The benefits of billionaires in space

This is how innovation begins

Billionaires in space.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Summer of Soul, a new documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in New York City, draws a contrast with a better-known music concert series that summer, Woodstock. But the film also gives an alternate perspective on another big event that happened during the festival, the Apollo moon landing. After showing snippets of various white people around the country expressing wonder at the achievement (such as "It's a great thing for this country" and "It's really unbelievable"), Summer of Soul then shifts to the Black concert attendees who are far less enthusiastic. Comments by one young man are presented as the typical view: "The cash they wasted, as far as I'm concerned, in getting to the Moon could have been used to feed poor Black people in Harlem and all over the place, all over this country. So like, you know, never mind the Moon. Let's get some of that cash in Harlem."

The Space Race era "rockets versus butter" argument has resurfaced as various billionaires engage in the most heated space competition since the United States and the Soviet Union raced to the Moon in the 1960s. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson took a rocket plane to space (kind of) last week, while Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is scheduled to head into space on a Blue Origin rocket on Tuesday. And, of course, Elon Musk's SpaceX has energized the commercial space industry by lowering launch costs, while also returning the U.S. to human spaceflight. And Bezos and Musk both have broader ambitions to turn humanity into a space-faring civilization where millions of us are living and working in Earth orbit and beyond.

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James Pethokoukis

James Pethokoukis is the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where he runs the AEIdeas blog. He has also written for The New York Times, National Review, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and other places.