:

              Ever hear of the Pullman strike? Or the Homestead strike?

              (Carnegie gave away $380 million – roughly $90 billion in 2017 dollars. When Bezos or Musk or Branson gets to that level, get back to us.)

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                Carnegie was certainly predatory in the way he abused his largely immigrant work force. He employed lieutenants such as Henry Clay Frick (famous for his response to the Homestead Strike) who were more abusive. What sets his philanthropy apart from Bezos, Musk, and Branson is that he genuinely pursued it, albeit after his retirement. He did not use it as a marketing tool to launder his reputation while he was running his business.

            • Rayne says:

              Hoo boy howdy…you have no other data against which to weight the appropriateness of the wages you posted.

              What’s the average one-bedroom apartment monthly rental where that average Tesla manager or line worker works? Ditto the other robber barons. And Amazon, you mean the place where workers have had to pee in bottles Amazon?

              The average minimum wage worker in retail and fast food has been demanding $15 for nearly a decade now because they can’t make ends meet on half that. An entire whopping buck above that but in a location where rents are higher than average means very little, especially when they have to work with insufficient rest and under constant surveillance.

              Go on, go do your homework before you spit out apologia for the robber barons. Sparks, Nevada 1-bed-1-bath-500sf apartments average $1200/month. Figure out what that line worker will have left after they pay for food, transportation, insurance, other expenses. And your average Tesla manager may still be paying down $100,000 in tuition debt (oh believe me I know this well).

              ADDER: Let’s not forget some of these folks whose hourly wages you’re throwing around also don’t have full time jobs. And Glassdoor says Virgin America’s flight attendant pay range is $10-30/hour. Most of their flight attendant jobs are listed at 16K pounds/year — they’re not even posting competitive U.S. wages. ~eye roll~

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              You confuse bias with advocacy. As Rayne points out, you are not evaluating pay, local cost of living, and – most importantly – working conditions. Amzn’s working conditions are abhorrent, as are Frito-Lay’s, to name two. The same could be said of factory farms their associated abattoirs, and most mines.

              Predatory in different ways are firms like Kroger, which amply rewarded its CEO while trying to claw back extra pay earned by average workers during an earlier period of the pandemic. You advocate for these modern day Robber Barons because you seem to value their priorities and the way they do business. I value both much less.

            • e.a.f. says:

              In my opinion, none of those salaries are all that great. $30 an hr. is not a great sum if you are trying to pay for a house, feed 2 or 3 kids, etc. Its just barely getting buy. Have a look at the cost of housing in some parts of the U.S.A.
              It is doubtful any of these men really care about the workers. They are simply a means to an end, bigger profits. The manager salaries of $100K and change, isn’t that much either. A $100K isn’t what it used to be and it doesn’t have the buying power it once had. If they’re paying more than the corporate welfare queens of America, its still not putting them in the good employer list.

              If these guys can afford to go into space using their own money, fine, but I’d like them to pay taxes. They maybe giving money to charity but that is simply another tax deduction and a way to promote themselves as “good guys”.

              What society, will gain from their going into space is unknown and I for one don’t care. Right not\w most of the west coast of North America is on fire, from British Columbia to California. Unless they can help with that, they’re kind of useless.

  23. Tom says:

    When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have parents who let me skip school so that I could stay home and watch Alan Shepard and John Glenn make their historic flights. And exactly 52 years ago today I pulled an all-nighter to stay up and watch the grainy televised image of the Apollo 11 lunar module sitting on the surface of the moon while simultaneously looking out our living room window and being thrilled at the idea of that same man-made object I was seeing on TV being right up there on that bright yellow sphere shining in the night sky. I wanted to be able to claim in later years that I had been conscious and aware for the first 24 hours after mankind made that “giant leap” to another world. So the realization that space has now become just another playground for the rich and famous feels like a bit of a letdown, though I suppose I should welcome the idea of near-space flights becoming so matter-of-fact and available to anyone with the money to pay for a junket.

