ST PAUL, Minn. — Watching Jeff Bezos enter space, Christopher Michaelson thought what many of us probably did.
"The exploration of space is something I think is really cool," said Michaelson.
But as Professor of Business Ethics and Academic Director of the Melrose and Toro Center for Principled Leadership at the University of St Thomas, Michaelson says space flights are not just about exploring new frontiers, since they raise lots of questions about the responsibility of the ultrawealthy to help others.
"I do think there is room for both cynicism and optimism with regard to this," said Michaelson.
There’s plenty of both on social media, including from fellow space pioneer Richard Branson, and from critics who say Bezos made his fortune in part thanks to tax loopholes and mistreated workers. Some say the money he spent on the flight could have changed those things—and many others. But Michaelson says it’s not an either or question, that vast wealth can let Bezos reach his own goals, while also solving worldwide problems.
"I think there’s a tendency to think that this is a zero sum game, that every dollar spent on tomorrow is a dollar we fail to spend on today," said Michaelson. "But I don’t think we can look at it that way. I think that we do have to make an investment in our future at the same time being attuned to the suffering of real people today."
What does that mean for the rest of us? Michaelson says Bezos going to space is his entertainment, not unlike most people going to a concert or a restaurant or on a vacation. And, he says, space flights may lead to inspiration and innovation we still can’t measure.
"(Whether the space flights are meaningful) remains to be seen, exactly what those positive contributions will be," said Michaelson. "We might be solving some pollution problems, overpopulation problems, energy efficiency problems, by exploring new forms of transportation."
In the meantime, Bezos celebrated his flight with a $200 million dollar charity donation.