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Every time a SpaceX rocket explodes, I wonder if we should tax the rich more | francine prose

EITHERA strong argument in favor of taxing the super-rich heavily is that billionaires often seem to have profoundly mistaken ideas about how to spend their money. They waste it on solid gold toilets or, like the Sacklers and Russian oligarchs who support Putin’s war, use it to do harm. They typically fund wildly expensive vanity projects that gratify their egos while solidifying their position as masters of the universe who are socially, economically, and physically isolated from the rest of us.

Among the most ambitious and widely publicized programs is the space station, SpaceX, which Elon Musk has built in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, not far from the Mexican border. Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies in 2002. His stated goal is to produce rockets capable of carrying 100 passengers and vast amounts of supplies and equipment into outer space, to explore the moon and, ultimately, Musk hopes, to colonize Mars. The first Falcon 1 rockets were tested in 2006. Twenty-six rockets were launched in 2023 alone.

The project made headlines recently when, on April 20, Starship, the largest rocket ever built, exploded over the Gulf of Mexico, 4 minutes after liftoff. Journalists and viewers followed the countdown with a kind of breathless excitement, and the so-called “unscheduled quick teardown” didn’t seem to matter much to the press, Musk, or his staff.

One kept hearing that success wasn’t really the problem for Musk, that in fact failure was success in the sense that it was (supposedly) a positive sign of progress. One could see footage of SpaceX employees cheering for the launch, their exuberance undiminished when the rocket exploded. Even some of Musk’s critics seem fascinated by the scope and hubris of his ambition to create a spacecraft that is reusable, like an airplane, without the costly and annoying tendency of a rocket to disintegrate on contact with light. terrestrial atmosphere.

Several weeks ago, at a party, I met a young woman whose family lives near Brownsville, Texas, not far from the launch site. She told me that SpaceX was, for local residents, a highly controversial and divisive project. She had brought new jobs to a poor and underemployed area, but now people had begun to complain that the ground around the launch pad was littered with bits of metal, shrapnel, and parts from engines that had not reached orbit. .

Although conservation groups have noted the negative effect on local flora and fauna and the fact that noise and light from the launches threaten the area’s delicate ecosystem, the FAA issued a 2014 report indicating that the rockets did not represent a significant environmental risk. This conclusion seems counter-intuitive at best, since what doesn’t go up must come down, somewhere. When the largest rocket ever made sank in the Gulf of Mexico, surely that must have come as a surprise to the fish.

However, that possibility remained largely unexplored and unreported by major news sources until April 21, when the New York Times published an article about the havoc that had been created in the wake of the latest launch. Windows were smashed in Port Isabel, Texas, 6 miles from the site. And the surrounding area has been covered in a layer of dust, grime, and debris.

It makes one wonder how the FAA came to its conclusion and who signed on to the project. In some areas, including the rural county where I live, it can take months or even years for homeowners to get a permit to build a garage for their car. But apparently a billionaire is allowed to pollute a small town and cause various native species to flee a particularly beautiful section of the Rio Grande Valley in search of a quieter, less disruptive new home. F Scott Fitzgerald said that the rich are different from you and me; I guess it’s naive to note that the wealthy also seem to have different zoning laws.

Those fresh-faced (and mostly young) people employed by Musk, cheering and high-fiving when the rocket launched, what do you think will happen to them? Do you think you are destined to hang out with the boss on Mars? Will their excitement dim when they find out that Elon Musk has used them to stage his interplanetary departure, along with 99 of his closest friends, when our planet is suffering the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, a disaster that Musk and his minions will have to deal with? what to face? contributed?

It follows from the fascination of watching the rocket go up and then down to think about where those parts of the machine and all that rocket fuel go. And it’s an added buzz to watch the fortune burning in front of our eyes. It’s money that, if there were more oversight of how the super-rich party and extend their rule, could have been spent on, say, eradicating poverty, on education, housing, and health care, or on trying to solve any of the crises that come your way. we face, here and now, on our fragile and sick planet.



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