By: A. Thiollier
At 20:17, July 20th, 1969, the impossible happened: a man walked on the moon. Specifically, an American man. America was racing the Soviets to space and beyond, and history will remember that they won. Now, billionaires race to bring people to space not as scientists and astronauts, but just tourists, people like you and me. Is it just a coincidence that it was a competition back then and a competition now? This rivalry to explore the universe is going to affect everyone here, back on earth, and it might not be such a good thing.
Before we think about that, let us take it back to 50 years ago: the space race. Although this may seem like the fun name of a video game, it was actually a part of the cold war. The whole time the two countries fought through science, the rest of the world feared they would turn to violence instead. The Soviet Union kicked it off by sending the first satellite into space in 1957, and they maintained the lead for the next few years: sending a dog into space, then sending the first human, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. Yuri beat Alan Shepard, his American counterpart, into the atmosphere by only a month. It was at this point when the US decided to react, and John F. Kennedy declared the intention to send a man to the moon. This became the finish line for the great space marathon. Seven years after Kennedy’s speech, the famous Apollo program finally achieved the dream: Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, meeting the challenge, and conquering the moon.
Although that is the most remembered achievement to date, space exploration did not stop there. Until today, scientists are constantly making new discoveries about space. In 1975, the Soviets and the US went through the first joint mission, the Apollo-Soyuz test, officially ending the space race. But is it back? In 1961 the aim was to bring humans into space. Now, the target seems to be to take all of humanity.
Imagine deciding where you want to go on vacation. But maybe you could add the atmosphere to your list, along with Paris and Rome. It seems surreal now, but this could eventually be a choice you must make. This is the dream of the two billionaire rivals Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Elon Musk, Tesla boss, also created his own space exploration company, SpaceX. Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, owns Blue Origin, a counterpart. They have different approaches and dreams for space, and though Blue Origin tends to be more secretive about their plans that SpaceX, which has been pulling several advertisement stunts, they both have the same aim: to make space travel accessible to the public, not only to scientists and billionaires. But that is not where it stops. Their ultimate goals seem as impossible as going to the moon must have seemed 50 years ago. They dream of space colonies, cities, and countries with humans living in space.
Now, there are two sides to argue here. Is this competition a good thing or a bad thing? Back then, it was a very affirmative no. While scientists worked incessantly towards the ultimate goal, common-folk watched in fear of the cold war becoming a real one. A full-fledged, blood on the ground, bombs in the air thing. And it could have happened. One wrong move, a rocket that landed wrong or an accidental death could have been the gas to the already existent flame. The ‘friendly’ competition could have become the death of millions, and suddenly space exploration would no longer seem so fun.
What about now? That’s harder to say. Is it a good thing? Of course, summer in space, living on Mars, not to mention all the scientific discoveries made- that is all great. But is this the way to go about it? Can you imagine, since everything is already moving so fast, how little time it would take to reach these goals if the billionaires worked together? We could be there tomorrow! We could witness or even live in a space colony in our lifetimes, and so much more. But is the competition what’s motivating them? Knowing that a setback could put the other in the lead, is that what has them working so hard? There are subjects that are very black and white, but this? Space seems very grey.
Whether it’s getting to the moon or living on it, space has always been an area of competition. Humans have always had a fear of the unknown, which has led to the ambition to explore or even own it. Although some aspects of this exploration have sometimes been quite questionable, it is clear that it is important. Elon Musk lives in fear of how humans may end up destroying the earth, whether it is by global warming or war, and he is right in that we need a backup. But whether competition is the right way to go about it, it cannot be clear. It certainly incentivizes people to work at a fast pace, the speed is not nearly as fast as it could be if we were to work together. All we can do now is watch as the universe becomes our new, bigger home.