To some, the outreach to space by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson seems like a fantasy come true for two very rich men having fun at their expense. Some wonder why they are not spending their huge riches on problems on earth.
I would disagree. I am awed by their sense of adventure, even at the risk of their own lives and a few others. I refuse to judge their philanthropy or lack thereof. In Bezos’ case, his purchase of The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million was a gift to democracy by preserving a world-class newspaper.
Bezos and Branson are keeping the space program alive, something the federal government is doing in fits and starts. The glory days of exploration into the space and the moon landings are gone, unfortunately. The scientific advancements revealed during our exciting and stirring journeys into space were many.
It is part of the American psyche to push the boundaries of knowledge and discovery. Bezos and Branson, using their own money, energy and creativity, are continuing a claim on the future. They are doing what the federal government feels impeded by lack of funding to pursue.
And, yes, it’s entirely possible that the two incorrigible entrepreneurs will make even more money by offering space travel on a commercial basis. So what? They invested their own money in charting a new path for entry into our wondrous horizon.
Are there incredibly difficult problems affecting our fractious nation in terms of poverty, income equality, education and global warming?
Should our wealthy citizens donate great sums of money to seek solutions to what seem like insurmountable problems?
Yes and yes.
But these folks, with eye-catching net worth, are entitled to fulfill their dreams and childhood fantasies. They are entitled to use their sizable egos and undaunted ambitions to focus on the unknown, the mystical and the mysterious. They are “pushing the envelope,” the boundaries of what we aspire to know and understand.
They are well-heeled pioneers. Good for them.
It is always easy, too easy, to criticize those people who have accomplished incredible feats and accumulated equally impressive wealth. Jealousy and dislike are in play here.
I prefer to admire Bezos and Branson and commend their outsized achievements, potentially enabling more available and accessible space travel, changing the whole concept of vacations and mind-expanding experiences.
While I realize that passengers on the B&B flights must pay six figures to get a seat—far from offering equal access to less wealthy Americans—I believe that the technological know-how and employment opportunities outweigh the elitist aspects of space travel. Outer space, not deeply reached by recent flights—is a frontier that produces unimaginable economic and scientific breakthroughs.
If I wandered into the world of cynicism, I could make the case that escaping the bonds of earth provides a way to flee our constant problems and rancor. But I will not do that. It would be too facile.
I would appeal to Jeff Bezos to pay some attention to worldly problems, using his success in e-commerce to improve the lives of people unable to receive Amazon packages frequently on their doorsteps. I would ask him to determine if his employees are treated fairly, and whether communities in which Amazon has warehouses and offices have benefited in some way by a very lucrative corporation.
Lastly, I urge these two billionaires to continue to follow their dreams and aspirations and do so as safely as possible. In this case, ignore competition with each other and Elon Musk if it means only ego satisfaction to the exclusion of safety and passenger security.
And one more thing, if I may: share your findings and inventions with federal government to enhance its expertise in space travel. Yes, I ask that you be generous in allowing all of us to fully understand what you have accomplished.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.