Let's not forget that part of what spurred the Apollo program was the need to prove (and improve) American ICBM technology. Isn't it better for humankind overall that people are now going to space just for the pure joy of it?
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took a private rocket into space, and other than the innumerable comments on the rocket's distinctive shape, all appears to have gone very well. The trip went smoothly, earned the applause of private-spaceflight rival Elon Musk, and made it 66.5 miles above Earth. A paying customer was aboard for the trip, and the booster rocket was even returned safely (and upright) to the launch pad.
■ Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Is not the Hope of one day being able to purchase and enjoy Luxuries a great Spur to Labour and Industry? May not Luxury therefore produce more than it consumes, if without such a Spur People would be as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent?" Franklin knew human nature -- and it doesn't change very much. It is indisputably the case that private spaceflight has become an obsession -- for Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and certainly lots of other people with money to spend. Tickets are already on sale for more paying passengers.
■ As with virtually any choice people make with their money, private space flight has its critics. Why should we commit resources on rocket fuel when those resources could be spent on Earth-bound needs? Why should zero-g recreation happen when there's still so much research left to be done? Why should some people have all the fun? (That last one may not get spoken aloud much, but have no doubt: It's in the subtext.)
■ If you think that the world has strictly limited resources, then this kind of activity can certainly look amiss. But if you see that most of the world's economic activity consists not of goods being sold but of services being provided, then you'll begin to see that Benjamin Franklin's words are more salient than ever.
■ There are, of course, certain material resources in the world that are indeed finite. But one of the paradoxes of growth is that the more advanced an economy becomes, the fewer resources it tends to waste -- particularly when profits are involved. As long as we have reasonable regulatory schemes for making people clean up after themselves (that is, not letting them pollute or create other harms that are imposed on others without tidying up the mess), then the more efficiently goods and services alike can be delivered, the greater the return to the providers.
■ As the futurist Ian Pearson wrote, "If we want a world where everyone can have a good lifestyle, we need to accept and even encourage rapid obsolescence, driving the technology quickly towards low environmental impact." Once the space race got underway, humankind wasn't going to look back. China sent a rover to the Moon. India sent an orbiter to Mars. The world is not about to become less space-oriented -- not when we know humans have been transfixed by the stars for all of recorded history.
■ Let's not forget that part of what spurred the Apollo program was the need to prove (and improve) American ICBM technology. Isn't it better for humankind overall that people are now going to space just for the pure joy of it? Surely, no matter how you feel about spacefaring billionaires, it is better that space is becoming a destination for joy than merely one more battleground. The militarization and weaponization of space has been well underway, with a half-century head start over recreation. Let's be glad people are going for fun. Many more of us may soon follow.