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Predictably, Sir Richard Branson Dreams of Building a Hotel on the Moon

What is the point of traveling to space if you can’t leave a trace behind? When was ever a pathmaker content with just showing the others where to follow? If you explore a space and can’t lay some sort of claim on it, the adventure feels empty of meaning.
The same goes for space with a capital S. The media called it the billionaire space race, where three of the world’s richest businessmen (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson) went neck and neck in an unofficial competition of who gets to become the first space tourist. The first one to do so would get to pave the way for commercial flights and space tourism, and open space wide for everyone else. Because it’s not just astronauts who should get to enjoy it.

Sir Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Galactic, won the race last weekend, flying to the edge of space on board the VSS Unity spacecraft.

The flight was billed as a flight to space, but technically, having reached an altitude of 50 miles (80 km), VSS Unity didn’t really go to “space,” and neither did Branson. For that to have happened, he should have traveled above the Kármán line, at 62 miles (100 km).

Technicalities aside, the flight was a success for Virgin after 15 hard years, and Branson is doing his most to raise interest in the company’s efforts. In a new interview with Press Association (via Standard), the billionaire explains how this landmark, “glorious” mission will pave the way for more similar accomplishments. He doesn’t expect to fly again soon because, selflessly, he wants to leave that spot open for other volunteer astronauts. He’s had his fun, it’s now everyone else’s turn.

Branson also says we should expect more flights and higher altitudes, which is probably a covert way of admitting that, yes, they didn’t really go to space with this first one. And then, there’s this: maybe Virgin will help colonize the Moon sometime in the future. His quote comes in the context of an explanation about how more flights will bring in more money and, consequently, allow Virgin to improve on existing technology.

“Whether one day we will build a hotel off the moon, which is something that I’ve always dreamed of, or whether we’ll leave that to my children to do, we’ll have to see,” Branson says. Just to make sure, Branson isn’t using “we” as a collective pronoun for humanity: he really is talking about himself and his family, one day building a hotel on the Moon.

Not that this should come as much of a surprise. The race was never about who gives wider access to space to common folk or who will solve humanity’s overpopulation and our-planet-is-dying issue (even though Musk does make a nearly convincing case on that last account). This was always about money and, perhaps more importantly for men like these, the claim of ownership.

No discovery is important if you can’t claim the discovered space as your own in way or another, and space is what today’s billionaires are choosing to concentrate on. History has taught us that such behavior is common with explorers, and humans in general.

It makes sense to become manifest in these three men, especially since they’re pouring hundreds of millions into their endeavors. Scream as you will at Branson for wanting his hotel on the Moon or at Musk for his entire future colony city on Mars, but it’s the way things go. The no one gets left behind line is something that works only in movies.

 
 
 
 
 

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