Sometimes life imitates art. William Shatner heads to space with Blue Origin.

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Mr. Branson and Mr. Bezos have made the billionaire space race more literal and personal, and often speak in more dreamy language. Mr. Branson was launched first, in July, and Mr. Bezos followed a few days later. Speaking to “all the kids out there” from the edge of space, Mr Branson said, “if we can do it, imagine what you can do.”

Mr. Bezos, after landing, simply said, “The best day of my life!” “

In front of the assembled press, he tried to convey a feeling of community, or at least of humility. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer for paying for all of this,” he said. He was clearly moved and his performance was serious, but it also produced a reaction that, perhaps from any other point of view in the world, would have been easy to anticipate. “Amazon employees don’t need Bezos to thank them. They need him to stop the dismantling of the unions – and pay them what they deserve, ”wrote former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. on Twitter.

In all of these excursions, there has been an explicit or implicit message: that billionaire space is about opening up spaceflight – or, sometimes, “tourism” – to larger groups of people. You can already book tickets for the space, and a few people have now been able to use them.

The techno-optimism of this idea – that some of today’s toys for the rich will one day be taken for granted by millions of people – is not without precedent. But it’s also a recognizable product pitch as well as an insistent attempt to assure the public that things aren’t just what they look like today – that is, the ultrarich sell flights to. space to the slightly less wealthy. Calls that the US private space industry is the country’s best cover against the growth of space programs in other countries double up, even to those who find them compelling, as a bitter reminder of the overall national institutional decline.

In these early stages, billionaires’ arguments about their roles in space always adjust constantly, never quite lining up, even when they overlap. Sometimes they run companies that are developing industries. Sometimes they enjoy some teasing with a few of their peers. Their posts are inspired by history and tropes, science and fiction, nostalgia and wild speculation. Space is a refuge, a frontier or an untapped market; The Earth must be saved, or escaped, or else written across the cosmos.

At a conference last year, Mr. Musk summed up one of his long-held arguments: “If something terrible happens on Earth, whether it’s man-made or natural, we want to have, for example, life insurance for life as a whole. Then there’s the kind of excitement and adventure.



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