headline-bigHeadline English

Cosmic inequality

“We would love to finish what we started some years ago … I think millions of people would one day love the chance to go to space.” This is what Richard Branson, the US space entrepreneur, said following the death of one of his pilots two weeks ago.

The pilot would doubtlessly have preferred to stay alive and for the project to go on. Whether he would have wanted it smothered (1) in the language of bogus communitarianism is another question.

Are we really talking about “millions of people” going into space? Last time I looked, the price of the trip to Earth’s orbit on Richard Branson’s spacecraft was £150,000. That surely doesn’t sound very affordable.

In fact, the whole message of this sort of communication is revolting (2). In Branson’s world, the real elitism that divides the privileged and the rest happens when states fund space exploration to extend the reaches of human understanding. Only the free market, in the shape of Branson, can bust the battlements of elitism and let the masses come rushing in. Of course, the “masses” need to be mega-rich, but that subtle piece of information is lost under the thick layer of verbiage.

Orbital tourism is a very peculiar instance of “experience” consumption. The waste of fossil-fuel energy is enormous. Why do you need to witness your planet as a dot – for perspective? Why can’t you quarry these insights from your own imagination?

Branson’s project actually tells us a lot about what we have become: we realize our identities with the stuff we buy. We have switched from things to experiences and the market has stepped in to furnish (3) these.

When rich people start spending sums that could rid (4) whole villages of cholera – on a trip that extends humanity in no direction – that is probably pretty boring for a lot of the time and not dissimilar to flying overnight – it is pretty much the equivalent of Marie Antoinette suggesting the peasants should eat cake if they don’t have bread. It shows us how cosmic inequalities have become.



  1. What does ‘bogus communitarianism‘ refer to in the text (2nd paragraph)?
  2. Does the author of the article view state-run space exploration as ‘elitism’?
  3. According to the article, is orbital tourism something that extends the reaches of human knowledge?
  4. Why is it, according to the article, important for humans to buy things?
  5. Who was Marie Antoinette and why does the article bring her up?
  6. Do you think that space tourism is a good idea?
  7. Would you ever want to travel to space just for the experience?
  8. What is, in your opinion, the general message of the article and do you agree with it?


smother (1)– to completely cover the whole surface of something with something else, often in a way that seems unnecessary or unpleasant

revolting (2) – extremely unpleasant [= disgusting]:

furnish (3) – to supply or provide something:

rid (4) –to take action so that a person, place etc is no longer affected by something bad or no longer has it [↪ overcome]


You can find additional explanation and more examples to help you understand and use English words and phrases at https://dictionary.reference.com, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/, https://www.merriam-webster.com/ or https://www.ldoceonline.com/