    If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of space travel you should read “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” by science journalist Mary Roach. In fact, I would recommend ANY of Ms. Roach’s books which are hugely funny and hugely informative. For example, on the topic of eating on long space flights Ms. Roach points out that 42 kilograms of mice–about 1,700 of the wee beasties–contain the same amount of calories as a 500 kg steer, besides being much easier to hurl into space and be maintained there.

    In the final chapter of her book, Ms. Roach addresses the question of going to Mars. She writes: “The tougher question is not “Is Mars possible?” but “Is Mars worth it?” She concludes that it is.

  24. You Don't Mind says:

    I’d like to see an environmental impact analysis in relation to space launches. The atmosphere is extremely thin in the upper layers. I have yet to see any analysis of the effects of burning thousands of tons of the several different types fuel in the upper atmosphere every year, where, if there is a negative interaction, a little burning might do a lot of damage.

    I think “Whitey On the Moon” covers the billionaire in space thing perfectly.

    • P J Evans says:

      The LOX/LH2 engines, which were used before SpaceX, don’t have any problems that I know of. The ones using hydrocarbons are problematic, but I haven’t seen any analyses, though I’m sure there are some.

      ETA: it would probably show up in a chemistry text.

  25. AlaskaReader says:

    No matter how it’s laundered, I’ve yet to see an assessment of tourism return a true overall net positive. Tourism ultimately degrades whatever habitats, communities and resources it exploits.
    Put me with the folks who would rather we all focus and tackle more pressing earthly matters.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Amsterdam would agree with that. But like liquor and lottery taxes, politicians hate to give it up: they would have to find new donors to their cause.

  26. cavenewt says:

    “Bezos vehicle is the proverbial space monkeys in pre-Mercury criticisms.”

    Spam in a can!

    • P J Evans says:

      More like a couple of decades to Mars – that’s a long, long trip, with no places to stop for food and fuel and air. Or repairs. Or change out people who just don’t get along, or can’t take a year or more locked in a small place. It’s hard enough to get robots there.

  27. Christopher Blanchard says:

    Yeah, yeah. I have a problem with the word ‘capitalist’. Put it this way: my sympathies are anarchistic rather than socialist (so at my age I guess I am a kind of bald hippy with wrinkles). I guess I can illustrate the difficulty with two paraphrases of bits of Joseph Proudhon; the first is the famous quote, which is “All property is theft.”, and the second is the less quoted “Without property liberty is impossible.” I think he meant, roughly, that the predatory use of wealth as landlordism, vicous control of employees and the like is evil but, and this is the crucial but, for him small family firms and adequately sized farms are the stuff of social cohesion. It is a long time since I read this stuff, and superficially as well, and the world has moved on so that we look to different structures to get personal autonomy, but the underlying point remains true – decent social positions (or structures) mean most of us, most of the time, get left alone to build and sustain decent lives.

    I had better say two things so I don’t get misunderstood.

    First is that (un-anarchistically) I strongly favour using state instruments to provide a solid safety net, as with a universal basic income and health care, because the best way of encouraging creative personal autonomy is to create mechanisms which mean we don’t starve when we get things wrong (and we will).

    Second, social cohesion takes a lot more than just ‘atomic’ bits of self reliant enterprise. Ed Walker’s posts about Dewy have me taking the guy a lot more seriously that I ever did.

    Anyway, the point is that an economic system which includes competion and co-operation between little guys with comparable and small power is just as much capitalist as oligopoly, monopoly, monopsony and the rest, but it has a chance at being decent. I am afraid that does take state power, and I hate it, but. The necessary instruments include (besides health care and basic income), fierce anti-trust legislation, decently high taxes on wealthy people and (I would add, despite his political silliness) something like Ralph Nader’s ‘truth in advertising’ legislation.

    In other words, descrying ‘capitalism’ won’t do, without (distinguo) knowing which bits.

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