SCOTT GALLOWAY: Colonizing Mars will not happen in our lifetime and the billionaire obsession with space makes absolutely no sense

Elon Musk space axel springer award
SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses after arriving on the red carpet for the Axel Springer award, in Berlin, Germany, December 1, 2020.

  • Scott Galloway is a bestselling author and professor of marketing at NYU Stern.
  • The following is a recent blog post, republished with permission, that originally ran on his blog, “No Mercy / No Malice.”
  • In it, Galloway questions the point of the billionaire obsession with exploring outer space.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

People worried about starving or being eaten don’t have time to ponder the finite nature of life. But once we know we’re going to survive in the short-term, immortality begins to loom larger than mortality. Affairs, Teslas, and Ayahuasca are the accessories of a life with more money than time. Now the billionaire class has taken mid-life crises to a new level.

In the past month, French billionaires alone have cut ribbons on: a $194 million art museum in Paris; a $175 million Frank Gehry-designed “creative campus” in Arles; and a nearly $900 million, 16-year renovation of La Samaritaine department store, complete with hotel, spa, and wavy glass facade.

We do things bigger here in Texas, though.

Last month, Jeff Bezos announced he would be aboard Blue Origin’s first manned space flight, scheduled for July 20. A recently divorced billionaire on human growth hormone transported into space in a giant dildo powered by an oxygen-rich rocket engine that produces 490 kilonewtons of thrust is ground zero for everything that is right and wrong with society. Mostly the latter. But I digress.

Not to be outdone in the big bank/little d–k department, Richard Branson is rumored to be seeking to beat Bezos into space. He might get suborbital before Bezos, but he’s hardly breaking new ground. At least 570 people have sojourned in space since Yuri Gagarin made the first trip in 1961. Branson wouldn’t even be the oldest person to do it: John Glenn left the planet at 77 years old (his second trip). You do you, Rick and Jeff.

Read more: I was an early PayPal employee who joined the company even before Elon Musk. I missed out on becoming a millionaire because I sold my stock too soon after I left.

The final frontier

The desire to bravely go where no one has gone before is deeply rooted in the human spirit. Discovery must be a feeling of great wonder. At that moment, you are here for a reason. You are immortal.

Scott Galloway

Exploration can be hugely beneficial for those who follow, who get to cross Donner Pass on pavement. Yet nearly 50 years since the Apollo astronauts last walked on the moon, we’ve … not been back. Space is not the Sierra Nevadas.

Space is exponentially more expensive and dangerous. Nineteen of the 570 people who’ve ventured into space haven’t returned, yielding a mortality rate of 3.3%, versus 1.3% for climbing Everest and .04% for base jumping. Worse, by American standards, space travel is going to be a shitty business.

Even with our advanced technology, and a fawning CNBC engaging in a consensual hallucination that these billion-dollar hair plugs are for all mankind, the ROI is suspect. That last sentence is my way of saying “makes no fucking sense whatsoever.” There is 100x the return investing in technologies and systems of cooperation on a planet already perfect for human life, a mere 38.6 million miles from Mars. The billionaire obsession with space fantasy (and our willingness to go along with it) isn’t just disappointing, it’s nihilistic. Our idolatry of innovators is morphing into phantasmagoria.

More space

There are four reasons to put a rocket into space. In order of near-to-medium-term relevance (i.e. having any purpose this century), they are:

  1. Hauling stuff
  2. Scientific exploration
  3. Tourism
  4. Colonization

Hauling

There’s a real business in hauling stuff – mostly communications satellites – into orbit. Indeed, this is where both Bezos and Musk have placed their bets. Blue Origin and SpaceX are serious space-hauling companies. Apparently, it’s also a profitable business. Said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith: “We make money on every flight.”

Scientific exploration

Scientific exploration is worthwhile, but it’s not a business. It feeds businesses (hauling, materials, communications), but this is deep science, better pursued by our commonly owned enterprise, the government.

In fact, contracting is becoming a competence for NASA. In 2010 commercial launches represented about 30% of all US launches. Last year, they accounted for 80%. Private enterprise is eliminating NASA’s need to design, build, and launch. That’s a good thing: It means they have more time to focus on exploring. Let capitalism handle the picks and shovels. NASA will handle the science.

Tourism

After that, we venture into ego and fantasy. Space tourism is a bad business that could end in a flash … literally. What’s the market for people willing to spend $250,000 to be weightless for a few minutes? What’s the repeat market? And what will be left of that market after the first tourist rocket explodes on the launch pad, killing Bob from accounting? Because the nature of rockets is … they explode. About 90% of US rocket launches were successful last year. That might sound OK until you start putting humans in them.

