Nine days after Briton Richard Branson, his billionaire competitor Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, founder and former CEO of Amazon, took off in turn on Tuesday at 3 p.m. (French time) in the rocket from his company Blue Origin. The date was not chosen at random: July 20 marked the 52e anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Departing from a Texas desert on its way to space, the rocket had three other space tourists on board, one of whom bought, at auction, a seat at a price exorbitant. Jeff Bezos was accompanied by his brother Mark and two passengers, both the youngest and the oldest of the astronauts.
Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutchman with a private pilot’s license, is Blue Origin’s first and only paying passenger. He is the son of the boss of investment firm Somerset Capital Partners, which was the second highest bidder. The winner of the auction, who asked to remain anonymous, paid 28 million dollars but he will fly on a future mission. The oldest astronaut, invited by Bezos, is the 82-year-old aviator “Wally” Funk. In the 1960s, she was part of a group of women selected as part of a NASA program. “I had done the job better and faster than any of the men, says Wally Funk, but no one wanted to take me. I didn’t think I would ever go up there! “
Bezos had been preparing for this flight for over twenty years with his Blue Origin company, who manages the trip. His company has designed a reusable rocket called New Shepard, which has at its top a capsule, equipped with portholes, capable of accommodating up to six people in a habitable volume of 15 m3.
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As expected, this capsule separated from the New Shepard rocket at 75 kilometers altitude, then continued on its way up to 106 km, just beyond the limit of the Earth’s atmosphere, so that the four passengers can float for a few minutes in zero gravity and discover the curvature of the Earth. The capsule then returned to land in the desert after being slowed down in its descent by three parachutes.
Unlike Richard Branson’s ship, which employs a solid fuel propulsion technique that produces CO2 (main culprit in climate change), Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket uses hydrogen and liquid oxygen in its engine. But it pollutes, like all suborbital flights. In ten minutes, Bezos and his three customers still each emitted the equivalent of 75 tonnes of CO.2… “On Earth, there are a billion people who do not reach these emission levels over a lifetime! »Calculated the economist, Lucas Chancel, specialist in inequalities and the environment .
Unbridled competition to privatize space tourism
With this adventure, Jeff Bezos inscribes his name in American space history. Like Richard Branson, he said he was chasing a childhood dream. In fact, he is launching into a frantic competition with other billionaire entrepreneurs to privatize space tourism, even space exploration. His two declared rivals: Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, who founded the SpaceX group, and Richard Branson, the boss of the Virgin Group founder of Virgin Galactic, who carried out the first manned suborbital flight on July 11. SpaceX’s rocket, three times the height of New Shepard, has already been put into orbit, and SpaceX’s Alpha mission has just returned to the International Space Station with Thomas Pesquet on board.
“Billionaires are having fun… But the world is changing! Short-duration spaceflight proposals are expensive. Taking into account the laws of physics, they are very expensive in energy and there are few ways to reduce this ecological footprint ”, regrets Michel Viso, former head of the exobiology program at the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes). Warning in passing that the real appropriation of space will result from the Artemis agreements, which concern the Moon: “The United States has these agreements signed on the sly, bilaterally, by the States. They plan, in contradiction with the treaty of 1967, and whatever their promoter may say, to be able to delimit on the Moon an area of an indefinite extent, reserved for the exclusive use of an entity (State or private company) . “ (Find all of Michel Viso’s comments on the Humanite.fr site)
If Jeff Bezos’ space “dream” has come true, it will hardly make people forget what is happening on Earth at the giant Amazon, where so many temporary workers work: in France, they occupy up to 64% of the most jobs. dangerous. And according to the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of American unions, nearly 6% of workers were victims of a work accident in 2020. Tragedies in particular due to a system called “Time Off Task” ), which identifies and signals those who stop working for a while and thus cause a lot of stress.
Under the guise of pursuing a dream, the space tourism of the ultrariche led by Jeff Bezos looks more like a global communication operation to try to make people forget the daily nightmare of the precarious people watched in the warehouses of Amazon.