I find this to be infuriating. Where does the arrogance come from that allows someone to think they deserve a $200,000 trip to the edges of space? This, to me, is the perfect example of an increasing distance between the outrageously privileged 1% and the rest of us. When there are people who have trouble affording a bus ride to work or food to eat, how can someone justify this inane waste of basic shared resources? What allows some people to view the world as their personal amusement ride?
I secretly hope for two things. One, that the first Virgin Galactic flight will pulverize in a flaming mass of molten shrapnel. Or two, that the coddled passengers will look back at our fragile planet and reach a deeply internal comprehension of the basic interconnections between their actions and all earthly inhabitants - the fact that their wasteful, irresponsible and ludicrous two-and-a-half hour fling has dire consequences for the other 99% of the planet. I know this is an arbitrary line to draw, as the super-rich amass greater and greater material wealth, collect houses, cars, yachts, and islands and revel in their disparity while occasionally soothing their guilt with philanthropic or eco-capitalist gestures - but really, this is over the top and obscene.
I also find statements such as this (as quoted in the NYT article) to be inherently misguided: “As humanity eventually moves to other planets and bodies throughout the solar system, we will of course fly into — and eventually live in — space.” This kind of idea, which has been standard fare among technocrats since the space race of the '60s (if not before), strikes me as a flagrant continuation of the colonialist fantasy. These ideas are based on a conception of the universe as conquest.
Is it not obvious how dependent any outer-terrestrial activity is upon basic earthly resources? Inhabitants of MIR are tethered to earth, at huge cost, and I believe, given the huge distances between heavenly bodies, we always will be. Do these adolescent fantasies of a gleaming Martian outpost really have any basis in human possibility? Personally, I like it here. We as a species have co-evolved in relationship with the planet and need to find a way to make it work here. This attitude of "Well, we've used up this one, let's move on." is, to me, offensive and wrong. I imagine a bedraggled group of survivors scraping the last crumbs of TVP out of a tin, while gazing longingly back at the wrecked shell of a pollution-choked earth.
Additionally, I strongly feel that resources should be allocated to observational rather than physical exploration of space. The amazing and paradigm-shifting discoveries of the Hubble telescope and related observational tools should be the focus of cosmic aspirations. I feel the goal of looking at and understanding our place in the universe - the building and revising of cosmological models - to be both necessary and urgent. This is an essentially different enterprise from those which attempt to spread and diversify human greed and conquest.