Richly space bound - GulfToday

Richly space bound

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Blue Origin’s New Shepard lifts off from the launchpad on July 20 in Van Horn, Texas. Jeff Bezos and the crew rode in the first human spaceflight for the company. Photo: AP

World Food Programme director David Beasley has repeatedly called on the world’s billionaires to feed the world’s starving rather than pursuing self-promoting space projects. Beasley launched the first of several broadsides at airline mogul Richard Branson, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, and entrepreneur Elon Musk who could save the lives of 41 million hungry people while shooting for the stars in expensive rockets. Beasly tweeted, “It only take $6 billion. We can solve this quickly.”

In a CNN interview last week, Beasley said that the WFP was reaching only half the people who needed to be supplied with food and was providing only half the rations they need due to a shortage of funds. The programme has received $5.2 billion in contributions as of the 18th this month.   

Beasley followed up by saying that Bezos’ fortune had increased by $65 billion between June 2020-21 while Musk’s wealth rose by $137 billion. Beasley urged Musk to contribute five per cent of this sum to rescue the 41 million. The WFP feeds about 115 million people a day on any given day and every year provides 15 billion rations at a cost of $0.61 per ration. The programme’s goal is “Zero hunger.” One in nine people around the world do not have enough to eat.

Richard Branson
Image used for illustrative purpose only.

The WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 for “its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected and for acting as a driving force to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

A former conservative Republican governor of the US southern state of South Carolina, Beasley was nominated in 2017 to head the WFP by the unsuspecting Trump administration which clearly did not understand he is an outlier in the party of big business. He has pointed out that globally there are 2,000 billionaires with wealth worth $8 trillion while in the US there are 12 who are worth $1 trillion. Beasley sounds rather like democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

Beasley’s latest broadside via CNN followed Bezos space flight which Luke Savage blasted as a “uniquely American disgrace” in an article in the socialist Jacobin magazine. Savage castgated the vanity competition between Bezos and Branson a “phony private space race” while the planet is gripped by global warming and the covid pandemic. While US officialdom and media, including CNN, were mesmorised by the flights to the edge of space by the two billionaires, the global

public was not particularly interested or amused. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not confer on either Branson or Bezos “Commercial Astronaut Wings” because neither flight

“demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.”   

 Branson’s test flight on July 11 on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, a modified aircraft — which is boosted into the atmosphere by rockets and glides back earth — lasted 20 minutes and reached the distance of 80 kilometres from the earth’s surface recognised by the FAA as the edge of space. The aircraft’s first flight to this level took place in December 2018.

 On July 20, Bezos, the richest person on earth, boarded a capsule which was projected to the edge of space by a reusable rocket, disconnected, and parachuted to the launch site. The flight lasted 11 minutes, giving Bezos and his three companions a taste of weightless-ness. Before this flight, Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin founded in 2000, had not attempted manned flights. While this feat copied space missions launched 60 years ago, his aim was to demonstrate his vehicle is safe in order to sell lucrative suborbital trips propelled by larger rockets and return US astronauts to the moon by 2024.

Bezos is, above all, a business man. When he returned to earth, Bezos thanked Amazon clients and staff for their support but, observed Scott Klinger on the Informed Comment website, he did not mention US taxpayers. Amazon has benefitted from public subsidies while he and his companies have dodged federal, state and local taxes. Klinger made the point that Amazon paid at the rate of 4.3 per cent in comparison with the statutory US corporate tax rate of 21 per cent while Bezos and brother billionaires paid risible amounts of personal tax.

Picture used for illustrative purpose.

A space fancier since he was a boy, Bezos seeks to compete with Musk for the moon job. Musk is not in the same league as Branson and Bezos. In 2002, Musk established SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company. His aim was to build affordable, reusable rockets. In 2008, SpaceX became the first private firm to launch a rocket into space and to reach earth orbit. Since the 2011 retirement of the US space shuttle, SpaceX has conducted 22 supply flights to the international space station. In 2020, SpaceX launched its first manned flight and delivered four crew to the International Space Station, this was the firm’s third manned mission in a year. The media has been invited to attend the launch of the 23rd resupply flight which is set to deliver scientific material.

Sir Richard Branson is the poorer  aviator among the three. His net worth is said by Bloomberg to be valued at $7.9 billion and he is ranked 8th among British billionaires. Branson is known for generous donations to charities and causes. But on the world stage, he is ranked 330. He is a pauper when compared to either Bezos or Musk and other US billionaires. Bezos’ fortune is estimated to have reached $209.2 billion and Musk’s  $160.1 billion.

Little wonder the WFP’s Beasley has targeted Bezos and Musk. While Bezos has donated $10 billion to the Bezos Earth Fund for combatting climate change and $100 million to Feeding America,

these sums are a drop in the ocean of his wealth. During the first quarter of this year, Musk committed to delivering $150 million in charitable aid, far more than in previous years. 

There is truth in the traditional saying, “Charity begins at home.” Billionaire space-niks might think of donating sums to end the miseries of the starving, homeless, and ailing on earth equivalent to their investments in fanciful or profitable space flights.

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