Branson vs Bezos: in praise of the billionaire space race

It would be easy to sneer at that. But there are three big reasons why it should be welcomed. First, it sets up a competition. The last great achievements in space came in the 1960s, when the race to get into orbit — and then to land the first man on the Moon — was a proxy for the Cold War, with the Soviet Union and the United States, competing to get there first. Nothing ever happens without some form of contest to spur it forward, and the competition between the world’s billionaires provides that.

Next, they have the money, and more importantly the commercial awareness. European explorers only opened up the New World because there was money in it. To explore space properly, it will have to be commercially viable, as well as intellectually interesting. We will need business models as well as scientific ones.

Finally, exploring space will require ambition, vision, endurance and innovation, especially when it comes to establishing colonies on Mars (one of Elon Musk’s pet projects). The qualities that make for a great entrepreneur are the same that make for a great explorer.