by Douglas Messier
The Great Billionaire Space Race/Penis Measuring Contest of Summer 2021 came to an end on Saturday just days before the season itself does. And we can finally crown a winner or, to be more precise, winners.
Richard Branson penetrated space first on July 11 aboard Virgin Galactic’s sexy suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle. The British ex-pat changed his plans — he was supposed to be on a later flight test — in order to beat rival billionaire Jeff Bezos to space by nine days. Bezos flew to space aboard Blue Origin’s phallic shape suborbital New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.
If coming in second to Branson was a disappointment, Bezos could take solice in the fact that his humungous net worth of $200.6 billion is 44.6 times larger than Branson’s $4.5 billion. Ah, the rivalries of the 1 percent.
And being first is not always best. It turns out that size and length does matter in space as much as in every aspects of life. Both Bezos and Branson, for all their wealth and their fame, came up short in both categories.
While Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic sent four people into suborbital space to float around for three minutes, Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent the four people into orbit for three days. They flew aboard a rocket that was bigger, longer and vastly more powerful in thrust than the rockets that launched Bezos and Branson on flights that required only three percent of the energy needed to reach orbit.
Musk didn’t fly himself; instead, he sent a surrogate, Jared Isaacman, the one billionaire to go to space this summer who nobody had ever heard of. Isaacman was smart enough not to invite a trio of his wealth friends to join him. If he had, the flight would have looked like the newest indulgence of the 1 percent in a world of growing wealth inequality.
Instead, he wrapped the flight in a blanket of populism and charity. He invited along a trio of averagenauts: Hayley Arceaneaux, a 29-year old childhood cancer survivor who works with cancer patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Sian Proctor, an educator fulfilling her lifelong dream to fly to space; and Christopher Sembroski, an aerospace employee whose friend won the seat in a lottery but decided not to go. People like you and me, SpaceX commentators repeated over and over again during the pre-flight webcast.
The goal of the mission was to raise $200 million for St. Jude to fund cancer research. Isaacman started things off with a $100 million donation; the mission had raised an additional $60 million by the time the Crew Dragon splashed down off the coast of Florida on Saturday night. Musk quickly put the fund-raising campaign over the top by announcing a $50 million donation. Mission accomplished, in more ways than one.
So, we can now declare the Great Billionaire Space Race of 2021 over with Musk and Isaacman the clear winners. But, Branson and Bezos should not fret. Now that commercial human spaceflight is open, there will be plenty of work for everyone.