opinion Commercial space travel
Branson’s space flight, a big step for climate protection
Stand: 11.07.2021 | Reading time: 4 minutes
Richard Branson aboard VSS Unity after reaching the edge of space
Source: via REUTERS
Richard Branson’s maiden flight into space is not just a win in the race with fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. It’s incomparably more than an egomaniac’s PR event. Space tourism enables everyone to experience the view of the vulnerable planet.
Dhe earth “to see with God’s eyes” – this experience of an American astronaut is now gradually coming within the reach of perfectly normal people. Nothing, say people who have already been up there, prepares you for the effect of the sight of the bright blue planet in front of the infinite blackness of the universe. No film, no photo can even come close to reproducing this impression.
That’s why Richard Branson’s first flight is incomparably much more than the PR event of an egomaniac, who of course this flight in New Mexico was also. Sure, there was a celebration and anointing and the whole arsenal of marketing skills were used, right down to Branson’s granddaughters and grandchildren who rushed towards him after landing.
But the flight of the privately financed, privately constructed, privately tested space glider was the first step into an era that wrested the view of the planet from the sole control of state, and often even military, decision-makers.
The ecological footprint of these first passenger rockets is gigantic for each passenger on board. But measured against the possible effect of such flights, it is a secondary factor. Space tourism makes the view of the vulnerable planet tangible for everyone, initially especially for well-funded people.
This has consequences for the global discourse, just like the low-cost flight market, which Branson co-invented. A new constructive enthusiasm for climate protection can emanate from these excursions into space. It is different to have seen the thin earth atmosphere deep down in front of you and to know that you have to protect it than just read about it.
Such effects are not crazy
Such effects are not crazy. It was the generation of globetrotters from ever broader strata and in ever younger years whose very existence contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. When long-distance travel actually became possible for everyone and more and more news about it flowed into the GDR via the media and personal contacts, the impatience with the ideological walls and borders and blinkers grew into something that was no longer controllable.
It was also the generation of cheap tourists who had satisfied their wanderlust at a very young age – first by Interrail, then by cheap flights to all continents – who entered the professional world with the feeling that something had to be done; there is still a bigger task than the prospect of accumulating more of the same for a lifetime. Being able to fly everywhere cheaply strengthened the feeling for the earth’s climate through visualization and made the global eco-movement possible in the first place. Entrepreneurial thinking was a prerequisite for this.
Private space travel was still unthinkable in Gerhard Schröder’s time as chancellor, but these were private computers and not telephones that were officially prescribed in terms of shape, color and scope of functions in Helmut Schmidt’s time.
People had become so used to the state monopoly on infrastructure and looked so resignedly at the cost of computers that hardly anyone dared to dream that there could be a way of not having to leave such technology only to governments and corporations. This was even more the case with missiles because of the predominantly military component of the technology.
Competition in space
And yet there is now a way to create competition in space. Reusable spacecraft of purely civil origin symbolize the just in time liberation of space from a state monopoly that is just beginning to militarize near-earth space. The private space pioneers Branson, Bezos and Musk certainly satisfy their vanity. But with them, civil society confronts governments that increasingly see space as a parade ground and set up appropriate armed forces.
“Peterchens Mondfahrt” was a children’s book dream about space flights for a good, actually ecological purpose, namely to protect and save a cockchafer. Now the dream is no longer a dream. If you want to protect the earth, you will soon be able to see it personally from above. Maybe it would be a good idea to let Greta Thunberg and some of her fiercest opponents circle the earth together. After that, both sides could probably come to an agreement.