Our planet’s check engine light is on

Blue Origin’s latest event with William Shatner was a publicity success, to be sure. Technically, not so much when you compare it to Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight in 1961, 60 years ago, where he was aloft for 15 minutes. Shatner’s flight was only 10 minutes.

Next week’s Your Say question: After so much effort to save water, what more can be done?

OK, Shatner did “boldly go where no old man has gone before” but let’s be clear about what is really going on here. Jeff Bezos’ public relations story is that he is pioneering technology to make it possible for future manufacturing operations to be placed in orbit, thus protecting the Earth for its inhabitants. He says dirty, polluting industries could be moved into space. Really?

Two of the biggest offenders are fossil fuels and livestock — not very practical in space on so many levels. Even the most optimistic projections say the cost per pound to get materials into low Earth orbit would be in the range of $100 per pound in 20 to 30 years (currently thousands per pound), a significant cost that must be recovered for orbital manufacturing to be feasible. That would make it a pretty expensive Quarter Pounder.

Some people argue that Bezos can do what he wants with his money since taxpayers are not supporting his hobby. I beg to differ.

Since he pays zero federal income taxes in certain years, we, the ordinary taxpayers, are underwriting his space tourism obsession indirectly by paying his share of the cost of running our society that allows him to pursue his hobby. Is that the right priority for society’s resources? No, it’s a pipe dream, even if we could accomplish anything close to what Bezos says, and it will be too little too late.

The urgency should be investment in renewable energy and carbon-scrubbing technology now to stop making it worse and to reverse some of the damage to Earth before it’s too late. It’s like driving your car with the “check engine” light on. Sure, it will keep going for a while, but if you defer maintenance too long it will stop running.

Earth’s check engine light is glowing brightly because of deferred maintenance and abuse by humankind. We don’t have time to wait for Bezos and his fantasy to come to realization. We must invest in existing technology now to remediate Earth’s problems and save it for humankind. If Bezos wants to put his money there, I will boldly follow.

Bill Loeber, Del Cerro

It’s not fair for us to hold someone back

Some people complained that the resources William Shatner used to blast into orbit could have been better used here on Earth. Did Shatner use government funds for his trip? Did this 90-year-old man take money away from anyone by going on this brief journey of a lifetime? The answer to both questions is “No.” He was given a ticket as a gift.

Shatner has done much to contribute to society. He has donated large sums of money to various charities. During his career, he provided entertainment to probably millions of viewers, some of whom might have been youngsters who decided on a career in the space industry because of watching “Star Trek.” If he had turned down this trip, who would have benefited? Was he wrong in accepting the ticket for this trip on a real spaceship? Should he have instead suggested the money the ticket was worth be given to save the Earth? No. He had the right to accept this gift and enjoy the ride.

What if the Wright brothers were told they couldn’t fly their new invention, the airplane, because Earth needed the funds it would take for them to manufacture and fly their plane? Where would we be now?

Space tourism is no longer science fiction, but the beginning of an upcoming way of life. Shatner might not be on this Earth when a trip into space is no different than a trip to Disneyland. Let him enjoy his life. More importantly, let him be a source of inspiration for other adventurous people. If the complainers choose to sit in their rocking chairs, donate all their funds to charity, and vegetate for the rest of their lives, let them do so. When a 90-year-old man accepts a trip into orbit, let them complain. The Earth will still continue to evolve.

When the complainers look back on their lives, they’ll think (with boredom), “What have I done?”

When William Shatner looks back on his life, he’ll think (with excitement), “Look what I’ve done!”

Iris Price, Ramona

Fix the Earth before heading to space

From the beginning of time, humans have questioned the unknown: other forms of life. With the advancement of technology, humans have gained knowledge on new ways to travel, even sending spaceships to planets millions of miles away. Space travel has revolutionized so much, from the first man on the Moon to the capability of sending others. Thus, the question lingers: Is space travel worth the hype? Or are the extensive money and resources spent a waste?