In human transport, superior shareholder returns will be a function of fast versus far. In my view, the most under- and overhyped transportation firms are Boom Technologies and Virgin Galactic, respectively. The market for people willing to pay $25,000 to get from NYC to London in 3.5 hours is (at a minimum) 1000x the market for people willing to pay $250,000 for a 90-minute suborbital ride to the Kármán line. Six hundred people have paid $250,000 to reserve a seat on Virgin Galactic. Six hundred people land on a private jet at Teterboro every six hours.

Colonization

As for colonization of Mars … really? The only interesting question is whether Elon actually believes any of this – whether anyone at SpaceX believes any of this – or whether it’s purely a PR stunt. Colonizing the Red Planet will not happen in my, or my kid’s, lifetime. Intense solar radiation, combined with the lack of atmosphere and low gravity, would require living (dying) quarters buried deep under the planet’s surface for any hope of survival. As astronomer Caleb Scharf told us on Pivot, “there’s a lot of stuff [on Mars] that wants to kill you.” The worst place on Earth is better than the best place on Mars.

The SPAC(e) race

The biggest trend in space over my lifetime has been the rise of the private space hauler. Who’s best positioned to win in this new market? In general, there are three ways to maximize profits: reduce costs, do more (in this case, more flights), and diversify your business.

The Big Three – Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic – are all making headway on No. 1. All have invested in reusable rockets, which have reduced launch costs by 70%. On No. 2, we have a clear leader: SpaceX has launched almost three-quarters of this year’s US flights.

As for No. 3, Virgin Galactic is the clear loser, as Richard Branson is focused on space tourism. Jeff and Elon, by contrast, are investing heavily in orbital infrastructure. Between them, SpaceX’s Starlink project and Amazon’s Project Kuiper plan to launch nearly 14,000 satellites, providing continuous, high-speed Internet access globally. That should keep the space haulers busy for some time.

Scott Galloway

In sum, there’s real money to be made in hauling stuff – but satellites, not tourists. The past decade has seen more than $125 billion of investment poured into positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), a sector that relies on good satellite constellations to feed Uber, Maps, DoorDash, and nearly every other app on your phone. This is why launch vehicles and satellites are hogging all the space infrastructure investment.

Scott Galloway

With 1,480 unique space companies competing for a place in the stars, the space economy is very thirsty. But a rocket needs more fuel than a Ford F150 – about 12,300x more. What do you do when you need fuel (capital) in exuberant excess? You either 1. find a billionaire or 2. access the public markets.

SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic all have a massive head start because they were birthed by billionaires. Bezos, Musk, and Branson will pay their kids’ expenses no matter how dysfunctional or explosive. But the sector is attracting new sources of capital.

Take Rocket Lab, a 500-employee startup that also launches rockets. How will it get the capital it needs to keep up with the 9,500-employee behemoth that is SpaceX? Via SPAC. In March, Rocket Lab merged with Vector Acquisition Corp. and raised $750 million at a $4.1 billion valuation. The company has already had two successful launches this year.

A dozen other space startups have also gone (or are going) public via SPAC. Astra, a small satellite-launching company, raised $500 million at a $2.1 billion valuation. Spire Global, a satellite-data company, raised $475 million at a $1.6 billion valuation. There are hundreds of other space startups thirsty for an injection of public cash. The 2021 SPAC boom is yielding tremendous opportunity and risk for astronauts and investors.

Near versus deep space

My observation is that men are more focused on deep space, and women near space. Men are more ego driven and obsess about frontiers in business and the solar system. Women are (cue the Twitter hate) more concerned with exploring things near them, finding less reward in being the first person on Ganymede. My advice to young men, especially those with kids, is to be more focused on near space. As you get to the end of your time on the third rock from the sun, you won’t be desperate to spend more time with strangers, but the people closest to you. I spent the first 40 years of my life obsessed with getting affirmation from people I didn’t know. It came at a cost to relationships with my family, friends, and ex-wife.

Tonight the family ate at a sushi restaurant, and my 10-year-old ordered kakigori, Japan’s quintessential summer treat: shaved or crushed ice drizzled with flavored syrup or condensed milk. It’s awesome. Nobody, despite my son’s urging, would try it. I agreed and demonstrated a rare expression of joy (see above: It is awesome). My son, at that moment, felt so close to me he pushed the kakigori in front of me and sat on my lap so we could enjoy the dessert together. It felt as if I was discovering something nobody had ever felt/seen before, and all of mankind would benefit.

