I admit it; I’m a space junkie. If some worker at SpaceX gets the hiccups around a Dragon capsule, I’m worried there’ll be a launch delay. I won’t win the lottery (mainly because I don’t play the lottery), but, if ever I did, you could bet the first thing I would do is to reserve a seat on Virgin Galactic’s rocket. I watch way too many YouTube videos that debate whether Musk’s Starship will start flying people in 2020, 2025 or never at all. I’m far too stoked about this whole human spaceflight business.
But I’m not in a rush to invest in it. Apollo 17 was the last time we left low Earth orbit, and that was 45 years ago. There’s a solid reason why manned spaceflight has been put on the back burner: there’s little justification for it other than human vanity. The Apollo and the precursor Gemini program cost $288 billion in today’s dollars. And, as Charlie Brown said in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, “I got a rock.”
There’s glory in sending people to outer space, but there’s little return in it. Most of the science is best done with robotic probes. Humans are far too demanding. Money spent on life support equipment could have been better deployed toward ever more sensitive scientific equipment or faster spacecraft. For all the ink — both black and red — used on the race between the Soviet Union and the United States for space dominance, it seems somewhat pointless now. Well, not pointless, but expensive. The reason manned spaceflight has stalled for 45 years is because there are less expensive and less risky ways to accomplish the same objectives.
Those of us who invest into long term growth plays need to pay close attention to whether a company’s products improve customers’ lives. The automobile and railroads did. The cellular phone did. Beanie Babies didn’t. Crocs had their moment, but their waterproof, antibacterial and sartorial fluorescent brilliance is relentlessly mocked by the same generation that happily pays $1,000 for goose down and coyote jackets.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Moon. I love the stars. When there’s a valid commercial reason for us to be out there, I’ll throw money at Elon Musk as fast as everyone else. But until then, I want to invest in companies that solve problems that need solving and do things that people need doing. Give me a Roomba over a rocket for now.
Sam Levine is Acting Executive Editor for BetterInvesting Magazine