Gravity is for poor people: How the rich are settling the final frontier

gravity is for poor people sir richard branson forger aka mark stuckyWhat do you get for a man that has everything in this world? Apparently, a trip to the next one. Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of Virgin Records, Mobile, Airways, Sideways, and everything else under the sun recently made a big leap forward in his goal to take tourists into space. Why? Well, because he can!

Last week in a test flight, Virgin Galactic’s space plane fired its rocket engine for the very first time. After being carried 46,000 feet aboard the mothership aircraft White Knight Two, the plane was released and fired its rockets for 16 seconds, reaching a speed of Mach 1.2, faster than both the speed of sound and my last form of air transportation – but just barely.

Such a monumental leap in the 7-year project to bring commercial flight to space has Sir Richard Branson believing that he will be able to launch by 2014 the 500 people who have graciously paid for their tickets in advance. You too could’ve been one of the pioneering group of space passengers, if you had enough foresight … and about $250,000 burning a hole in your pocket. According to his Sir-ness, the 3-hour flight will instantly double the number of people who have ever been in space (although there’s room for debate on that point). A 3-hour tour, you say? What could possibly go wrong?

gravity is for poor people ss2 first supersonic flight telescope image

After the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, Earthlings inspired by our quest to discover “what’s next” and interested in manned space exploration have turned to the only resource we have left in this economy: super rich guys. Sir Richard isn’t the only private enterprise attempting to boldly go where only governments (and chimps) have gone before. To recap for those who aren’t scoring at home …

In 2006, Jim Benson, SpaceDev founder, announced he was founding Benson Space Company with the intention of being first to market with suborbital personal spaceflight launches, using the vertical takeoff and horizontal landing Dream Chaser vehicle based on the NASA HL-20 Personnel Launch System vehicle. Benson died in 2008, but the Dream Chaser is still in active development.

Of all the gazillionaires trying to be the first ‘chap to hit the back 9 on Jupiter, only Branson looks the part.

Also in 2006, Bigelow Aerospace – a company founded 8 years earlier by Robert Bigelow and his fat pile of cash from owning the Budget Suites hotel chain – launched Genesis 1, a scaled down model of the company’s inflatable “space habitats.” Cheekily referred to by some as “space hotels,” the Bigelow units are intended to eventually make up the first privately owned space station.

And just this past December, the Golden Spike Company announced plans to privately transport space exploration participants to the surface of the Moon and return, beginning as early as 2020.

But none have garnered more interest and publicity than Branson, which is odd because he usually prefers to remain outside the public eye.

But you have to applaud the man for putting his money into something original. Most men of his means would buy something dull like a sports team … or an election. It makes sense that Sir Richard would focus attention on the next wave of flight. After all, he’s already revolutionized commercial air travel by making flights more tech friendly and more … um … “friend” friendly (wink wink). And I can’t be the first one to notice that, of all the gazillionaires trying to be the first ‘chap’ to hit the back 9 on Jupiter, only Branson really looks the part.

And if he is successful (and who among us has any doubt that he will be?) will he be a benevolent protector or Hugo Drax? His goatee should make us all uneasy about his leanings.

gravity is for poor people sir richard branson burt rutan

But if he is to rule the galaxy with an iron fist, so be it. We get what we deserve. When we no longer provide public funds for manned space exploration we leave it to the rich guys to step in, and we shouldn’t be shocked that their motives are less about the public good and more about how to monetize it. That’s not their fault; it’s ours. When we stop making science research and education a priority, we turn Space into Space Mountain for the uber-rich.

Now if you’re a kid staring up at the stars, dreaming of visiting another world, you don’t dream of being an astronaut. You hope to get super wealthy so you can afford a drive by of Venus on Virgin Galactic. Just don’t blow your whole wad on the ticket, kid, ‘cause meals cost extra.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


Logitech’s newest headsets sound as good as they look, but they’re not perfect

Logitech's G935 and G432 bring style and impressive sound to the table. They boast leatherette earpads, positional 3D sound, and 50mm drivers, Logitech has become a formidable adversary for competitors, but the company's new headsets aren't…

Leaked ZTE concept phones are crazy, possibly fake, and totally worth seeing

Renders of what may be ZTE concept phones may show how the manufacturer could avoid using the notch on future devices. They're crazy -- and maybe not even real -- but they're definitely worth looking at.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Debunking Dark Mode: Here’s why it won’t improve your laptop’s battery life

Dark Mode is known to improve battery life for certain devices, like a smartphone with an OLED screen. Does that apply to laptops, as well? To find out we tested two laptops, one running Windows and one running MacOS.

In the age of Alexa and Siri, Cortana’s halo has grown dim

In a sea of voice assistants, Cortana has become almost irrelevant. The nearly five-year-old voice assistant is seeing little love from consumers, and here’s why it is dead.

EA is losing out on the true potential of Titanfall studio with ‘Apex Legends’

Apex Legends is a solid battle royale game, but one can’t shake the feeling that its creation was dictated by Respawn’s new owners: Electronic Arts. In the process, the studio’s soul could be lost.

The 'Anthem' demo's crash landing raises more questions than answers

Bioware bravely allowed gamers to see a large chunk of 'Anthem' over two demo weekends, but it backfired. Lackluster missions, performance issues, and muddled messaging over micro-transactions leaves the game with an uphill battle.

Apex Legends proves battle royale is no fad. In fact, it’s just getting started

Apex Legends came out of nowhere to take the top spot as battle royale in 2019, and it now looks as if it'll be the biggest game of the year. Its sudden success proves the battle royale fad still has plenty of life left in it.
Home Theater

Apple is arming up to redefine TV just like it did the phone

Curious about what Apple's answer to Netflix will be? Us too. So we combed through some patents, and looked at the landscape, to come up with a bold prediction: Apple's streaming service will be way bigger than anyone thinks.
Home Theater

How the headphone jack helps Samsung out-Apple the king

Samsung’s latest flagship phones and wearables unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked event had plenty of exciting new tech. But one of the most useful features Samsung revealed is also the oldest: The mighty headphone jack.

Age of Empires II thrives 20 years later. Here's what Anthem could learn from it

Age Of Empires II is approaching its 20th birthday. It has a loyal following that has grown over the past five years. New always-online games like Anthem would love to remain relevant for so long, but they have a problem. They're just not…

Devil May Cry is Fantastic, but I still want a DmC: Devil May Cry sequel

Capcom's Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of 2019 and a welcome return for the series, but its success should not discount just how wonderful Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry really was.