I am strong, here for a reason … immortal. Going where (this) man has never gone before.

Life is so rich,

Scott

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Space tourism is about to take off. Here’s how firms like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX are making sure visitors’ bodies can survive the trip.

Space tourism
  • Companies are preparing to take tourists to the edge of space as soon as 2022.
  • Bidding for a seat onboard a Blue Origin spaceship has reached a whopping $2.8 million.
  • As voyages get longer, training regimens will make sure humans can handle the trip.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are gearing up to send tourists to the edge of space – and eventually, beyond – as soon as 2022. But for ordinary citizens, zero gravity and long flights could wreak havoc on their bodies.

Getting to space is a naturally challenging experience, especially for the human body. That’s why the firms hoping to sell trips are taking a page from NASA’s playbook and undertaking a rigorous training program for would-be travelers to mitigate things like muscle atrophy and bone loss that studies show can happen on trips outside the atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are setting out to take tourists to the very edge of space. A flight onboard the Virgin Galactic spaceship will give you a 6-minute tour in space, and a flight onboard Blue Origin’s will give you an 11-minute tour, which is not nearly long enough for muscle atrophy or other effects to set in.

Still, both companies are requiring customers to take a training course prior to the expedition.

“There are a couple days of training in advance of the flight,” a Blue Origin spokesperson told Insider. “Some of the training includes learning procedures for getting into and out of the capsule, a mission simulation, and learning techniques for how to move around in zero-g.”

The National Aerospace Training and Research Center has “already trained nearly 400 future Virgin Galactic passengers for their trips,” Glenn King, the director of spaceflight training, told AFP. The training takes two days and involves a morning of classroom instruction and using a centrifuge to simulate gravitational forces, the wire service reported.

Sirisha Bandla, VP of Government Affairs for Virgin Galactic, told Insider in an interview that customers will arrive a few days ahead of their flight for training.

“It’s both talking about the safety system, how to buckle yourself in, and get out of your seat,” she said. “And to mentally prepare for the journey what’s going to happen so that when they are in the microgravity time, they take that moment to look out the windows and enjoy the space flight.”

Virgin plans to send Kellie Gerardi, a researcher from the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), on a dedicated research flight (with the date yet to be determined), the firm said Thursday. She’ll conduct experiments and test healthcare tech – like zero-gravity syringes and bio-monitoring instruments – while in space.

“I think it’s a continually evolving landscape and opportunity landscape, especially for researchers and civilians,” Gerardi told Insider. “I just look at my three-year-old daughter, who’s been super excited today, and she just thinks that mommies go to space, like that’s just what they do. And it’s like wow, that’s going to be so awesome for her when she’s in her thirties like me, just growing up knowing that.”

Longer trips will be more complicated.

Elon Musks’ SpaceX is set to take four civilians onboard its Dragon Crew spaceship later this year for a trip to space. The Inspiration4 mission will be the “first-ever crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts to orbit the Earth for three days.”

That much time without gravity could lead to dire effects on the body, as astronauts have learned and trained for during the past half-century of spaceflight. According to NASA, astronauts must exercise for two hours a day to prepare their bodies for the trek to space, time spent there, and the journey back to Earth.

“They spend approximately 10 hours underwater for every hour they spend walking in space,” NASA says, “In order to maintain muscle strength while in space, astronauts practice core-building activities before, during, and after their missions. Here on Earth, these activities may include swimming, running, weight training, or floor exercises.”

Artificial gravity may be able to help. Blue Origin has visionary plans to put up to 1 trillion people in space in colonies, as Jeff Bezos outlined in 2019. The settlements would exist in spinning cylinders meant to replicate gravity, orbit the Earth, and sustain human life.

His plan is backed up by a new study published in the journal Nature in April, which found that the effects of zero-gravity on muscles could be mitigated with artificial gravity. Scientists measured these effects by sending two groups of mice into orbit on the International Space Station for 35 days to study the effects of earth-gravity versus microgravity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, their findings indicated that artificial gravity may “help stop the decay of muscle mass and the alteration of atrophy-related gene expressions that occur in space.”

All that training and research means trips won’t be cheap

Blue Origin tickets are currently going for as much as $2.8 million for a seat on its New Shepard spaceship, and the price could go even higher when a live auction takes place on June 12.

Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, completed its third test flight to the edge of space on May 22, as the company prepares to take tourists to space as early as 2022. “Some 600 customers have already paid $200,000-$250,000 for a seat,” Insider reported.

SpaceX hasn’t said how much its first passenger – Yusaku Maezawa – paid to go on the firm’s first moon mission.

“He’s paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster,” Musk said in 2018. “He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”

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Russia chose a 36-year-old patriotic film star to send to space, sparking a race with Tom Cruise to be first to shoot a movie in orbit

Roscosmos_finalists
Yulia Peresild, here on the left, is pictured with two other finalists of an open casting call run by Russia’s space agency for “Vyzov,” a film set to be shot on the international space station in October this year.

  • Russia’s space agency announced the winner of an open contest to send an actor to space.
  • Yulia Peresild is due to take off for the ISS on October 5, the agency said Thursday.
  • Russia could beat a similarly-timed plan by Tom Cruise to shoot the first feature film in space.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Russia’s space agency announced the winner of an open contest to send an actor to the International Space Station (ISS) this year.

Russia aims to launch the team on October 5, in a bid to be the first feature film shot in space.

Yulia Peresild, a 36-year old actor, is scheduled to launch the same month Tom Cruise is slated to leave for the ISS to shoot a film with director Doug Liman.

Peresild was one of four finalists of an open audition run by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. The announcement that she had won the competition was made on Thursday.

She has appeared in more than 30 movies, including patriotic feature films like “The Battle for Sevastopol,” where she played a young Soviet woman fighting for the Red Army, The Guardian reported.

See the trailer below:

Peresild is due to start special space training – like centrifuge tests and parachute training – no later than June 1, Roscosmos said.

The training will be televised by one of Russia’s leading TV channels, Roscosmos said in a press release.

Two other finalists, Alena Mordovina, 33, and Alexey Dudin, 40, are also taking part in the training, and have been named backup actors for Peresild.

Film director Klim Shipenko and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov are due to accompany Peresild to the ISS. The team is set to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 5.

The movie, tentatively called “Vyzov” or “the Challenge,” will be a “space drama,” Roscosmos said. Few other details of its content exist.

In May 2020, NASA confirmed that it was working with Tom Cruise and Space X on a project to film the first movie aboard the ISS.

Later reports suggested the Cruise project could launch in October this year, which would give it an overlapping schedule with the Russia project.

The Roscosmos competition, launched last November, was open to professional and non-professional female actors.

Channel 1, the TV station running the contest, said in March it got 3,000 applicants and shortlisted 20 actors to undergo medical, physical, and psychological tests at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Space News reported on April 27.

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Elon Musk says we’re going to have ‘more vaccines than we can possibly use’

Elon Musk
  • Elon Musk said in an interview with the CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, that there will be so many COVID-19 vaccines “we will not know what to do with them.”
  • Musk has a mild case of coronavirus in November and missed a Space X launch.
  • He’s also come under fire for tweeting claims about the coronavirus that are disputed by experts.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In an interview published Saturday, Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner asked Elon Musk about his outlook for summer 2021.

“We’re going to have so many vaccines, we will not know what to do with them. More vaccines than we can possibly use” Musk told Döpfner.

So far, three different vaccines have shown promising results. In November, Pfizer was the first to announce that its vaccine successfully prevented COVID-19 in clinical trials, and the company has filed for emergency FDA authorization, which could be granted as early as December 10. Moderna and AstraZeneca are also following this process. 

On December 10, a meeting of the FDA advisory committee will be streamed, and the committee will make a recommendation regarding the vaccine. It could be authorized as early as that day, with the first doses distributed 24 to 48 hours later.

In November, Musk tweeted that he likely had a “moderate case of covid,” with cold symptoms, and he had to miss his company SpaceX’s big November 15 launch. Before his COVID-19 diagnosis, Musk spent months tweeting skeptically about the virus. “The coronavirus panic is dumb,” he tweeted on March 6. He predicted that the US would see “close to zero new cases” by April, and has asserted that the virus isn’t deadly and children are “essentially immune.”

During the interview, Döpfner asked Musk if any of his views on the coronavirus had changed since having it himself. “No, honestly,” he answered.

Earlier this year, Musk told journalist Kara Swisher that he and his family would not get the vaccine once one was available. On the podcast, he said that he felt he was “not at risk for COVID, nor are my kids.” Musk has instead advocated for a “natural” path to herd immunity, rather than lockdowns. More recently in the Döpfner interview, Musk said that because “vaccine technology got turbocharged,” it could lead to potential cures for cancer.

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