OPINION: Thank god for the rich people
JUST A MONTH ago, billionaire Jeff Bezos and three friends flew to the edge of space in the first crewed mission of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
The Amazon founder created the Blue Origin Aerospace company in the year 2000 in a bid to advance the field of spaceflight, and his brief adventure to the top of the world was the first time they had sent human beings into, literally, the stratosphere.
Next week they’ll go a step further by sending the most famous space man of all, the Captain of the USS Enterprise James T. Kirk (who apparently in reality is a 90-year-old Canadian named William Shatner, but I refuse to believe it) into space.
A week earlier than the Amazon man, billionaire Richard Branson and three of his friends did something very similar – though aboard the very different concept VSS Unity space ‘plane’ that was launched from a spaceport in the New Mexico desert.
And while he hasn’t ridden one of his own rockets yet, fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX continue to set new benchmarks in the world of reusable space vehicles and will soon launch their first iteration of ‘Starship’, a reusable rocket that the company hopes will eventually take humans to Mars.
SpaceX have arguably done more to advance the cause of rocketry in the last decade than NASA have done in the last four and their Falcon Heavy models are incredible in that they can be landed and re-used over and over again.
As a lover of all things space, it’s an enormously exciting time as three separate, privately owned businesses compete to advance the cause of slipping the surely bonds of Earth.
It’s all meaning a step closer to the point where I can beam myself up to the Enterprise and go hang out with some Orion slave girls (don’t @ me, it’s TV).
The last time the cause was advanced this far, this quickly, the Americans and the Russians were seeing who could get to the Moon first without nuking each other in the process.
There are plenty of similarities between all three adventures, not the least of which is the fact all three have been condemned by sections of the media and the internet for ‘wasting their billions’ on ‘vanity projects’.
Some argue that rather than spending their money on space rockets, they could be feeding the poor, re-homing the homeless or fixing climate change.
Aside from the fact that these people are perfectly entitled to spend their billions however they want, the world desperately needs people like Musk, Branson and Bezos spending their money on what in some instances seem, frankly, ridiculous causes. Because, who else is going to do it?
Sure, Governments are still spending money on spaceflight and NASA, the Russians, the Europeans and the Chinese are both pushing hard with interplanetary probes and plots to get back to the Moon.
But nations have so many other things to worry about these days that they could be forgiven for not exactly recreating JFK’s ‘Not because it’s easy, because it’s hard’ ethos of the 1960s.
And there’s nothing like commercial businesses going head-to-head to advance a cause quickly, especially if it means they can make a buck or three at the end.
The US Government has already endowed SpaceX with billions of dollars in projects (much to Bezos’ angst) so clearly they’re right on board with that as a concept, too, because unlike most things in the world of spaceflight it is absolutely cheaper to pay someone to do it rather than doing it yourself.
I think what SpaceX is doing is phenomenal. I don’t buy into the Tesla craze in the slightest, but what Elon Musk is doing with his space program is bonkers. Have you seen the video where they land a pair of rocket boosters, under their own power, on a pair of landing pads side-by-side? And then moments later plonk another one down on a fully-automated drone ship several hundred miles out into the North Atlantic?
It’s utterly captivating. I’ve watched it a thousand times and to this day find it nearly as incredible watching replays of the first Saturn V that took men to the Moon.
What SpaceX has achieved in such a short amount of time is quite extraordinary and to this point has not been matched by any national space authority around the world. None of it would have happened had Elon Musk decided to tip much of his fortune into what could have been an enormous folly.
What’s more, SpaceX now employs nearly 10,000 people – all earning a wage, feeding their families and contributing to the economy. Bill Gates is doing his thing to feed the third world – why can’t people be happy with Elon contributing to the employment and financial security of nearly 100,000 people (between all his various enterprises)?
It’s easy to quip that he could be spending his Billions on, say, fixing Global Warming – but what if it’s unfixable? What if the entire planet will become more akin to the Sahara in 100 years or so? If that’s the case, I’ll be looking for a rocket to Neptune (where the -200C temperatures will be a pleasant change for the occasional holiday) and I don’t see NASA coming up with one of those before Musk can.
I honestly don’t get the hate towards these people. Okay, it’s clearly a massive ego stroking exercise. What’s more, their ethical standards in how they pay employees may be slightly wobbly, they may have gone broke here or there and come out unscathed and they may be prone to saying stupid things on social media. And I’m not saying you must like them as people.
Amazon may indeed be terrible to work for, but on the flipside they still employ 1.2 million people more than most other companies in the world.
What would they be doing if they didn’t work long hours shipping me internet shopping purchases regularly?
Regardless, I’d rather someone like Jeff Bezos was sinking his Billions into a space rocket that might result in us becoming an interplanetary species, than, say, becoming a bond villain and taking over half the world.
Of course, and I am finally getting to the point here, those in motorsport should feel a similar way because our entire sport hinges on cashed-up people spending stupid amounts of money on stupid things that change the world far less than a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket can.
Spending money on motorsport is outrageously silly because there’s little to no chance of a return and in many instances, pretty slim chances of having a win either.
But thank God they do; for without them we would be without things like The Bend Motorsport Park. Or a full field of GT3 cars tackling the Bathurst 12 Hour. Or the Triple Eight vs DJR Supercars rivalry. Or old F1 cars. Or new F1 cars, for that matter. The list goes on..
There’s plenty of money in motorsport, yes, but it’s not a particularly sensible business to be involved in should you be looking for a return and yet, people continue to spend millions and millions on it each year.
Our sport is remarkable in that probably 80% of the entire competitor base are paying their own way and doing it for fun, because they can afford to (in some cases, anyway) and because they want to.
And like Musky, Beardy and Bezos, it’s easy to criticise that as well, right until you remember the side effects of employing thousands of people and entertaining many more, you and I included, each year.
What’s more, every now and then the sport comes up with a real breakthrough – witness McLaren’s advancement of the Carbon Fibre cause in the 1980s, or the relentless development of hybrid technology in modern F1 – that really does change the world beyond just getting the checkered flag first.
Like competition in businesses between billionaires, competition in sport really does improve the breed.
In the same way that the modern iteration of the space race that’s currently underway wouldn’t exist without a group of Billionaires all trying to outcool each other, most of our sport would grind to a halt if it wasn’t for a slightly less wealthy but similarly driven group of people trying to beat each other in racing cars.
You’d also kill the careers of almost every young junior driver in the sport and leave thousands unemployed.
There are many fantastic people and wonderful, inspirational organisations spending their time, expertise and money on trying to save the world.
The thing is, that world isn’t worth saving if there’s not a group of equally driven people spending their time, expertise and money on giving it a future that is worth looking forward to experiencing in the first place.
And for me and the many millions of motorsport fans around the world, that’s the simple art of watching someone drive a racing car as hard as it can be driven.
Both things can be life changing for the people in question and for countless others, just at a slightly different level of impact.
But in reality, I’m not sure they are actually that different after all.