SpaceX accomplishes what Bernie Sanders never could — it’s made me resent ‘billionayuhs’

SpaceX says its Falcon Heavy rocket, shown here in an artist's rendering, will be used in the mission to the moon.

SpaceX says its Falcon Heavy rocket, shown here in an artist’s rendering, will be used in the mission to the moon.

It’s hard to stir class resentment in me.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Karl Marx and Occupy Wall Street have all been trying like fun for the last century or two, but they don’t arrive. I don’t much care how much money other people have, or what they do with it, as long as they don’t expect me to count it, or be impressed by it, or even think about it — because I can’t imagine anything more boring.

But SpaceX has succeeded where all the populists and resentmentmongers have failed, with this simple announcement:

The private company SpaceX has announced that it plans to send two passengers on a mission beyond the moon in late 2018.

If the mission goes forward, it would be the “first time humans have traveled beyond low Earth orbit since the days of Apollo,” as NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce told our Newscast unit.

The two private citizens approached the company about the idea and have already paid a sizable deposit, CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a conference call. These private individuals will also bear the cost of the mission….

I am a child of the Space Age, and what could be better for a communitarian? Look at what we accomplished!

In those binary days of the Cold War, “we” meant Americans. Our ingenuity, our pooled resources (it was going to cost $24 billion to go to the moon!), our heroes, the best of the best of the pilots of our military, with our nerds using their American sliderules to make sure our guys got there and back! It was like everything that was great about the Free World — with the government and the whole aerospace industry pulling together because no one entity could do it alone — came together to make the impossible possible. Our boys might have been going up to do single combat with the godless commies in the heavens, as Tom Wolfe eulogized the effort, but they had millions of us behind them.

And what should have happened, as the Cold War faded, was that “we” should have been redefined to mean the whole human race. And that sort of started to happen, with the Apollo-Soyuz hookup in 1975 (three years after we’d quit going to the moon), continuing with the International Space Station and with American astronauts hitching rides with the Russians after we quit building spacecraft and became Space Slackers.

But now it’s not “we” anymore. It’s Bernie’s “billionayuhs.” They’re the only ones who get to boldly go where no man has gone before. Because the United States of America, the richest and most powerful country in the history of this planet, is no longer big enough, rich enough, brave enough, ambitious enough, dauntless enough to send anyone up there on behalf of us all, so that we can all feel part of the thrill of exploration.

We can’t afford it anymore, it seems, even pooling the resources and energies of the whole nation. The most we can manage is to catch rides for a pathetic merry-go-round ride in Earth orbit, basically not going anywhere that Yuri Gagarin didn’t go in 1961.

But a couple of rich guys can go, on a lark, past where any of our previous national efforts could go. Not to accomplish anything for science or humanity, but because they’d personally like to go, and can write checks big enough to make it happen.

So yeah, finally, I resent the rich guys.

But even more, I resent the rest of us for having given up on human exploration.

These guys hung their hides out over the edge for US, not to gratify personal whims.

These guys hung their hides out over the edge for US, not to gratify personal whims.

32 thoughts on “SpaceX accomplishes what Bernie Sanders never could — it’s made me resent ‘billionayuhs’

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Now watch…

    Doug will post some kind of Ayn Randian reaction mocking my communitarian sense of loss, and telling us how much better it is for private enterprise to take over what we once did as a nation.

    In particular, he will mock the idea that I and the other kids watching John Glenn go up on a little black-and-white TV screen in the school auditorium had any involvement in the accomplishment.

    But he’ll be wrong. He wasn’t there, and I suppose never will be…

    1. Doug Ross

      I was there. I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. It was cool at the time. But then I grew up and got past the fanboy aspect of it and was left wondering what purpose it actually served. If it had been important, we would have kept doing it.

      Of course you support spending tax dollars to go to the moon or anywhere else. You support tax dollars being spent on everything, everywhere, all the time. Why make choices or have priorities when you can have it all at someone else’s expense? You love the spectacle, the hyped up “America Is The Greatest” jingoism. You’re big on imagery, not so big on results.

      Sorry, but I have other priorities for this country. Sending a rocket ship into space without an actual defined beneficial purpose to the people in this country is wasteful. Let’s solve other scientific problems that have actual value – energy independence, access to clean water, cures for cancer. There’s a hundred things I can think of that would be better suited for a NASA-style full court press.

    2. Doug Ross

      As for your adopting bud’s simplistic Ayn Rand eptithets — “Oooh – you got me good!” You nailed me with your insightful analysis of my character based on the works of an author you haven’t actually read. You are truly a Master and Commander of repartee. Sorry if I misused that reference. I haven’t read any of those books — but I will make the analogy anyway.

