Many commentators are heaping condemnation on the billionaire rocket boys who see space as their new playground. Critics say these self-indulgent moguls are pouring their fortunes into space hardware so they and their kind can one day take joy rides beyond the atmosphere, become king of a new planet, and get their name written in the history books. Earth is not enough for them. The heavens must be conquered as well. What shame.
Yet, throngs worship these new industry titans as evangelists of an exciting future made possible with their innovations. They are the hope ushering in a new age of multi-planetary existence. Millions of social media followers hang on every launch and milestone with bated breath. They have created a level of excitement about space not experienced since the Apollo days.
So, what are they? Villains or heroes?
On the day Demo-2 first launched humans aboard his Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule, Elon Musk mused at the press conference, “To extend life beyond Earth, we are life’s agent in this regard.” Life’s agent, he said. If we are an agent, then our actions are taken on behalf of something greater than ourselves. To expand into space is a fulfillment of some higher purpose.
Could it be that without realizing it, our space billionaires are simply responding to the same impulse that exists within a huge segment of the global populations. From one perspective, the urge to make new homes in space where humans were not designed to live is irrational. From a species-level perspective, however, it makes perfect sense to spread beyond this one single planet whose capacity our race has nearly exceeded. This impulse permeates our species at a subconscious level and is expressed through art, science, and bold action. For many it is an irresistible siren that is driving the current wave of innovation to build the new means of space travel and infrastructure.
Could something beyond ego and thrill seeking be motivating the billionaire boys club? Is it conceivable there is an evolutionary dimension to our urge for space that we are currently living into, and that existed in our DNA long before rocket technology was a thing?
The billionaires can be brash and arrogant. Eccentric even. But their desire for human expansion into space is pure. It was present in them long before they earned their fortunes. It is a desire present in many millions of people around the world. Those who feel this impulse cheer the billionaires, despite their human limitations.
It could be that rich boys of space are doing exactly what the universe demands of them. If it wasn’t Bezos and Musk, it would be two others. Even they admit their outsized success is due as much to luck and as to their intellect and determination. It is not these men that are driving us to expand into space. It is an evolutionary impulse that is demanding that humankind collectively do so, and these billionaires are the current agents through which the universe is acting. Therefore, I suggest it’s best that we neither vilify these men nor worship them.
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