Another indicator of the backlash against private human spaceflight comes from the United Nations secretary-general, who grouped space tourism with corruption and the loss of liberties as part of a global “malady of mistrust.”
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, singled out “billionaires joyriding to space” as one of the indicators of growing public distrust of governments and other institutions in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 21.
After noting the public health crisis and the climate crisis, he added, “At the very same time, some other disease is continuing to spread in our world today: which is a malady of mistrust.” He cited the example of “billionaires joyriding to the space while millions on Earth go hungry.”
In his speech, he didn’t go into detail about that allegation, noting that such concerns may cause people to “lose faith not just in their institutions and governments but also in the ideals that have guided the United Nations’ work for over 75 years.”
While he made no specific mention of any individuals or corporations, his remarks appeared to be addressed at Blue Origin as well as Virgin Galactic, as well as its billionaire founders Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, who traveled to space nine days apart in July on suborbital spaceflights. In response to an invitation for comment on Guterres’ speech, neither company responded.
His critique could extend to the Inspiration4 mission, which was financed by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire, and launched to orbit last week on a SpaceX Crew Dragon with Isaacman and three others. Elon Musk, another billionaire, is the CEO of SpaceX.
The statement by Guterres is a portion of an outcry that began with Bezos and Branson’s flights. U.S. representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) revealed plans to submit legislation to tax space tourism flights shortly after the New Shepard vehicle transporting Bezos and 3 others safely landed on July 21. “Billionaires who travel into space to generate nothing of scientific merit should pay the same, plus more,” he added in a statement.
Blumenauer’s spokesperson said the bill would be introduced in the “coming weeks” after having consulted with experts. The legislation had not been officially presented to the House as of September 24.
Some in the space industry have voiced their displeasure. During a panel discussion at Airbus’ Airbus Summit 2021 event on September 22, Jean-Marc Nasr, who serves as the executive vice president as well as head of space systems, said, “My goal, as a satellite maker, is to do space that counts for society.” “Everyone in society, every inhabitant on the earth, should benefit from space, not just a few millionaires who wish to go around the world in circles. It’s what we accomplish at Airbus, I believe space that matters.”