Twenty-eight million dollars! That’s how much some rich person successfully bid to fly as the first passenger to beyond the edge of space. The flight is scheduled to lift off July 20, and the winner will accompany Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon who, as any Washington Post reader knows, also owns that newspaper. He doesn’t own this paper, so Jeff will have to just suck it up if I call him an American oligarch who has too much money to spend.
Bezos’ collection of playthings also includes Blue Origin, the aerospace company that is about to send its suborbital rocket New Shepard into outer space. The vessel is named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, although it is scheduled to blast its first crew of really rich guys (presumably) — including Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and the as-yet-unidentified winning bidder — and an employee of Blue Origin, maybe a flight attendant on July 20. That is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. They will be departing from Blue Origin’s launch facility near Van Horn, Texas, possibly chosen because of West Texas’ uncanny resemblance to the moon’s surface.
The Blue Origin’s promotional pitch promised a flight “past the Karman line — the internationally recognized boundary of space. … Your 11-minute flight on New Shepard will be the experience of a lifetime. … With room for six astronauts, the spacious and pressurized crew capsule is environmentally controlled for comfort, and every passenger gets their own window seat. The vehicle is fully autonomous. Every person onboard is a passenger — there are no pilots.”
No pilots?! Everything is controlled from the ground. In space, it’s first class all the way, as you view the planet Earth, experience zero gravity and do all those kinds of things that us riffraff cannot afford.
With 13 million kids living in “food insecure” households in the United States, $28 million would go a long way to guaranteeing nutritional meals for them, or scholarships. Instead, it’s the entrance fee for some super wealthy man or woman to get an 11-minute experience with what amounts to a toy.
He or she will be far above the infrastructure problems that place the USA in danger of disintegrating. The Biden administration is proposing an increase in taxes on those making $400,000 a year in personal income and an increase in corporate taxes. That has caused an uproar, particularly in Republican circles, who are united in representing the fat cats. The way the tax laws are arranged now, the oligarchs pay next to nothing, if they pay anything at all.
But let’s see if their latest trinket goes off without a hitch. It’s a direct flight to and from the cusp of outer space, so TSA problems won’t cause a missed connection. I am presuming that passengers will have no issues with face masks, not even a space helmet. We can’t have one destroying the view, now can we?
Even though Bezos is stepping down as Amazon CEO as of July 5, maybe this will be some sort of delivery experiment. Who knows, when humans inhabit the moon, Mars or what have you, they’re going to need some way to move their packages out there for someone to steal from your porch.
Before Mr. or Ms. Plutocrat is identified, there will be a delay, presumably for the company and passenger to negotiate what happens if something goes wrong and to learn escape procedures. And, of course, the responsibilities and the liabilities. What if the company loses your luggage?
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.
© 2021 Bob Franken
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