Way Up There

Ever higher, ever more costly, it is no longer a billionaire’s dream. This is reality beyond all skepticism. The richest man in the world went and touched the stars, to get space tourism off the ground. A bit later than his Virgin rival, Jeff Bezos has paid for the luxury of crossing the atmosphere’s borders.

Luxury? Yes, without a doubt. Providing yourself with your own rocket is the ultimate display of an economic power that demotes terrestrial conquests and industrial sagas to the rank of a neighborhood adventure.

By extricating themselves from the planet’s orbit, Bezos and his counterpart, Richard Branson, extracted themselves from the human condition as it has been conceived. Manned space travel used to fall within the exclusive authority of governments. It is now entering the private sphere. Capitalism’s backyard, on its most efficient scale, is the weightless universe. E.T. belongs to fiction, but Bezos’ ambitions are not a movie.

Marketing and ego are no strangers to this bet of his. Amazon’s founder aimed for the historic feat of embarking with both the youngest and the eldest travelers in space. This desire to inscribe one’s name in the firmament, the real one, the one where oxygen has vanished, cannot be reduced to the whim of a tycoon. Thanks to a host of innovations, it is not inconceivable that these flights may breathe life into a space discipline in search of new locomotives – recyclable thrusters, for example.

Behind great advances often loom the megalomaniac and visionary figures of patrons and financiers who push the limits of what is possible. Bezos and Branson, in wanting to trivialize manned flight, are changing the fundamentals. They are changing the approach to space by imposing on it a fine management of resources and technological advances likely to open the experience to amateur space travelers.

Their fantasies of factories in the void or of stellar colonies may amuse people, just as Jules Verne’s crazy ideas made people laugh. But for this depleted Earth, stepping into space is perhaps a leap toward another future, one we cannot yet imagine. It does not matter that we are crossing this threshold in the garb of the ultra-rich.

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