There’s been plenty of blowback about billionaires in space. Bezos, one of the world’s richest men, has funded Blue Origin almost solely out of his own pocket. And the way things in the commercial space industry are shaking out has critics concerned that the ultra-wealthy view outer space as their own personal escape hatch.
Still, Blue Origin and other billionaire-backed space companies put out a lot of talk about their technologies paving the way toward a “democratization” of space in which everyday people — not just government-trained astronauts — get to experience the thrill of spaceflight. These early suborbital space tourism flights are prohibitively expensive to the vast majority of people, and that’s not expected to change anytime soon.
Blue Origin, however, describes its long-term vision as one of spacefaring colonization and benevolence:
Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth. To preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space. Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial and defense customers.
It’s still early days, of course. The New Shepard rocket and capsule system is suborbital, meaning it doesn’t drum up nearly enough energy to remain in space for more than a couple of minutes. But the company is working on a much larger rocket for that purpose — called New Glenn — and a lunar lander that it hopes will be used to support NASA missions.
Bezos has also talked in the past about O’Neill colonies, a concept for spinning space stations that can mimic Earthlike gravity for passengers, as a possible habitat for future space dwellers.
Who will own the space stations? And will passengers be employees or tourists? Will space travel, if necessary to save humanity, only be available to those who can afford to pay? And is Bezos’ time and money better spent trying to solve Earthly problems rather than seeking to escape them?
We don’t know. There are plenty of unanswered questions and raging debates.