You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Space is, after all, “the final frontier”, as so eloquently voiced by Captain James T. Kirk at the start of each episode of the earliest Star Trek.
Despite the frenzied aspirations of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to ride their own personal rockets into the lowest reaches of space, and be first to do so, somebody needs to remind them it is no longer uncharted territory.
They are by no means explorers or pioneers. Plenty of others have been up there before, and on missions far more valuable to humanity than the Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin expeditions.
It is more likely that Mr Bezos and Mr Branson do not care whether we consider them galactic leaders or indeed what we think about their space antics. If that is the case, then bang go any claims to have done it to inspire the billions of us still struggling with that awkward gravity thing on Earth.
When you stand on a clear night looking up at the black sky punctured by innumerable pricks of light, do we really need another two? When you think what a mess we have managed to make of Earth, should we really be taking our destructive roadshow into space?
Do we want branches of Amazon set up in the Solar System? When Earth-bound tourism is going to struggle for years due to Covid-19, is space tourism really going to be a goer? Is it a good idea to have rich folk zipping around up there in tin cans?
The debate rolls on about whether Commander Bezos and Commander Branson are actually astronauts.
The Karman line, 100km up, is an internationally recognised boundary between the top of the atmosphere and the start of space. Mr Branson’s Virgin Galactic did not make it, reaching an altitude of about 86km during a 59-minute flight, while Mr Bezos’ Blue Origin did, rising to 107km above the surface in about 10 minutes.
The Federal Aviation Administration has now declared that neither are astronauts. On the same day as Mr Bezos’ flight, it introduced new rules “in order to maintain the prestige of commercial space astronaut wings”, which, among other things, means those who pay for orbital or suborbital space flights are ineligible.
The FAA also says flight crew members must be employed by an FAA-certified organisation, including Nasa and the United States military, and that they must be involved in activities during the flight that are “essential to public safety or contributed to human space-flight safety”.
Before the journey, Mr Branson told the BBC he had wanted to go into space “since I was a kid”. He wanted to help hundreds of thousands of people in the next 100 years go to space to “look back at our beautiful Earth and come home and work very hard to try to do magic to it to look after it”.
Mr Bezos similarly posted on Instagram: “Ever since I was 5 years old, I’ve dreamed of travelling to space.”
Haven’t we all? But not content with his big-headed mission, Mr Bezos made ill-advised, arrogant comments on his return, thanking Amazon customers and staff for effectively paying for the trip.
The development costs of both missions run into billions of US dollars, an obscene amount of money. Perhaps instead of these gross vanity projects, that could have gone into making and distributing Covid-19 vaccines for African and South American countries and other nations desperately in need of them now.
The world may even have forgiven the two billionaires for trademarking the vaccines the Bezos Shot and the Branson Shot.
Space is unimaginably vast, bordering on the infinite. It’s cold, dark, a vacuum, and soundless.
Actually, perhaps it isn’t such a bad place for egotistical billionaires after all?