      1. Doug Ross

        A communitarian is a socialist who goes to Mass.

        I’m comfortable in knowing that I live out my philosophy and don’t just talk about it.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’ve read “Anthem,” in junior high school. I enjoyed it, as silly as it was in its heavy-handed anti-collectivism. I’ve reread it a number of times since. It takes minimal investment of time.

        Years later, I started to wonder about the English teacher who assigned it…

  2. bud

    Don’t care one one way or the other about this moonshot scheme. What does concern me is how this illustrates the grotesque level of income inequality in this country. Some hard working families struggle to pay for gas to go to work while these ultra privileged primadonnas fly to the moon. Our priorities as a nation have to change. Brad should care about how much wealth people have. It comes out of the hide of those of us who work for a living.

        1. Claus

          Ranking Name Citizenship Net worth (USD) Sources of wealth
          1 Stefan Persson Sweden 20.8 billion H&M
          2 Hans Rausing Sweden 12.5 billion Tetra Pak
          3 Frederik Paulsen Sweden 6 billion Ferring Pharmaceuticals
          4 Jörn Rausing Sweden 5.8 billion Tetra Laval, inherited
          5 Antonia Johnson Sweden 5.7 billion Axel Johnson AB, inherited
          6 Melker Schörling Sweden 5.7 billion Investments
          7 Finn Rausing Sweden 5.5 billion Tetra Laval, inherited
          8 Kirsten Rausing Sweden 5.5 billion Tetra Laval, inherited
          9 Dan Olsson Sweden 5.1 billion Diversified
          10 Gustaf Douglas Sweden 4.7 billion Securitas, Investment AB Latour
          11 Bertil Hult Sweden 4 billion Education
          12 Fredrik Lundberg Sweden 3.8 billion Real Estate, Investments
          13 Lottie Tham Sweden 3.6 billion H&M, inherited
          14 Stefan Olsson Sweden 2.4 billion Diversified
          15 Karl-Johan Persson Sweden 2.4 billion H&M, inherited
          16 Tom Persson Sweden 2.4 billion H&M, inherited
          17 Charlotte Söderström Sweden 2.4 billion H&M, inherited
          18 Carl Bennet Sweden 2.3 billion Investments
          19 Eric Selin Sweden 2.1 billion Balder
          20 Madeleine Olsson Eriksson Sweden 1.9 billion Stena, inherited
          21 Torbjörn Törnqvist Sweden 1.8 billion Oil Trading
          22 Markus Persson Sweden 1.3 billion Minecraft
          23 Thomas Sandell Sweden 1.3 billion Hedge Funds
          24 Jonas Kamprad Sweden 1 billion IKEA, inherited
          25 Mathias Kamprad Sweden 1 billion IKEA, inherited
          26 Peter Kamprad Sweden 1 billion IKEA, inherited

          Global ranking Name Citizenship Net worth (USD) Sources of wealth
          129 Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen Denmark 9.7 billion Lego
          271 Anders Holch Povlsen Denmark 5.5 billion Bestseller, Zalando, Asos
          435 Lars Larsen Denmark 3.9 billion JYSK
          435 Niels Peter Louis-Hansen Denmark 3.9 billion Coloplast, Ambu
          690 Hanni Toosbuy Kasprzak Denmark 2.7 billion ECCO

            1. Richard

              I think Claus was pointing out that there are rich people in Sweden and Denmark just as there are rich people in this country. Bud stated he’d prefer that this country follow the economic structured of Sweden and Denmark, which don’t appear to be that different than this country considering the number of billionaires in each country.

    1. JesseS

      It’s isn’t all about income inequality or the arrogance of wannabe Tony Starks with too much money. The truth is space travel is complicated, but the costs have gone down. Machining is cheaper. Number crunching is cheaper. All of it has gotten cheaper. Even 15 years ago the Grasshopper rocket would have cost a boat load more than it costs today. Not to mention only backyard engineers with a few million to spare and the minds to figure out the math could afford to make headway on those landing systems that took advantage of newer, faster, and cheaper tech.

      What hasn’t gotten cheaper is the pork based Congressional appeasement model that keep big projects going for Boeing and Lockheed. If SpaceX were required to go that route they’d be dead in a week. The entire company is grounded in the idea that it’s cheaper to build in-house and so far they have been proving that right.

