Opinion

The Problem Billionaires Are Overlooking in Their Race to Space

Tensie Whelan

By Tensie Whelan

Unfortunately, we are well on our way to turning space into a giant garbage dump rather than a manufacturing hub or tourism destination.

By Tensie Whelan

Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk see dollar signs in space, but we need to avoid a tragedy of the commons.

When I was 9 years old, the New York Times published a picture of me looking at one of the moon rocks brought back by the astronauts. The year was 1969, and my father worked at the Museum of Natural History; the paper wanted a shot with a kid looking at a symbol of our future in space. So I got to see up close what everyone else had to view inside a large box (not that it looked different than an ordinary backyard rock).

Fast forward 50 years, and what do we have going on in space now? In the United States, NASA has retired its space shuttles, ceding the ground to billionaires taking space exploration private—Elon Musk with SpaceX, Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin and Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic are the most well-known. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are still very much in the game, but there is growing competition from the smaller upstarts.

Some of these billionaires have broader societal goals. Elon Musk wants to reduce the cost of cargo transport and trips to Mars to make humanity a multi-planet species, and Richard Branson wants to take tourists to space. In a recent interview with CNBC, Jeff Bezos said he wanted to protect our planet by turning space into the place where we manufacture all the stuff we currently manufacture on earth, thus no longer polluting our backyards. “Earth can be zoned residential,” says Bezos.

Unfortunately, we are well on our way to turning space into a giant garbage dump rather than a manufacturing hub or tourism destination.

Read the full Worth article.
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Tensie Whelan is a Clinical Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Center for Sustainable Business.