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Peter Ward

Peter Ward studied journalism at the University of Sheffield before moving to Dubai, where he reported on the energy sector. After three years in the Middle East, he earned his[…]

The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space

PETER WARD: Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are really driving the private space sector. And they do come from different backgrounds and they do have different space philosophies. Elon Musk is the most swashbuckling adventurer. He just wants to go to Mars and he wants to go because he wants to save the species. He believes in the "Plan B" arguments which says that basically we're all doomed. The Earth is going to come to an end at some point, whether that's nuclear war, and asteroid hits us, disease — any of the above. And he believes that that is going to happen and the best way to preserve humanity, to preserve our species is to make make plan B which would be to make a colony settlement on another planet which we'd live on even if Earth were destroyed.

And he's picked Mars for that. Mars is the obvious option, for logistical reasons. And yeah, so his whole thing is, "Earth is doomed. We need a backup plan. And we're going to go to Mars and set up a settlement there. That's the best way to save the world."

Bezos, on the other hand, he doesn't subscribe to the plan B argument at all. He thinks that the Earth can be saved. He thinks that we're going to be just fine here. But he thinks space can play an integral part of saving the Earth. He essentially wants to make the Earth a residential zone, where only — people would only live here. He wants to move all industry to the moon so we wouldn't have the effects of manufacturing and industry and pollution here on Earth, it would all go to the moon. And this would — the Earth would basically be zoned as a residential only area.

Having said that, Bezos has a reputation with Amazon. He obviously is a very shrewd businessperson. He's the richest man in the world. And he will set up the infrastructure of his company in such a way that he dominates that area. You've seen it with Amazon. He built these warehouses all over America and he absolutely took a stranglehold over the e-commerce market. If he were to do something like that in space, that would be a little bit scary. It would be almost too much power for someone to have in space.

If he set up operations on the moon that he would like to, it would have huge questions of whether this is monopoly, how much control he has, if the whole economy — if the whole industrial sector was based on the moon and Jeff Bezos or only two or three people were the ones that run all the infrastructure and the logistics getting to and from that, that's a huge amount of power all of a sudden for one — for one company and for one man.

So those are the different philosophies. I guess they do kind of reflect their personalities. Elon Musk goes out on Twitter and says, we're going to go to Mars in the next three years. And he kind of knows that those timelines are never going to happen. I don't think he's ever actually said in two years. But it's that kind of deal. He always gives very ambitious timelines.

Bezos, on the other hand, is quiet, reserved. You don't really know what his company is doing until they're ready to make a full announcement. And you get the sense that he's kind of building behind the scenes and will, at some point — I guess he's ever the industrialist. He's going to come out and have everything planned, have all the infrastructure. So yeah, I guess that's the difference between the two.