        1. JesseS

          Yes –well as much as possible. According to SpaceX 85% of Falcon/Dragon is built in-house. When starting out they looked into “cheaply” buying rockets from the Russians and came to the conclusion that only about 3% of the costs in rocketry are in raw materials, so it made more sense to do it themselves unless components could be purchased cheaper from outside sources.

          Not to mention when you want nice flat screens on the Dragon capsule, you might want to outsource to the S. Koreans.

  3. Karen Pearson

    Brad, I’m envious, too. I dreamed of going into space, and what space flight could mean. So many people think it was a waste of money. No, we did not take that money and drop it on the moon. So much of the technology that went into those flights is being used today. We made giant leaps with what we learned from that effort. I wanna go!!!

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m not exactly saying I’m envious, on a personal level. I have no particular urge to go to space. I’m sure it would be a thrill for awhile, but after awhile I expect the novelty to wear off, and there you are, floating in your tin can.

      Can you even get Netflix up there?

      But I want my country to continue to care about human exploration of space. Some people want their government to force private citizens and organizations to provide coverage for birth control. Others want it to bar Mexicans from coming here to pick our vegetables. This is what I want. Different strokes…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’d want to go to space for about as long as I could hold it without needing to go the bathroom. Then I’d want to come right back.

        Others are more adventurous.

        I’m fine with the danger — the blastoff, the re-entry — but I draw the line at doing whatever astronauts do in lieu of using a civilized lavatory…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And of course, it’s hard to know how long that will be. Alan Shepard had only a 15-minute flight, and he had to urinate in his suit before the liftoff…

  4. Leon

    Wow. M:y first reaction when I read this story today was of excitement. It didn’t even occur to me that I should resent the people paying the money to go. I just thought it was fantastic that someone is thinking big. You know what? If Space X can pull this off more power to them.

  5. Claus

    Wow, will I ever get another comment approved? I think I’ve been waiting two days to get messages approved and now they’ve disappeared completely.

  6. John

    I don’t resent the billionaires. However, I am unhappy that the federal government and state governments have been retreating from big science in so many ways. The Human Genome project was the last one I can think of where we collectively agreed that knowledge from the experiments was so important that getting there was worth the cost. You might also count the SSC and the Higgs search, but that was shared by several countries and didn’t involve the US having a vision in the same way. A real science historian may cite other examples, but I miss the way we used to challenge the country to think big when it came to research. I can’t remember a time when South Carolina, for example, ever came out and said “this new knowledge is essential to our welfare” (or something equivalent) and then acted to obtain it. Maybe the auto-related research hub in the Upstate counts?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And as I said, I don’t resent the billionayuhs as much as I do the fact that we’ve backed away from exploration as a country.

      For several days, I’ve wanted to write about a Bret Stephens column from Friday about how the West has lost confidence in itself, which bears on this subject. But weirdly, after I read it I haven’t been able to call the column up anywhere (the usual tricks aren’t working), on my iPad or my laptop. So I haven’t.

      It’s glitches like that that can make the West lose confidence in itself…

  7. Burl Burlingame

    Billionaires do not profit from space exploration. That’s why Republican politicians cut it out. Billionaires also do not profit from public education, public science, public medicine, public parks, public historic sites, public transportation and public arts.

  8. Harry Harris

    I found the “class envy” label interesting. That’s what the super-rich want to characterize all questions concerning income gaps and oligarchy. I don’t envy the wealth of the billionaires, but I do question the means by which much of it is obtained and the wisdom and fairness of its influence in political systems. Leaving aside the amount of super-wealth that is gotten by speculation with other people’s money, financial rigging, stock chicanery, and insanely high CEO pay, how can we be so blind to the effects of our “progressive” tax system.
    Never in the the history of social security has so much income been off the books for FICA. Capital gains, stock option compensation, dividends, “carried interest,” and numerous under-the-table income swaps never pay the 6.21% our middle-income earners add to whatever their tax rate happens to be. Add to that salary above about 118K per year. Meanwhile high-earning politicians warn us that Social Security has to kick aging laborers in the teeth to preserve its viability – even worse, turn it into a stock market gamble. The dreaded Obamacare if repealed, will wipe out the extension of Medicare’s 1.9% tax to some of that protected income of the upper-crust. You can bet that that paltry, but important equalizer will be quietly swept away in any “repeal and replace” scheme. We will also see another misguided push to see passive income given even more favorable treatment so that investors can continue to have a lower effective tax rate than their secretaries.
    I applaud wealthy folks who enjoy their wealth, especially if they spend some of it it as opposed to piling it up. I enjoy using what I’ve accumulated and hope they do also – on a grand scale. If they don’t, their heirs are likely to, even if history is any indicator.


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