The View From Here – The super-rich are spending vast amounts of money to go joyriding in space

Tom Henihan

The super-rich are now gravitating towards space travel; it appears space is currently the novelty du jure with those who have more money than they know what to do with on this earth.

I guess, flying over our heads in private jets while commuting from exotic environs to exclusive resorts has become mundane.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, over a dozen wealthy Canadians have already placed a deposit on a $250,000 U.S. ticket for a suborbital flight on a Virgin Galactic space plane. That price I assume reserves a window seat and allows for one carry on bag.

One wealthy Canadian, Guy Laliberte founder of Cirque du Soleil, beat the rush by 9 years, having paid approximately $35 million U.S. for a 12-day visit to the International Space Station in 2009.

For those who are not in the same financial league as Laliberte but no less morally weightless, there is also the equivalent of economy flights.

These $5,000 U.S. flights provided by Zero Gravity Corporation of Arlington Virginia are more a simulated version of being in space than anything close the real deal.

Zero Gravity Corporation welcomes children eight years old and up to float around aimlessly in one of thier customized aircraft, which is appropriate as the entire endeavour seems more carnival-like that an answer to any kind of serious minded curiosity.

CEO and President of the Canadian chapter of the Space Tourism Society (STS) Azam Shaghaghi speculates that it will take at least ten years for the price of space travel to come down sufficiently so mere mortals can travel in space.

“It’s going to happen sooner or later. Hopefully in the next 10 to 15 years it would be really affordable to fly back and forth,’’ she said.

“Fly back and forth,” is an interesting turn of phrase when talking about travelling in space. It suggests that one could either fly forth and stay at one’s leisure and fly back when one has had enough of zero gravity. While getting to space has arrived, getting to stay is still a long way off for the vast majority at least.

Azam Shaghaghi says that the goal of the Space Tourism Society is to educate people that space travel “is not just for millionaires and the elite but for ordinary people,’’ which to my mind, is a statement that is profoundly inane.

I wonder what qualifications are needed to become President and CEO of the Canadian Space Tourism Society: is it a degree in astrophysics or a travel and tourism diploma?

This indulgence with space tourism perfectly illustrates the enormous, unacceptable chasm between the super rich and everyone else. It also illustrates how morally detached and self-consumed many wealthy people are, considering the pressing needs of so many people here on earth.

That Guy Laliberte and his ilk can think of nothing more pressing to do with $35 million than spend it on a 12 day trip to the international space station, illustrates self-indulgent, bovine curiosity.

This hedonistic appetite for childish exhilaration bears no resemblance to scientific or intellectual curiosity.

Thirty-five million US could alleviate a lot of poverty instead of being squandered on a novelty ride into space.

Spending $5000 on a vapid zero gravity merry-go-rounds is also morally bankrupt.

I agree with the Roman philosopher Seneca:

“Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate.”

So I appreciate that space is the new frontier and I share other’s curiosity. However, what upended universe do we inhabit if tourists get to travel beyond that frontier, ahead of qualified and bonafide explorers.


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