In my opinion, space travel seems like an amazing experience, but considering the issues we are experiencing on Earth, do we prioritize leisure over problems? With global warming, poverty, housing and numerous problems the world is facing, shouldn’t our central focus be on addressing these vital issues? One may argue that sending others to space is beneficial due to the possibility of a future life on a different planet in dire circumstances. However, shouldn’t we address matters on Earth first?

Space travel is expensive, millions-of-dollars expensive. That could be put to better use.

Don’t get me wrong, space travel is potentially the experience of a lifetime, one I would absolutely love to do. But for the time being, it is something that should be put off for the future. Our planet is clearly dying. Forests are burning, ice caps are melting and temperatures are shifting. So why spend resources on the wealthy wishing to travel to another planet — one that doesn’t need our attention? Ultimately, space travel is for the wealthy as there are no coach seats in flights to space. It wouldn’t even be accessible to anyone but the super-rich, creating an even bigger socioeconomic divide between the rich and poor.

Although space travel can improve our quality of life by the knowledge gained from space, there are matters that need to be addressed on Earth first. By saving the money that would be put into space travel, we can use it to help our planet see a better tomorrow.

Istja Trebicka, College Area

There’s no harm if we travel responsibly

As long as the incursions into space do not leave debris, for as an astronaut pointed out there is so much debris circling above Earth that leaving Earth for any reason may become dangerous, I see no harm in incursions into space.

I have read complaints about the large amount of money spent on these launches, but as was the case when there were complaints about the 1969 moon landing and the NASA budget was cut to a trickle, there is no guarantee that money not spent on the space flights would be spent to benefit the poor. Jeff Bezos donated $200 million for the benefit of the people.

As Melinda Gates pointed out, inequities in wealth should be tackled through taxes. For the great majority of us who will not be on a space flight, there is an alternative of exploring deep space — with a small microscope. A photographer who concentrates on the microscopic called himself a “micronaut,” an astronaut of the microcosmos. For a small amount of money, a hand-held magnifier can show the wonders of the deep space of the minute. Seashells barely visible to the eye show a complex structure under magnification. Exploring the microscopic also leaves us in awe of this Earth.

But for those who do go into space, such as William Shatner, their tales of what they observed and felt are an inspiration to the rest of us to cherish our Earth. As when cars were first used for transportation and it was apparent there had to be rules to protect the populace, rules may also have to be made regarding recreational, if not all, space flights. The technology developed to get a human to the moon certainly added to our knowledge and development of new science benefiting all.

Daina Krigens, Encinitas

Money could be spent much more wisely

A few years ago, I went to Paris on vacation. One of our destinations was the Palace of Versailles. As I toured the palace, objectively, each room was detailed, luxurious and exquisite. But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that French kings spent an obscene amount of money ever-improving and expanding this fortress, while the people right outside the palace door lived in horrifying poverty. How could this be OK? I had to cut the tour short because I found the disgusting opulence overwhelmed my desire to be a tourist.

Fast forward, on another vacation, to the California Central Coast and Hearst Castle. Again, the unimaginable wealth that it took to build this castle for the pleasure of one person was mind-blowing. During the Great Depression, while people were starving, William Randolph Hearst was entertaining the wealthiest people in the world with no awareness of what was happening around him. Imagine what good he could have done if he had only invested a fraction of what his castle cost into humanitarian causes.

The over-the-top grandeur of Heart Castle upset me so much, I vowed never to return unless they turned the castle into a hotel that the average person could come and enjoy at will.

Now here we are with space tourism. It is estimated that a trip into space will cost $55 million for one proper orbital flight. Even though this cost will undoubtedly come down over time, it will never be reasonable. We, the general public, can’t even tour the result of this spending. It is just gone. The amount of money spent on a very short trip could fund the most amazing programs here on Earth.

It is hard to imagine that a wealthy person would get more enjoyment out of spending millions on a short ride into space rather than donating to a worthy cause, but I guess that’s their choice. I will just say, shame on them.

