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CRAIG BROWN: Space tourism? It will never give me a Buzz

Once Sir Richard Branson was finally up in space, he posted a video of himself on board his rocket plane.

‘To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up at the stars,’ he said. ‘Now I’m an adult in a spaceship, with lots of other wonderful adults looking down at our beautiful, beautiful Earth.

‘To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.’

Without wishing to dampen Sir Richard’s excitement, I wonder if the view from space is all it’s cracked up to be? When he finally returned to Earth after his brief 59-minute trip, he said: ‘What a day, what a day . . . nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space. Suddenly you’re looking down and seeing people looking up at you.’

Can this be true? Even when you are flying at normal height in an aeroplane, you can never see people looking up at you. And from 53 miles up, even the largest human being — Kim Jong-un, say — will still be impossible to spot.

Once Sir Richard Branson (pictured at a Spaceport America conference on Sunday) was finally up in space, he posted a video of himself on board his rocket plane

It would be awful to think that Sir Richard had got in a muddle, and instead of gazing in wonder out of a side-window of his rocket, he was watching a Virgin Galactic in-house promotional video by mistake.

My own suspicion is that the view of Earth from space is just what you would expect, as there are countless images already available. When you set eyes for the first time on the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Statue of Liberty, your first thought is not one of wonder, but of familiarity. ‘Gosh!’ you say. ‘It looks just like it does in the photos!’

The porthole of a plane further reduces the impact of what one is seeing. Whenever I fly over the Alps, for instance, I notice that few of my fellow passengers bother to give them a second glance. They prefer to leaf through the duty-free magazine or watch an episode of Game Of Thrones.

There is something about the heavily glazed little windows of aeroplanes that renders aerial views anodyne, reducing even the most magnificent range of mountains to the paltry dimensions of a postcard.

It’s odd that three of the wealthiest men on Earth — Sir Richard, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — are so desperate to go into space. Why are they so fidgety?

It's odd that three of the wealthiest men on Earth ¿ Sir Richard, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk ¿ are so desperate to go into space. Why are they so fidgety?

It’s odd that three of the wealthiest men on Earth — Sir Richard, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — are so desperate to go into space. Why are they so fidgety?

But, then again, an excess of money has a strange effect on those possessed of it, or by it. For some reason, billionaires like to be forced into confined spaces, far away from anyone else. For starters, their expensive sports cars oblige them to sit in horribly cramped seats, so low off the ground that every passing lorry threatens to crush them.

And why else build your own rocket? Why else pay a fortune to crouch in brambles on a windswept Scottish moor on the off-chance of shooting a deer? Why burrow deeper and deeper into the ground, in order to equip your Kensington mansion with a joyless, windowless work- out room, complete with expensive rowing and cycling machines, all stapled to the ground?

Why else would they want to spend their time in expensive yachts, which are really just like squat maisonettes, surrounded by water?

The canny writer William Leith recently compared being on a yacht to being ‘in a small house, and the house is slipping around under your feet’.

Friends who have just returned from a week on a billionaire’s yacht tell me that their host spent most of his time pointing to the dining room or the sitting room saying: ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ After all, there was nothing else to do, other than feel slightly queasy.

On his return to terra firma, Sir Richard vowed to devote the rest of his life to saving the planet, adding that seeing Earth from high above would motivate future customers to do the same.

Yet one of the simplest ways to save the planet would be to stop sending six-seater, gas-guzzling rocket planes into space just so that rich people (£180,000 a seat) can gaze at the view for a minute or two.


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