By Leslie Nevarez
ON APRIL 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to ever travel into space. Eight years later, during the Richard Nixon presidency, Apollo 11 allowed Neil Armstrong to become the first person to land on the moon. In July 2021, two renowned billionaires—Richard Branson and Jeffrey Bezos—rode into the mere surface of space for a total of about 12 minutes combined. While an alarming number of Americans are losing their jobs and barely making ends meet, Branson and Bezos got the spot-light they needed to get richer.
On July 11, 2021—just eight days before Bezos’ trip—Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, became the first-ever to fly into space using a rocket he helped fund. Branson lifted off from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico along with two pilots and three crewmates and experienced around eight minutes of weightlessness.
During the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Bezos also went into space and experienced weightlessness for roughly 4 minutes. Bezos, along with three crew members, lifted off from West Texas on the Blue Origin flight, according to CBS News.
In the ten days that have passed since the billionaires took field trips to space, I could not help but think that there was an even bigger message that rich people (like Branson and Bezos) wanted to send to the rest of the country and even the world. Is flying into space what power looks like to them? Is this a way for the rich to gloat? Or is this the continuation of the infamous Space Wars: Billionaire Edition?
In 2020, the United States lost 20.6 million jobs in March alone, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet in the midst of it all, Bezos, former CEO of Amazon, had a revenue of $386 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, with a total net worth increase of $73 billion. Similarly, Branson had a net worth in-crease of $1.3 billion since July of 2020.
While millions of individuals had to adapt to survive a global pandemic without a stable income, the rich kept getting richer. While Branson’s trip to space cost him $841 million, Bezos spent around $5.5 billion to get the astronaut experience for 4 minutes. This kind of money could have been put to better use back on Earth, such as helping the world get vaccinated against COVID-19, giving financial assistance to those who lost a job during the peak of the pan-demic, or even helping fund education. But such generosity wasn’t shown by the people who could afford to give it.
The takeaway is simple. The once-metaphorical phrase of “sky-rocketing” income has become literal for billionaires. Sadly, showcasing their wealth while millions of others struggle is the most integral aspect of this “mission.”