How Much Is Space Worth?
Private Companies and the Future of Universal Outer Space
By Alice Martin
“When I said take me to the moon, I never meant take me alone. I thought if mankind toured the sky, it meant all of us could go. But I don't want to see the stars if they're just one more piece of land for us to colonize, for us to turn to sand”, said Penelope Scott in her famous song “Rät”, which she describes as a “a breakup letter to the tech cult that is Silicon Valley”, according to Genius.com.
Short of a year later, on July 20th, 2021, Jeff Bezos flew aboard his own New Shepard rocket, manufactured by his own aerospace company, Blue Origin. The second richest man on Earth flew with three other civilians, including Mark Bezos, his brother. One seat was auctioned off at 28 million USD.
On October 13th, former Star Trek actor and millionaire William Shatner followed him along on another flight.
Penelope Scott was right. Currently, private space companies dominate the space travel world, while NASA sees its funding decreasing every year, hitting its high in 1966 with 4.41% of the federal budget and reaching 0.48% in 2020.
With the decline of such an important public research body in favor of private companies funded by the richest people in the world, the most fervent space enthusiasts may feel that space is losing its distinct universal appeal as stated by the Outer Space Treaty that insures the public, non-claimable status of space.
However, ownership, and the constraint of space to only a wealthy elite has been stealthily going on for a long time and is not showing any signs of slowing down.
Richard Soare, a professor of geography at Dawson whose research centers mostly around the landscapes of Mars, with skills ranging from geology to space exploration, has more of a “let them do what they want to do, as long as it is safe” attitude around the subject. He points out that, for as long as there has been space travel, nations have attempted to colonize space.
“Countries have always thought that somehow, someway, they could lay claim on bits and bobs of space. If you look back to the Apollo missions before you were about, the Americans planted an American flag on the moon. The extent to which any of that is enforceable is another legal matter”, he mentions.
Even though the flags—which are still there—were mostly planted there emblematically due to the Outer Space Treaty, it doesn’t remove the territorial desire hidden beneath the symbol. Whether it is private companies or the United-States and NASA for example, that craving is far from gone.
Soare also compares where space travel is currently to what air travel was in its beginnings. Especially during the 50s and 60s, air travel was something left to the richest of society. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Airlines for America, a plane ticket from Boston to Los Angeles would have cost about 4’500$ in 1941 compared to 480$ in 2015, with the inflation adjusted.
“Perhaps for the moment it is the exclusive domain of millionaires. But if you think back to the history of travel and tourism, early on in the beginning of air travel, it was very expensive to go from point A to point B. Over time, the cost of travel and therefore, the price of travel came down to where it is affordable to most people. Whether that happens with regards to space or not is an open-ended question”, Soare says. In fact, the gap that has to be shortened is way bigger than for air travel, but the concept of it being available to the masses in a relatively near future is imaginable if the dedication is present, of course. Let’s not forget that SpaceX and Blue Origin are backed by immense sources of funding that would be able to make such a thing happen.
Meanwhile, I am proud to tell you all that I’ve applied to be part of a crew flight with Blue Origin. It only took me the effort of writing 500 characters about myself, which was smaller than I would’ve thought, but apparently big enough to say that you have the money for a flight, if that’s the case. I also needed to tell them about my “other adventures” which was just a [select all that applies], and I had to select what I was looking most forward to in flying to space.
It was too easy, I just had to go on their website and click “Fly to Space”. Try it out yourself, and no, you don’t have to enter credit card information. They did warn me that my application wasn’t guaranteed to be selected, but I’m feeling pretty confident. I’ll see you all in space.