Space tourism is not just about riding

You might be wondering if it makes sense for rich people like me: Jeff Bezos and “Star Trek” actor William Shatner to rocket into space?

Wendy Whitman Cobb, an Air Force political scientist for space, says yes. Our conversations challenged my thinking about space projects, like Bezos and Elon Musk, who imagined a future far from Earth.

If you yelled “Midlife Crisis” when Bezos touched space last year or asked why Musk’s SpaceX company got so much attention, today’s newsletter is for you.

Whitman Cobb, who has a PhD. Political science says that tourist travel was the first step in converting space travel from foreign to routine. And he believes that orbital amateurs are a ground for proof of worthy ambitions – including settling on Mars, as imagined by the mask, or colonizing as many people and art as possible on Earth, as Bezos hopes.

To me, they sound like the escapist fantasies of billionaires. But Whitman Cobb’s optimism is an effective counterpoint to the regular warnings in this newsletter that technology is not the magical solution to our problems. Whitman Cobb agrees, but also says that technology has at times worked wonders in space exploration.

Over the past decade, corporations such as SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and New Zealand-based start-up Rocket Lab have sought to become major players in space flight. Companies have always worked with the government on space travel, but now they are more involved in astronauts, enthusiasts, satellite and cargo in space.

There is controversy over the proper role of governments versus corporations in space, but Whitman Cobb believes that these companies have made routing space work cheaper and easier. It frees NASA to dream big on projects like lunar colonies and deep space exploration.

SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have also led space pleasure trips. These are delightful for a few, but Whitman Cobb says they have helped improve the safety of space travel and created an incentive to explore beyond our planet.

“The more ‘normal’ people we see flying in space, the more people will see it and be excited about it,” he told me. “That public opinion is the key to a lot of what these companies and the US government are doing in space.”

(Whitman Cobb said the views were his, and not those of the US government that hired him. He further added that he did not receive funding from commercial space agencies.)

The ultimate goal, though, goes beyond tourism. Kasturi and Bezos imagine moving people or polluting art in space or creating a Martian civilization. I am concerned that this is an excuse to ignore the problems of the world.

Whitman Cobb understood why I asked that they were reckless delusions, but he also did not want us to lose the potential benefits of dreaming. He says the history of space exploration is becoming cookie and not necessarily high-minded approach possible and helpful.

U.S. missions to the moon in the 1960s were driven by a desire to prove American superiority over the Soviet Union. Yet, nationalist space missions have helped develop the tiny electronics we use every day, improved health technology, and even given us memory foam. The last decade’s surge in commercial spaceflight has reduced the cost of space access and enabled innovative concepts such as small-sized satellites to map the Earth from above.

Whitman Cobb said that the advanced technology developed by commercial space agencies for space flight could similarly go to other areas that help us.

A self-described space geek, he added that the wonder of space was a worthy target. “It also makes an itch, so to speak, about humanity’s desire to explore, discover and understand the world around us,” he said.

I asked Whitman Cobb if he wanted to live on Mars. “Absolutely,” he replied. “Maybe not forever.”

I’m not dispelling all my doubts about rocket tourism or billionaires ’space fantasies. When corporations play a big role in space, they can stockpile innovations rather than benefit the public. Space tourism also hurts the environment and it is not clear how successful space travel and trade are. We know that technology, even assistants, has its downsides.

Whitman Cobb wants us to have that suspicion as well as our excitement. “The history of space travel shows that selfish dreams can benefit us all,” he said.


  • More Earthbound Mask News: He went into hot water for his tweet. Recently, Musk also bought a large portion of Twitter’s stock. No one knows what he’s doing, my colleagues Mike Isaac and Lauren Hirsch reported. On Tuesday, Twitter announced that Mask would join the company’s board of directors.

  • What does a benevolent cryptocurrency do with luck? Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, is one of the richest men in the world and believes in using scientific reasoning to do the best. Bloomberg News tells us about 30-year-old Bankman-Fried and asks: “Anyone who wants to save the world must first raise as much money and energy as possible, or will the pursuit defile him along the way?” (A subscription may be required.)

    Related: Ezra Klein, my colleague at Times Opinion, interviewed Dan Olson, a video essayist who warned about the dangers of crypto ideology and culture.

  • How to reuse your gadgets properly: It is not uncommon for electronics batteries to catch fire at landfills and recycling centers. The Washington Post explains how to safely dispose of your gadgets and batteries. (A subscription may be required.)

Enjoy Have breakfast with these pork, pickles, winnies and dominoes.


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