The U.S. government isn’t the only entity trumpeting that the sky’s the limit when it comes to outer space travel.
After billionaire Richard Branson’s successful Virgin Galactic flight on July 12, Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos followed suit on Tuesday, July 20, with his Blue Origin space venture. General Electric and other companies promise to continue the trend soon.
The Bezos team’s journey into space occurred on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 spaceflight that first landed humans on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin formed the American crew that landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969. Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface.
Reportedly, NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy have awarded millions in contracts for companies to produce reactor-design concepts that would facilitate trips to Mars and other destinations.
“These design contracts are an important step towards tangible reactor hardware that could one day propel new missions and exciting discoveries,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, offered in a statement.
With white billionaires like Branson and Bezos spearheading civilian flights – one wealthy individual paid $28 million for a seat on Bezos’ planned trip – African Americans and other minorities, many of whom already stand far behind in the world’s economy, want to make sure they won’t get lost in space economics.
Virgin Galactic government affairs vice president Sirisha Bandla, a Guntur, India native, fulfilled a lifelong dream on the Branson flight. But little remains known about the prospects of other minorities soaring into space. Few would dispute that the initial stage of civilian space travel has a decidedly white face. And while people of color have emerged as crucial cogs behind the scenes, few, if any, appear to have a seat on the shuttle.
Some have responded in the way in which Cedric The Entertainer remarked during the 2000 blockbuster movie, “The Original Kings of Comedy.”
“White people only want to go to space to get away from Black people,” the Barbershop star quipped. “Black people are going to go wherever white people go,” he hilariously warned.
“Pushing boundaries is in my DNA,” asserted Mogale Modisane, a renewable energy engineer and CEO of ToolsGaloreHQ.com, who watched Branson and his team’s flight from South Africa.
“I think as Black people, we should consider trips to space. Why not? The opportunity to travel to the boundaries of the earth and beyond is something [to be desired] if the opportunity allows. It could inspire the next generation of Black youth to be the space entrepreneurs of the future,” Modisane said.
Mae Carol Jemison, who shared comments following Blue Origin’s landing on Tuesday, became the first Black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Jemison joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1987 and was selected to serve for the STS-47 mission, during which she orbited the Earth for nearly eight days on September 12–20, 1992.
“I think in 10 years, the excitement of space travel will continue. This is clearly built on the work from 1961 provided by NASA. Now, with the participation of the commercial industry, I hope to see the ticket prices go down and see more humans land on the Moon,” Jemison said during an interview with NBC News reporters on Tuesday.
Earl Jones, an insurance agency owner, insisted that African Americans must travel to space.
“Richard Branson proved that you don’t need a space degree, and let us not forget that it was three strong Black women who turned the idea of space flight into a reality with their mathematics,” Jones said, making reference to the “Hidden Figures” trio of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn.
“People of color must take full advantage of this and, or, create their own opportunity,” Jones said. “We have come too far not to reach space and beyond.”
Branson told NBC News’ Today Show that wealthy individuals should create new industries that can lead to “800 engineers and scientists who can create wonderful things that can make space accessible at a fraction of the environmental cost that it has been in the past.”
Janelle Owens, a human resources director at Test Prep Insight, said to break down racial barriers and achieve complete equality, there shouldn’t be disproportions in the race of people engaging in commercial space travel.
“The idea of all-white crews traveling to space perpetuates the idea of white elitism and Black people, and other minorities, cannot compete at the highest levels of business,” Owens said.
“People of color that have the means to embark on these ventures should 100 percent consider it. Nothing would help the cause of equality and social justice more than seeing Black and brown faces in these spaceships right alongside white passengers. This breaks down conscious and unconscious biases and would set an example for young Black children and other minorities that anything is possible,” Owens said.
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