It’s only been a few weeks since billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos earned their astronaut wings in separate, back-to-back flights to the edge of space. However, in many ways, the debate over whether or not the billionaire space race benefits this planet and its inhabitants is just getting started. At the center of the debate is whether these private sector exploits are merely self-indulgent adventures for the wealthy, or precursors for solving some of the world’s most arduous challenges, from climate change, to poverty, world hunger and disease.
The debate over space exploration is nothing new. During the original space race between the United States and Russia in the 1960s, Americans had very mixed opinions about the amount of focus, effort and resources that should be dedicated to developing capabilities for manned space flight. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced his goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Today, we view the success of this mission as one of our country’s greatest and most aspirational achievements of the 20th century. However, the idea of sending a man to the moon wasn’t universally embraced by Americans at the time. Only 22% believed there was a “great and urgent” need to land a man on the moon, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 1962. By February 1967, a separate poll reported that only 33% of Americans believed it was “important to send a man to the moon before Russia does,” compared with 61% who felt it was not important.
Why thinking big matters
In the 2015 introduction to a NASA publication on the societal impact of spaceflight, former NASA Chief Historian Steven. J. Dick wrote, “Our entry into space has altered the intellectual landscape of the 20th and 21st centuries in ways large and small, broadening our horizons in ways we sometimes fail to recognize.”
While critics argue that resources spent on space exploration would be better spent here on Earth, competition can create transformative new industries and technologies, which can add trillions to the world’s economies over time. For example, NASA currently has more than 700 active international agreements for various scientific research and technology development activities, and the International Space Station, which has been in operation for more than 20 years, is a significant representative of international partnerships, representing 15 nations and 5 space agencies. All of this activity creates jobs and revenue in countries and communities in the United States and throughout the world. In addition, SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, is a successful commercial business with more than 100 rocket launches, astronauts sent to the International Space Station, and NASA and military contracts.
According to NASA, competition between commercial space companies like SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has already helped to bring down the cost of reaching low-Earth orbit by a factor of 20. AXIOS reports that while ardent proponents of space dream of asteroid mining and lunar manufacturing facilities, the most immediate offshoots of the new space age will come in far cheaper satellite broadband internet access, which will directly benefit environmental science and climate action here on Earth. Reductions in launch costs, as a result of reusable rockets and related technology, have already helped make it possible to cheaply put thousands of satellites into orbit, with the number projected to rise from 3,400 now to as many as 100,000 over the next decade.
Don’t let today limit tomorrow
Twenty years ago, most people thought commercial space travel was little more than a pipe dream. It would have remained that way if Musk, Branson and Bezos had allowed today’s constraints to limit tomorrow’s goals. While all three have different end goals, their collective efforts have disrupted the traditional government run and funded models for space exploration while paving the way for a new era of commercial space flight led by the private sector.
How could the same kind of big picture thinking impact your ability to reach your financial and life goals?
Often, when working with clients to help identify their financial and life goals in the financial planning process, I see people limit themselves to the goals they believe have the highest probability of success. The problem is, there’s often a disconnect between what people feel they can achieve and what they really want to accomplish in life. For example, people nearing retirement often limit their bucket lists to the things they think they can afford, which doesn’t always reflect how they actually want to live their lives in retirement. One couple I know grappled with downsizing to a smaller home on the coast in retirement. While they really wanted a single-family home, they had convinced themselves that a condominium would be a more practical choice due to its lower purchase price and potentially lower maintenance and repair costs over time. However, once we ran the numbers, taking insurance costs, monthly condo association/maintenance fees and potential assessments into account, they were surprised to learn that their first choice—the single-family home—was the more affordable option over a projected 20-year period.
Sometimes, thinking big simply requires removing the limitations that you, other people, society and even money place on you. While it does take money to accomplish most of your life goals, limiting your goals based on money alone can be short-sighted. Remember, it took Jeff Bezos nine years after founding Amazon
and seven years after taking the company public to turn a profit. Think back to how much you made at your first fulltime job. At that time, the idea of one day making $100,000 may have seemed like a fortune. Depending on where you are in life now, $100,000 may not be nearly enough to support your current lifestyle.
Instead of allowing money to drive your goals, make sure your goals are driving your financial decisions. The earlier you begin mapping out your goals, the easier it is to put a plan in place to achieve them. Even if you’re close to retirement, it’s not too late to adjust your spending and savings habits to accommodate new or changing goals. You simply need a clear vision for your future and a plan to help you go after it.
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