Bernie Sanders goes after Elon Musk for wanting to explore space

When the SN11 Starship rose into the fog shrouded sky of Boca Chica, Texas, hopes were high that this time it would successfully land. When the SpaceX rocket exploded shortly before impact, the disappointment among most was especially keen. Still, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk , showed determination. He announced that the next iteration of the Starship, the SN15, would roll out in a few days. However, a certain United States senator might hold a different view of the latest Starship failure. Musk triggered Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with a one sentence tweet about his space ambitions, “I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars.” Musk has become the coolest capitalist alive, not only for his ambition to build a city on Mars, but for creating a rocket company, SpaceX, to give that dream form. Sanders, the “democratic socialist” senator and twice-failed presidential candidate, was not impressed. Sanders could not be clearer in his desire to tax away all of the resources Musk and others are using to build and fly rockets and instead apply them to social problems. He may not know it, but he is part of a long, unhappy tradition of people on the left who have taken shots at the space program and demanded that it be shut down to fund poverty programs. It was true during the Apollo era, when some African American civil rights activists protested the launch of Apollo 11. Plans for a post-Apollo space program that included an expedition to Mars, a moon base, a space station and a space shuttle faced opposition from both the Nixon White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress. However, 50 years ago political opposition to space exploration focused on NASA. Sanders opposes such activities even when carried out by a private citizen with his own money. He is keen to despoil wealthy Americans of their money and use it for purposes he favors, such as the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All.” Just as the politicians of the early 1970s robbed the world of a brilliant age of space exploration, which would have paid incalculable dividends in creating wealth, new technology and soft political power for the United States, Sanders means to do the same to our generation. The twist is that he wants to close off even efforts by private individuals like Musk to open space for profit and the betterment of humankind. Ironically, in his quest to make Mars a “new branch of civilization,” to coin a phrase made famous by Robert Zubrin. Musk has returned a great deal of value to the United States government and its private customers. The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have been made partially reusable, cutting launch costs by between 30 percent and more than 40 percent, according to the Motley Fool. NASA, the United States military and commercial customers are saving billions of dollars because of SpaceX. Moreover, SpaceX is creating a satellite internet service called Starlink that is bringing broadband services to underserved, rural parts of the world. Musk hopes to use the revenues from Starlink to finance development of the Starship rocket with which he intends to take settlers and their supplies to Mars. Musk is serving as a real-world personification of Adam Smith ’s invisible hand . Smith, the 18th century economist and social philosopher, suggested that entrepreneurs like Musk perform public good by pursuing their own self-interest and profit. In other words, by pursuing his Mars dream, Musk is creating many benefits on Earth, contrary to what Sanders maintains. Indeed, Zubrin suggests that going to Mars and opening a frontier there will not only invigorate human civilization but will ensure its survival. The Mars effort would create new technology, expand economic growth and open minds to new possibilities. Mars would become an abode of life, including the human variety. But Earth would become stronger and greater through making the effort as well. Besides, if nothing else, Mars would be a place to which people could flee to get away from people who want to place limits on human endeavor. Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as ” The Moon, Mars and Beyond .” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times and the Washington Post, among other venues.

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