Vicki Hoffman, Rolando

Invest in tech rather than joyride with it

William Shatner in “space”? I borrow from Neil Armstrong. An incredibly costly, planet-polluting, short trip into “space” by a celebrity — one giant leap for mankind.

William Shatner, unfortunately, has more name recognition than Ardem Patapoutian. Patapoutian just won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

If just a few more kids go into hard science and a few more billionaires invest in hard science, the trip will have been worth it. Hard science, not the media influencers of today, will solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

Kids growing up in the late 1960s watched Captain Kirk call his ship on a “flip phone-like” communicator. These same kids grew up to develop the flip phones of the late 1990s and haven’t stopped. “Star Trek” showed the future in an incredibly optimistic, diverse and inclusive way. I can get behind that.

In the short term, a wasteful, polluting trip. History will judge the net benefits.

By the way, congratulations, Ardem Patapoutian.

Jim Stuka, Escondido

Add space tourism to list of our mistakes

Instead of sending Shatner into orbit for a “joyride,” poking another hole in our feeble ozone layer, Jeff Bezos should have considered sending a small colony of “Earthlings” to Mars so as to save the human race from the creeping devastation known as “climate change.” Climate change is causing increasingly deadly storms, melting snowpacks and, the worst of them all, devastating fires. When trees burn, the toxic fumes released further pollute the air, and leave fewer trees to turn carbon into oxygen, thus doubling our loss.

Our Earth is billions of years old, but man, a relative newcomer, has managed to soil his own nest to the detriment of all that share this world.

While our Earth is literally in its death throes, it appears that only the scientists, the Sierra Club and Greta Thunberg seem to be concerned. Average people are going about their lives, continuing to sabotage and murder our world.

Forty years ago, my house was cool enough so as to not require air conditioning. I have now installed air conditioning, but refuse to use it because if I’m not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.

Peggy Goodman, Oceanside

The joy of travel now expands beyond Earth

I was sitting on my patio in Bankers Hill when the always impressive Boeing 777 non-stop from London came gliding down to land at San Diego International Airport. As I watched, I thought about those folks on board who were seeking an adventure in San Diego. Or those returning from their adventure in Europe. I’ve spent most of my life in San Diego as a tourism executive (although I prefer the word visitor or traveler to tourist) and so I naturally think about travelers and their motivations.

Why we travel is the question — rather than how we travel — and that difference is at the heart of considering the value of space tourism. “What brings you to town?” asks the server, and the patron will probably reply with one or more of the following reasons: pleasure, education, business, health, history, family or religion. Curiosity can lead to discovery, understanding or, rarely, trouble. One of San Diego’s early tourists in 1835 was Richard Henry Dana, whose curiosity about the West inspired him to sign on as a merchant sailor and work his way to California journaling along the way. And, like a tourist, he observed and sampled life in San Diego, visiting the Mission, eating frijoles, touring the countryside and making acquaintances. He thought favorably of the climate and scenery and less so about the residents and wrote a best-selling book about his travels that became a travel guide to those traveling to California for the Gold Rush.

After 60-plus years, outer space now seems less exotic than perhaps California was in 1835. William Shatner’s emotional comments upon his return to Earth are emblematic of the awed responses of travelers who discover a place or situation that was unexpected. Looking up at the blackness above and then the blue below caused him to say that he was changed and that he never wanted to lose that feeling. Citizen astronauts can and will keep the dream of planetary travel alive and moving forward.

We Earthlings have a robot on Mars named Curiosity. Would it be cool to have a curious human up there? Even better.

I’ve met some very famous people in my career in tourism as chairman of SEAT Planners LLC and serving two six-year terms on the San Diego Tourism Authority board of directors. The one that stands out, and I’ve met the likes of Colin Powell, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jane Goodall, was a tourist taking my city tour of San Diego back in the 1970s. He thanked me for my tour, and I said to him, “You look familiar.” His daughter said, “Meet Clyde Tombough, discoverer of Pluto.” There’s something about meeting him that awed me and still does. I wonder what he was searching for on his trip to San Diego? I hope that he found it.

Steve Weathers, Bankers Hill