Update: had a wonderful series of conversations with Ben Guarino, a committed science journalist. Perspectives shift based on experience: do yours? I encourage you to follow his reporting at the Washington Post.
"...so rich [we] can throw money away on joyrides to space."
"...rich so [we] obviously do not care about the environment or social causes or education."
"... simply enthusiasts, and know little about spaceflight, or engineering or science."
"...just a bunch of rich men who want to show off."
I hate stereotypes; reality is easily obfuscated enough without unsubstantiated opinions negatively directing awareness. With the rise of commercial space to the front page of media coverage, curiosity has driven for more information. The proprietary nature of the business and measured PR interaction by corporations has partially developed the media speculation surrounding the entire experience. Holes will be filled with information where possible, and opinion when motivated.
Unfortunately, the opinion seems terribly skewed, especially in regards to space tourism clientele.
I came cross Inverse's "Seeing the Earth from Space Will Force Rich Space Tourists to Save the Planet" by Ben Guarino today. Guarino discusses the mind blowing nature of The Overview Effect, a phenomenon Frank White named after speaking to astronauts returned from space, in regards to space tourists like Richard Garriott.
I am a huge fan of The Overview Effect. Loretta Hidalgo-Whitesides turned me onto it a few years ago, and the profundity is something I wish many more people could experience. Loretta, myself, Ron Rosano, and a large number of other Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts have delighted in this book. In fact, Virgin Galactic has build a large portion of their marketing around the expectation that this experience will be life-changing.
Guarino implies something different; that wealthy people who are able to travel to space are not prepared for this experience and will enter a period of epiphanic charity they would not have encountered otherwise.
I take a bit of exception to this.
Space tourism is not limited to the one percent. I am not wealthy. In fact, I am currently supplementing my monthly stipend with website management, SEO and marketing while I finally get my PhD. I am not the only Future Astronaut who doesn't rank in six figures, even. Ticket holders have mortgaged houses, taken out loans, sold heirlooms and their children (joking) in order to put deposits down.
Wealth is not a function of greed or lack of compassion. Guarino references an Atlantic Monthly article ("Why the Rich Don't Give" ) in which a UC Berkeley researcher named Paul Piff asserts that "While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything, the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. They are more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”
Usually the Atlantic is a fantastically researched work of journalism. However, they failed to note Dr. Piff's generous record of data manipulation, not to mention his spectacular disconnect from his own priviledged background (Reed College) and abundant biased opinion interference in what he would like to call science. (I'll keep this brief; if you're interested, I'll review his very flawed experimental and statistical methodologies.)
Anecdotal as it may be, an extraordinary number of at least Virgin Galactic's ticket holders have committed themselves on planet and humanity saving quests already. I will admit being caught unawares by this; I am invigorated by the quiet persistence in leaving the world a better place that I have witnesses. Additionally, a significant number of us have banded together to develop Galactic Unite, a STEM education foundation now managed by Virgin Galactic.
In short, I continue to be disappointed by the poorly researched conclusions that are written as click bait for the less discerning among the proletariat. Playing the rich bitch card to rile the masses for site clicks is a cheap and dirty tactic. Undermining the truly amazing commitments of many, many humans is good for no one.
So, former bio-engineer Ben Guarino; let's chat. I want to change your perspective.
We are not all extremely wealthy. Over 30% of us are women. We care about the planet. We are scientists, engineers, teachers, filmmakers, designers, explorers, and leaders in government, business and industry. We are Future Astronauts.
Opinions expressed are my own and do not represent the opinions of organizations I am affiliated with.