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Space, billionaires, and how capitalism is killing the planet

Let’s dream of some ‘final frontier’ by all means. But humanity should pay a little more attention to what’s happening right here and right now, writes Tim Jackson

Sunday 15 August 2021 00:01
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<p>Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew (from left): Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Wally Funk and Mark Bezos</p>

Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew (from left): Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Wally Funk and Mark Bezos

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, laments the Rocket Man in Elton John’s timeless classic. In fact, it’s cold as hell. But that doesn’t seem to worry a new generation of space entrepreneurs intent on colonising the “final frontier” as fast as possible. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no sullen technophobe. As lockdown projects go, Nasa’s landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of the red planet earlier this year was a hell of a blast. Watching it reminded me that I once led a high-school debate defending the motion: this house believes that humanity should reach for the stars.

It must have been around the time that Caspar Weinberger was trying to persuade President Nixon not to cancel the Apollo space programme. My brothers and I had watched the monochrome triumph of the Apollo 11 landing avidly in 1969. We’d witnessed the near disaster of Apollo 13 – immortalised in a 1995 Hollywood film – when Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) and two rookie astronauts narrowly escaped with their lives by using the Lunar Module as an emergency life raft. We knew it was exciting up there.

I remember later going to see Apollo 13 (the film) with a friend who wasn’t born when the mission itself took place. “What did you think?” I asked as we came out of the cinema. “It was okay,” said my friend. “Just not very believable.”

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