Look up, Earthlings: Why criticism of Jeff Bezos' space flight is nonsense

The world is undergoing what stands to be the largest technological and economic transformation in history.

The members of the first Blue Origin spaceflight crew, from left: Mark Bezos, brother of Jeff Bezos; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin; Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands; and Wally Funk, aviation pioneer from Texas.
Andy Daga
Opinion contributor

It’s not a surprise Jeff Bezos chose Tuesday, the 52nd anniversary of the first moon landing, for his blastoff into space aboard his New Shepard rocket. Bezos, along with his fellow entrepreneur Elon Musk, see themselves as history makers and love the attention that comes with it.  

But don’t count me among those criticizing their space-bound ventures as a pointless billionaire spectacle. Those who see this as an exercise of billionaire ego are missing the greater opportunities that await. 

Like many of us of a certain generation, I was mesmerized by America’s Apollo program and its repeated successful lunar missions between 1968 and 1972. It was obvious then that space exploration was critical for the advancement of all mankind – not just the rich.

Just consider a few of the inventions tied to space travel that have benefited millions around the world: a revolution in computer technology, artificial limbs, the insulin pump, CAT scans, and even camera phones and baby formula. All are an inspired consequence of space exploration. 

Perhaps most important, Apollo and other space missions taught us that we can do things that were previously deemed impossible, and those achievements altered our aspirations for the better. The trajectory of civilization was forever changed. 

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My childhood fascination with space became a reality when I was privileged to serve as a NASA consultant for more than 20 years. One of my areas of research focused on the use of space resources to reduce the stress on our planet.

On Earth, we have mined and found uses for just about every available mineral and fossil fuel. It has allowed innovation and industry to flourish. But it has cost us both in terms of depleted resources and horrific air pollution.

While most minerals are far from exhausted, many of us desire far less pollution from these resources, which are becoming increasingly difficult to economically extract. 

That’s why I shake my head when I hear those who say Bezos and Musk (Richard Branson’s attempt is more spectacle, in my opinion) would be better off spending their money saving this planet rather than gazing at it from afar.

That’s nonsense.

We must continue to pursue space exploration so that we can preserve this planet. Any negative effects from carbon emissions caused by space travel itself will be far offset by the net benefits of the technologies developed in space.   

Instead of criticizing these people for their vision and success, let’s listen more carefully and keep an open mind to the possible. For example, let’s explore ways to mine asteroids for minerals, tap into limitless solar energy and use “near space” resources.  

Perhaps most people don’t realize that both data and information require copious amounts of energy and space for distribution and transmission. These are just two of the uses of space resources we depend on today, and they represent the beginning of what we could multiply many times over with greater access to space.  

Telecommunication satellites provide a multidecade-long experience base that proves space resource use can create jobs and operate profitably and sustainably.  

Leveraging space can go beyond satellites

But it can go much further than that, to include access to clean energy and minerals within the grasp of orbital mechanics. We know Earth’s surface resources are limited, but they are not limited in space. We must boldly act to access those resources.    

The world is undergoing what stands to be the largest technological and economic transformation in history. Our transportation and energy industries are undergoing massive change as electric vehicle adoption accelerates across the world and as the critical fueling infrastructure scales with it. 

Space exploration drives technological advances

This change will impact all of us profoundly in the next five to 10 years. That’s the world I live in every day. Still inspired by Apollo, I lead world-class teams of engineers at our suburban Philadelphia tech company that has invented a way to automatically and wirelessly charge electric vehicles.

And I can assure you there is a direct link from the International Space Station now orbiting Earth to that same technology. 

In fact, the very idea for my company, Momentum Dynamics, and its technology was born from the realization that carrying heavy electrical wire into orbit was too expensive and could be partially remedied by conductor-less power transmission in space (and, today, on Earth).

My work, along with many others, on the International Space Station was critical to that concept.

Fast-forward to 2021, and buses and taxis now use this technology around the world to wirelessly charge EVs, accelerating the use of clean battery-powered vehicles in place of those that burn carbon-emitting fossil fuels.  

What Musk and Bezos have done is to show us a new generation of access to space, which enables a new way of thinking about how we use resources.

Building on the lesson of Apollo, we are not living in the flatland of Earth’s surface – we need to look up. It’s time. 

Andy Daga is CEO of Momentum Dynamics in Malvern, Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Society of Automotive Engineers.