Holman Jenkins: Why Space Tourism Matters


Holman Jenkins writes: ‘Interstellar,” the space opera starring Matthew McConaughey, adopts a post-’60s view of space. Space is not a final, limitless frontier of a questing humanity. It’s a final, desperate refuge for humans escaping a ravaged earth.

In this, the new movie is an ideological laggard to 2009’s “Avatar,” in which humanity was already ravaging new planets.

But why spend money on space at all, people like Mr. Kluger will ask, when Viagra copays are going up?

As the dinosaurs could testify, however, nothing in puny human destructiveness is a match for the ecological transformations that nature can unleash in an instant. The most certain danger to our species’ longevity is not our own technology. It’s still an errant rock or other cosmic mishap, like the massive gamma-ray bursts a new study suggests will befall a planet in the Milky Way every billion years or so. Which brings us naturally to SpaceShipTwo.

One giant step toward the kind of human permanence we should care about is already the fact that our culture, dating back to cave paintings, is now digitizeable. But how to carry this record of our creativity forth so somebody, somewhere will always appreciate what we’ve accomplished, especially if it turns out we are the only intelligent species we’ll ever discover?

The “I told you so” crowd was out in force in the first hours after last week’s crash, blaming the ship’s low-cost hybrid motor burning solid nylon with a nitrous oxidizer. A day later, government investigators indicated no obvious problem with the motor and pointed to an unplanned deployment of an aero-braking system.

The naysayers are equally off-target with their larger snarks. One widely quoted space safety expert suggested Sir Richard Branson , the British billionaire and poly-entrepreneur behind Virgin Galactic, should stick to “selling mobile phones.” Apropos of very little, Time magazine editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger added a shot at Amazon’s Jeff Bezos , who also owns a space company: “What can better qualify a man to build machines able to travel to space than selling books, TVs and lawn furniture online?”

The new space entrepreneurs employ the same engineers and scientists that NASA does. Besides, how many tinkerers were present at the birth of the auto and aircraft industries? A hundred years later we have highly reliable transportation in which human beings expose themselves to considerable ballistic forces with 99.99% safety.

Equally impertinent is the disdain heaped on the row Virgin Galactic intends to hoe, suborbital tourism for wealthy daytrippers. As Burt Rutan, the legendary designer of SpaceShipTwo, has pointed out…(read more)


One Comment on “Holman Jenkins: Why Space Tourism Matters”

  1. […] The Butcher Holman Jenkins writes: ‘Interstellar,” the space opera starring Matthew McConaughey, adopts a […]

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