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Perspective: Billionaires In Space

The Emirate of Ajman paid tribute to pioneer space pup Laika with a postage stamp.
Vintage Printable;USSR
The Emirate of Ajman paid tribute to pioneer space pup Laika with a postage stamp.

This past week we witnessed the launch of commercial space travel with two billionaires boldly going where no billionaire has gone before. Both Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos rocketed to the edge of space and returned safely to earth. And I am conflicted.


On the one hand, these are remarkable achievements in the development of human space travel. As a kid of the space age, who grew up eating Pillsbury Space Food Sticks and drinking Tang, this should be an exciting, earth-shattering development. I should be thrilled by the spectacle and the promise.

But, and on the other hand, there is something very different about the billionaire space program. Our astronaut heroes had been engineers and scientists. They had been on a mission to explore strange new worlds. Today’s space cowboys are just rich, seeking to explore strange new markets and investment opportunities. And as I watched the space-opera staged by Virgin Galactic and Amazon all I could think about was poor Laika.

Laika was a dog the Soviet Union launched into low earth orbit in 1957. Tragically and by design it was a one-way trip. And Laika — as we say — gave her life for science. So as the billionaires celebrated their success with champagne and press conferences, I was with Laika, the pioneering canine cosmonaut quietly set adrift in the final frontier of space. And I marveled at the irony, hoping that she would never know that it would be this that she was asked to sacrifice her life.

I’m David Gunkel and that’s my Perspective.

Northern Illinois University professor and author