Saturday, 27 Nov 2021

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are ‘billionaires joyriding to space’, UN boss claims

The Secretary-general of the United Nations has said that space tourism is part of a general mistrust facing the world as he criticised private human spaceflight.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres hit out at billionaires, possibly including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos as one of the reasons mistrust keeps growing in the world.

He said: “At the same time, another disease is spreading in our world today: a malady of mistrust,” he said, after mentioning the pandemic and the climate crisis. That included, he said, when people “see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on earth.”

He claimed that such issues are causing people to lose faith in governments and institutions as well as the values of the UN.

Mr Guterres didn't mention any names specifically but his comments were possibly directed at the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson.

The speech by Guterres comes as part of a backlash that started when Bezos and Branson began their tourism spaceflights.

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He said in a statement: “Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some.

Another panellist was also critical. “If it was up to me, I would use all the financial resources they’re spending for other purposes,” said Drew Shindell, professor of earth science at Duke University who does research in climate science.

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“I don’t think it’s a particularly valuable use of time and effort. It does help drive the market for access to space, so not entirely a bad thing.”

“I would be happy if those people also, say, donated the equivalent price of a ticket to space, to something about the environment, for example,” he added, appearing in person on the panel in Toulouse, France.

There is support from some members of the industry however. George Nield, former associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration and a member of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisrory Panel said:

“Personally, I think those launches were very significant in terms of marking what could be a new era of commercial human spaceflight,” he said. Besides allowing more people to go to space, “it will allow NASA to have the opportunity to be just one of many customers.”

“It has the potential to result in lower costs, increased innovation, new products and services, and new markets,” he added, “and motivate students and teachers about STEM, which is going to help us in developing the aerospace workforce that we need in the future.”

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