Opinion

The two-man space race

Why Bezos and Musk wanted to be rich

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, two of the richest men on Earth, can't wait to use their wealth to leave it. What does that tell us? Bezos has announced he's jumping aboard the first passenger flight his space company, Blue Origin, makes on July 20. Viewing our planet from space "is the thing I wanted to do all my life," Bezos said. Musk's SpaceX company is several steps ahead and is already ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. He plans a manned mission this decade to Mars, where Musk has said he hopes to die someday in a colony he built. The private space race between these two swashbuckling, eccentric geniuses isn't particularly friendly: Musk recently mocked Bezos' Blue Origin rocket with a tweet reading "Can't get it up (to orbit) lol." Boys will be boys, even if — especially if — they're worth upward of $150 billion.

But their fascination with space isn't just an idle hobby. Bezos was an avid science fiction and Star Trek fan growing up — "there's a utopian element to it I find very attractive," he has said of the genre. As Franklin Foer reported in a superb profile of Bezos in The Atlantic in 2019, his high school valedictorian address in 1982 was about moving much of humanity to giant, man-made habitats beyond our atmosphere. Bezos' high school girlfriend has said that "the reason he's earning so much money is to get to outer space." Does that mean Amazon, the most dominant company in this planet's history, is merely a launch pad for one man's science-fiction fantasies of creating a utopia in space? Essentially, yes. Bezos calls Blue Origin "my most important work," his legacy. His dream of moving a trillion or two people to floating, rotating Bezosvilles decades from now may seem absurdly ambitious, even for him. But the next time you order from Amazon, consider this: You may have just helped fund the creation of a space colony for your great-grandchildren.

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