Billionaire Space Cowboys and What We Lost | Tom Searl

“Dad, wake up,” my daughter said.  “Christmas is here.”

I kept my eyes closed just a little while longer.

“Wake up, Dad.”  This time she shook my shoulder.  “Santa Claus came.”

“Did he?” I said.

“Yea, Santa came.”  The five-year-old girl took ahold of my hand and pulled me out of my bed.  In the doorway of the bedroom stood her three-year-old brother, waiting patiently for the two of us.  He didn’t say much, mostly because he hadn’t started speaking in sentences yet and because of the pacifier in his mouth.

When we arrived in the living room my wife says, “Sorry, I held them off as long as I could.”

“It’s OK,” I said.  “Let’s get Christmas going.”

The smell of the baking cinnamon rolls filled the house as we watched the kids dig into their presents.  There was fun, there was excitement, there was wrapping paper everywhere.  And soon it was over.

The gifts were opened and the cinnamon rolls were eaten.  After I had put ham was in the oven I leaned back in my favorite chair to read my new sci-fi novel while I put my feet up, now shod in their new slippers.  The boy was in one corner, building a fort out of the boxes his many gifts had come in.  The girl was in the other corner, playing with some plastic anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables. 

It was a good day.  It was a peaceful day.  It was a relaxing day.  But, to me, it wasn’t a magical day.

I looked at the kids and remembered their excitement when they dragged me out of bed just an hour before.  I remembered their big eyes when we put up the tree and lights the day after Thanksgiving.  I remembered how nervous they were when they went to sit on Santa’s lap just two short weeks ago.  I remembered how the girl demanded we listen to Christmas music every time we got in the car, something that had been going on since Halloween. 

To them, Christmas was still magical.  It was a time of excited expectation and making a wish list to send to Santa and putting out the cookies and milk the night before.  It was a time of miracles and a time when the world seemed happier and nicer.

To me, it was an enjoyable day, no doubt about that. This was mostly because of the excitement of the kids.  But, for me, the magic had subsided long ago.  It was all part of being an adult, I suppose.

As I watched Jeff Bezos launch himself and his guests into space aboard his own rocket last week (and before that Richard Branson on his ship), I couldn’t help but feel the same sense of loss.  It was fun to watch those launches, for sure.  It was exciting.  It was a major step forward in the area of space exploration.  But the magic of such events seemed to be gone. 

Why is this, I wondered.  What is it that we lost?  Where did it go?  And why did it take the magic with it?

I thought about these questions for a while.  Maybe it was just me.  Maybe I was in a bad mood or something.  But I don’t think that was it. 

After some reflection, I concluded that this past month in space exploration we have indeed lost something.  We lost some of that wonder and some of that magic.  I think it’s because we grew up a bit when it comes to space and these two events were a marking point of that, much like getting your license is a marking point of adulthood or being old enough to order a beer for the first time.

In this past month we’ve heralded in a new era of space exploration.  Specifically, we are seeing the beginnings of space tourism.  Before that, Elon Musk and SpaceX laid the groundwork of privatizing space to a certain degree with their manned launch to the International Space Station.  When I look on all of this, I see three things that we’ve lost, and these things have taken the magic with it.

First, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have brought us to an era of space flight in which we are no longer putting forward a united effort.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if you will recall from your high school History class, in the post-World War II era the United States engaged in the space race with our chief rival on the world stage, the Soviet Union.  Using many scientists and engineers from the defeated Germans, these two nations pushed themselves to be the first into space (the Soviets won that one).  After that, it was a race to see who could go further, who could utilize space for their purposes more, who could push the limits of their technology further.

It was for this reason that the space agency NASA was established.  And through that agency of the government, President John Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation as a whole to strike the ultimate blow in this space race by successfully putting a man on the moon and returning him to the Earth by the end of the decade.

The nation responded in an impressive way.  All across the political spectrum and even in other democratic nations around the world, people supported NASA and supported the effort to make good on Kennedy’s challenge.  Then, on July 20, 1969, Kennedy’s vision came to fruition and America celebrated as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and uttered his famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

While both America and the Soviets would maintain their respective space programs, it was tacitly acknowledged the world over that America had struck the final blow.

Now, a little over fifty-two years after that legendary event, the space race between the United States and the Soviets (now the Russians) is over, but a new space race seems to be kicking off.  This time the two competing parties are the returning champs United States and a hungry new challenger from the east, China.

