Opinion: Space travel is here and it’s changing people’s lives. We have Jeff Bezos to thank for that.

Shaffer He is a student majoring in journalism and international relations at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is originally from the Carmel Valley.

“Launch. Earth. Repeats.” That’s the motto of Blue Origin, the airline owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that takes civilians to the edge of outer space.

While the so-called “billionaire space race” has generated a lot of controversy, the accessibility it has offered deserves recognition.

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a pilot and cosmonaut in the Soviet Union, became the first human to fly into space. After 61 years, just over 600 people have joined him.

Despite years of preparation, it wasn’t until 2021 that the door opened to welcome a larger group of participants. Space tourism refers to human travel into space for recreational purposes. Space tourists are ordinary people, and they visit space without certain boundaries outside the space itself.

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While there is certainly industry competition between the three leading private space aerospace companies — Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Blue Origin Bezos — Virgin Galactic has paused space tourism efforts for renovations, and SpaceX is currently prioritizing orbital flights, So Blue Origin dominated the sub-orbital scene with its New Shepard rocket, named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space and the fifth to walk on the moon.

The ride takes about 11 minutes, but even in that short amount of time, participants saw their experience as completely transformative.

After going into space, Blue Origin space tourist, Glen de Vries told me, “I still wake up every day to find out exactly how to disclose what I experienced and how I feel changed by it.” De Vries, who has since passed away, was part of the crew of NS-18, Blue Origin’s second civilian spaceflight, which took off on October 31, 2021, with crew members that included Star Trek representative William Shatner, Blue Origin’s deputy. Chief of Mission and Flight Operations Audrey Powers, and Chris Buchwezen, co-founder of Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based satellite Earth imaging company. Bezos himself was on the first flight that took off on July 20, 2021.

A third flight on December 11, 2021 named six new Blue Origin space tourists, including TV personality and former professional footballer Michael Strahan and Laura Shepherd Churchley, the daughter of Alan Shepard. A fourth flight for Blue Origin occurred on March 31, marking another successful manned mission for the company.

While space experts consider these missions major steps for the space community, many others aren’t ready to celebrate. For starters, not many people are happy with the amount being invested in space tourism. For weeks after Bezos flew into space, memes circulated online, blasting his decision to do so, questioning him about why he wasn’t using this money to raise Amazon employee salaries or to help fight climate change.

Politicians and celebrities came, expressing criticism of space tourism as well. Last July, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, chirp“Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half of our people live on paycheck, people struggle to feed themselves, and they struggle to see a doctor — but hey, the richest men in the world go to outer space!”

These critics are right. According to one analysis, Bezos alone earns approximately $205 million per day. This is more than 1.4 million times the money the average American earns in one day. There are countless ways he can spend his fortune. This begs the question: What makes space something worth investing in?

According to de Vries, when you travel into space, “you only realize that the lines that divide nations and countries, races and genders and sexual orientations…none of these things are as important as the fact that we are all one species in one giant civilization.”

What de Vries describes is the “overview effect,” which refers to the cognitive shift in consciousness reported by some astronauts during spaceflights, often while looking at Earth from outer space. It’s a common sentiment felt by those who have traveled to space – and it could be the solution to ending global conflict.

“I want people to understand how important these things are and to celebrate human achievement,” de Vries said. “When someone says, ‘Space tourism is not sustainable,’ I think maybe they are looking at the wrong picture and they may also need to get a little smaller and look at something bigger.”

More can always be done to reduce the cost and environmental impact of space tourism, but let’s not lose sight of its advantages, such as how to increase access to space, transcend cultural barriers and unite people over borders.

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