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Jeff Bezos | Photo: jurvetson – Flickr | cropped from original | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 | license linked at bottom of article

Jeff Bezos | Photo: jurvetson – Flickr | cropped from original | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 | license linked at bottom of article

Jeff Bezos’s space adventure, while Amazon workers continue to suffer appalling conditions, once again highlights obscene levels of wealth inequality, argues Jonathan Maunders

Like most children, you probably dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut and gliding through space. It turns out it’s easy. You just need to be an ego-driven billionaire.

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, will prove that on Tuesday by blasting into space in his company’s rocket New Shepard. It is tipped to be a jubilant occasion, with many hoping he doesn’t return.

The Amazon owner will go into space alongside his brother, an 18-year-old physics student and 82-year-old Wally Funk, in what is the most inexperienced crew in space-faring history. With such a varied line-up, I’m surprised it’s not secretly a new reality show on ITV2 - ‘The Only Way Is Up, Then Down’.

If all goes to plan, New Shepard will beat Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture, which travelled 53 miles into space on July 11. Branson’s journey saw him become the first billionaire to go to space.

In fact, Branson was probably also the first astronaut to have spent the pandemic on a luxury, private island while asking his staff to take unpaid leave and demanding taxpayer bailouts.

It’s this sort of financial nous that allowed him into space at all, particularly given his project was funded with over $200 million dollars in government subsidies.

That just proves we can’t really have wanted to have been astronauts that badly. If we had, we’d have spent more time sunbathing and greedily demanding taxpayer money until Boris Johnson phoned us up and said ‘I’ll give you $200 million dollars if you build a rocket to the moon.’

Meanwhile, Bezos faced criticism from people saying he’s taking a joyride into space rather than fixing issues on earth. In response, he told CNN that the critics were ‘largely right – we have to do both.’

Bezos is correct. The only way of doing genuine good in the world is by helping a bit but also selfishly spending billions on something that only benefits yourself.  In fact, Amazon’s working conditions are probably only so poor because Bezos doesn’t have time to fit in any more selfish acts.

Furthermore, perhaps if Greta Thunberg had spent less time trying to stop big polluters and more time getting self-portraits, she’d have reversed climate change by now. 

Bezos’ venture is all part of an ongoing billionaire’s space race, with he, Branson and Elon Musk all keen to extend their grip beyond earth. For his part, Bezos has insisted that there is a real purpose beyond ego – for people to work (and pollute) in space rather than here on earth.

Once again, the Amazon owner is one step ahead of us. Why learn to live sustainably here when we can go and find resources to exploit in space? While many people’s response to the awful floods in Germany was to demand action to reduce pollution, perhaps Bezos texted Angela Merkel to say she needn’t worry because the flooding will stop once he opens a mine on Pluto.

Elon Musk seems to have even grander ideas.  He has said, “We don’t want to be one of those single planet species, we want to be a multi-planet species”. Well, that makes sense. Imperialism has been such a rip-roaring success on this planet, why not extend it across the solar system.

Presumably Musk believes the British Empire only collapsed because it called it a day at half the planet and didn’t push on to colonise Mars or Orion’s belt. Perhaps he also thinks the US should complement its efforts to replace the Cuban government by launching a CIA-led coup on Venus.

Like many things in life, it turns out that the secret to being an astronaut isn’t about skill but being a greedy billionaire instead. Who knew? Bezos and co are proving that if you want to explore space you don’t need a physics degree, you just need to avoid tax and treat your workers poorly.

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