The Atlantic Daily: Welcome to the Era of Private Space Travel

Posted by on July 20, 2021 7:30 pm
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This is what spaceflight looks like now: A rich person with a dream (and an enormous amount of cash to burn) doesn’t wait for NASA to call, but instead self-launches beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Richard Branson’s and Jeff Bezos’s recent respective trips to space might very well be the opening acts to a new era defined by rich-guy space ambitions.

Once, our space icons were disciplined pilots like Neil Armstrong. Now they’re “the powerful owners of private companies, who have infused space travel with their own personal narratives and idiosyncratic ambitions,” our space reporter, Marina Koren noted this spring.

  • Bezos knows who bought his trip. At a press conference following the flight, he thanked Amazon employees and customers for paying his way. “We live in the world Bezos built,” Marina writes from the launch site in Texas. “In that sense, as he floated over the Earth, taking in the beautiful view, he was surveying his kingdom, and adding one more dimension to his realm.”

  • Space-keen billionaires picked a weird time to be so showy. “Leaving Earth right now isn’t just bad optics; it’s almost a scene out of a twisted B-list thriller,” Shannon Stirone argued earlier this month.

  • They’re reopening debates about who gets called an astronaut. “If astronauts become synonymous with billionaires, our lofty view of them is bound to come back down to Earth,” Marina writes.

  • Next stop: the moon. Bezos is still squabbling with Elon Musk and NASA over a contract to provide the technology to land Americans on the lunar surface.


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Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

HBO’s Hacks is “a rom-com that is dedicated to the romance of work,” Megan Garber writes.

A break from the news:

R.I.P. the carbon tax.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.

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