Who wins the space race?

1968 was the first time humanity left earth for another destination. Borman, Lovell and Anders orbited the moon in Apollo 8 and then came home. And a year later Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

Of the 3.5 billion people that were on earth at the time, almost none of them would have had an inkling about how important those events would be for the future of humanity. But then, they also had no idea that by the year 2000 the population of the world would be 6.1 billion and that the predictions would be for reaching a population of 11 billion by 2100. They wouldn’t have known that, although the estimations get less certain, the high end prediction is for 35 billion by 2300. They couldn’t have guessed that in just over three hundred years there could be ten times more people on the planet than there were the first time we left it.

So while the nineteen sixties space race might have been nothing more than cold war posturing and propaganda for the politicians of the day, it was the first step in humans becoming an interplanetary species. It planted the flag for an ambitious and awe-inspiring future for humanity.

And the next step was space tourism. That may seem a little disheartening after such an inspiring start, but the government funded endeavour had done it’s job. It took on the massive risk associated with doing something never done before and proved it was possible. It’s time for the corporations to take over. Dennis Tito was the first billionaire space tourist, with more well-known billionaires starting companies such as Space X, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic to commercialise space travel.

What does billionaires in space have to do with billions of people on earth? Living off-planet might be the only viable option for an ever-increasing population with ever-scarce natural resources.

The other answer, obvious to some, is to control the population of humanity to match the resources available, just like the rabbits and the foxes do. The population of rabbits and foxes within a given area is controlled by naturally occurring feedback loops that mean when the population of rabbits increases, so does the population of foxes, which decreases the population of rabbits and so the population of foxes. Both populations are intricately linked through a controlling mechanism. Humans don’t have that. There is no naturally occurring control mechanism to keep our growth in check. But there is another mechanism at play that can help us understand what might happen as population increases and commercial space exploration becomes a reality. It’s a mechanism that helps to answer the question some may ask, “Why do we spend so much on figuring out how to live in space when so many people on earth don’t even have secure and adequate housing?”

The Matthew principle of accumulated advantage, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, reached an intersection point in 2015. The richest 1% had the same wealth as the other 99%. It was an even split. Fifty fifty. They had fifty percent of the wealth and we had fifty percent (I’m assuming no one reading this is a billionaire but if you are give me call, let’s be friends). The trend of wealth distribution had been heading this way for a while and there is no reason to expect it to change. Soon there will be another intersection point when the richest 0.1% own the same wealth and the other 99.9%, and then again for the richest 0.01%.

Those two trends mean a lot more poor people who keep getting poorer, on a planet with increasingly scarce natural resources such as clean air, water, materials for building, that eventually will run out. What then? There are three drivers of population change; fertility, mortality and migration. And we know that people migrate away from danger and insecurity towards safety and opportunity. When living in space offers a better chance of staying alive than living on earth, then we’ll go. But only if we can afford it.

If you were a future trillionaire living on an over-populated planet with no resources, what would you do? You’d build a business selling a better life in space to billionaires. Space stations, terra-forming Mars and Ganymede, mining asteroids. All very lucrative opportunities. The promise of huge economic return will be more than the trillionaires of the future can resist. Space tourism is just the start, living in space is the future. And what of 99.9% of humanity left on earth? There is only one way to go. No more earthlings. The Bezoians and Muskites will take humanity to the stars. What started as a space race between two nations might turn humans into a space race.