Homelessness And The Tourism Space Race
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde
The morning Jeff Bezos launched into space, a homeless woman with a walker was assaulted by a group of men on the border of the Seattle Amazon headquarters. Within the pristine confines of the company’s territory, you will find no homeless people in spite of Seattle’s teeming housing crisis. A stealth army of security guards dressed in stiff polo shirts, the same bright shade of Blue Origin’s logo, patrol the invisible boundaries of the Amazon headquarters at all times. They whisper into radios and cast keen glares at anyone who looks out of place. I always feel out of place and scurry past. I used to be homeless here. As a teenager, before Amazon took over Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, I slept where there is now a restaurant for dog food. I used to hide from the rain where Amazon buildings now tower, rising from a tropical landscape of plants imported from faraway continents. I feel dizzy and disoriented, walking through what feels like a real-life simulation of the videogame Myst that I played as a kid, before my mom kicked me out, before I was a homeless teenager on the streets of Seattle.
Watching the Blue Origin launch, I thought of how the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded the day before I was born; I thought of my childhood dream to become an astrobotanist who studied how xylem and phloem perform in zero-gravity by studying algaes; I thought of how selfish it is for billionaires to prioritize space tourism over paying taxes that could provide basic housing and infrastructure that Seattle, and other exploited communities, desperately need. New York was able to thwart Amazon’s HQ2, but Space may not be so lucky.
Jeff Bezos’ beige cowboy hat bobbed as he crossed the bridge. He smirked like the Amazon logo and rang a bell on his way into the capsule.
“The shelter has two main functions,” explained Gary Lai, Blue Origin’s Pathfinding Lead. “It’s fireproof and can handle a whole set of anomalies,” he continued. In Seattle, a homeless man’s dirty toes poked out from worn socks, beneath a sleeping bag, a few blocks from what locals call the “Bezos Balls”. The man’s feet did not move, and I worried that he might be dead. But I did not try to wake him because I know that sleeping when you are homeless is a precious luxury.
I watched the launch’s countdown on my phone’s screen, half-anticipating an explosion like in Succession when Roman Roy dives into a bathroom to watch a rocket launch in honor of Shiv’s wedding. I love science and astronomy as much as the next guy. But it’s difficult to be an excited spectator for the launch of private space tourism when we are living in a villain origin story, down here on earth.