In recent years, China has invested a lot of time, energy, and capital into its space programs.  This investment has resulted in rockets that can carry Chinese personnel deeper into space, the beginning stages of a new Chinese space station, laying the groundwork for moon exploration and even occupation, and weapons capable of bringing down the satellites and space craft of other nations. 

This new space race, at least on China’s part, has distinct military overtones that raise the level of seriousness to that of the early days of the first space race when the Soviets first launched Sputnik into orbit.

While it is true that the U.S. has begun work to counter this threat through the establishment of a new military branch called the Space Force, it is also true that America’s current operations in space have not unified the country as they once did.

The work of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and other such private agencies is exciting and certainly a step in the right direction.  But it has not taken place in the context of rallying the American people to meet the challenges posed by a rival nation.  People are no longer glued to their TV’s to see the latest NASA launch and these events are no longer at the top of every news page.

In addition to the loss of the unifying effect of space exploration, these two space flights have heralded a loss of personal ambition.  I remember being a kid in grade school and anytime some adult came along asking kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, the answer, at least half the time, was Astronaut. 

Being an Astronaut was considered exciting, challenging, and rewarding.  It was considered being part of something bigger and something historic.  More importantly, it was attainable.  Everyone knew that with enough hard work and determination it was possible to earn a spot among those elite explorers.  

Now none of this has changed.  NASA is still around and laying plans for the future of space travel.  The Space Force is still in its infancy and will be growing in coming years.  These independent space companies will need personnel as well. 

But with these latest instances of high-profile billionaires launching themselves into space in very public ways, it is going to become tougher for kids growing up to perceive of space as anything other than an activity that is only accessible to the very rich.  In this case, the perception will be creating a reality.

Sadly, this perception will be reinforced by idiotic Democrat politicians who will use this new billionaire pastime as fuel for their never-ending class warfare rhetoric. 

This has already begun.  Even as Bezos lifted off, California Congressman Adam Schiff Tweeted out “Listen, I’m all for space exploration and it must have been an amazing view.  But maybe—and I’m just spit balling here—if Amazon and other companies paid their fair share in taxes, we could lift all kids—if not into space—at least out of poverty.”

This was predictable and it is predictable that it will only get worse as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin begin selling tickets for their flights that cost more money than most people will make across the time span of several years.

What is the purpose of it?  Political positioning.  That is all.  Does Schiff care about how much Amazon pays in taxes?  I doubt it.  If he did, he would sponsor a bill to raise those taxes and close loopholes.  No.  He is actually more interested in the political talking points this gives him than he is in alleviating childhood poverty.

In addition to loss of unity and the loss of ambition, we also stand to lose our romanticism.  Now, let me explain what I mean by this. 

If you were to look at a map made by the ancient Greeks, you would find something off, their maps were extremely inaccurate.  That’s because they were more often used to explain the world rather than guide people through it. 

On these maps you would see their mythology reflected.  At the center of the map, you would find the Greek world with its city-states and (to a certain extent) the geographical features of that area.  Moving out from the center, you might find some other nations that they were familiar with, such as Egypt and Persia.  Moving out further, you would begin to see the places where the mythological creatures they believed in lived.  And then, finally, at the very edge of the map, you would read, “Here there be dragons.” 

What they were doing here was filling in the blank spaces of things they didn’t know with their mythology, or the things they did know.  It was their way of making sense of the world in which they lived.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver, in an article that can be found here, modern science fiction fills much the same role in our lives.  Only we can no longer use the planet we live on because that has been fully explored.  So, we have to turn to space.  And instead of writing “Here there be dragons,” we are writing, “Here there be Klingons.”

Much like the dragons and other mythological creatures slowly fell off the maps as human knowledge of the world became more complete, so to will our romanticism of space fall away as we push higher and deeper into the cosmos.

Now this might not seem like a strong point compared to the others, but it is foundational.  Yes, it is true that early space exploration was unifying.  It sparked ambition and excitement.  There have been great scientific discoveries and engineering breakthroughs.  But none of these things served as the impetus.  We went to space to begin with because of the romanticism of it.  And now, we are on the cusp of losing that. 

The privatization of space and the space tourism industry is a perfectly natural and logical development.  There is nothing wrong with Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson utilizing their resources toward this end.  There is, in fact, a lot to celebrate about it: human ingenuity, human accomplishment, the fact that they both chose America as their launching pad. 

But at the same time, we have lost some important and wonderful things.  And I think it is fair to acknowledge that.  The unification, the ambition, the endless hours of romanticizing space; all of these things are in danger of falling by the wayside as people move into space in ever greater numbers and as it becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives.  In this way, we have grown up.  And with growing up, the magic is gone.