Mixing Spaceflight And Philanthropy
There is no escaping the fact that a flight to space (at least to low-Earth orbit), with prices in the tens of millions of dollars, is for the ultra-wealthy.
There is an increasing trend of wealthy individuals mixing their spaceflight dreams with philanthropy. While some of these examples may extend beyond what is traditionally thought of as philanthropy, the basic premise of broadening the value created through a personal spaceflight for the greater good is true for each.
1. Anousheh Ansari – XPrize
Anousheh Ansari flew to the International Space Station with Space Adventures in 2006. The key focus of her mission was to support and raise awareness for the great work of the XPrize Foundation. Anousheh and her family had previously sponsored the Ansari XPrize – a competition to fly a reusable spacecraft to suborbital space which was won by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, the precursor to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Anousheh was the first to blog from space, with her posts receiving millions of views, and significantly raising the profile of the XPrize.
2. Guy Laliberté – One Drop
Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté flew to the International Space Station as a customer of Space Adventures in 2009. He focused the majority of his time on the station promoting his newly launched One Drop Foundation, and his efforts culminated in hosting a 90 minute performance event live from space. The awareness raised for this new charity was enormous with a post-flight valuation showing the equivalent cost of media coverage received to be over $500 million.
One Drop has gone on to raise millions of dollars from poker tournaments (another of Guy’s passions) and other events, with the organization using the proceeds to increase access to safe drinking water by improving infrastructure. They majority of its activities are focused in South America and the Caribbean.
3. Jared Isaacman – Inspiration4
In 2020, U.S. online payments billionaire and avid pilot Jared Isaacman announced his Inspiration4 mission was set to launch in September 2021. Jared purchased all four seats on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that will fly to low-Earth orbit for a few days. Rather than taking family & friends, Jared chose to use this first of its kind spaceflight as a fundraising activity to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
He first gave a seat to a very deserving member of the St. Jude’s medical team – Hayley Arceneau – who had also been a patient at the hospital where she was treated for pediatric cancer. He then raffled off a seat with the proceeds of ticket purchases directly benefiting St. Jude’s. And used the last seat in a promotion for his company Shift4 by selecting an entrepreneur who utilized the company’s website development and payment tools.
We’ll have to wait and see just how much money will be raised in total for St. Jude’s (so far $18 million have been donated from sources outside Mr. Isaacman himself), but this a very laudable project in ways beyond the financial success.
4. Yusaku Maezawa – dearMoon
The biggest and boldest vision of all is that of Japanese e-commerce billionaire and Space Adventures’ client Yusaku Maezawa, who announced his dearMoon project in 2018 after purchasing a flight around the far-side of the Moon on the (still in development) SpaceX Starship. He plans on taking eight members of the public to share in this truly altruistic adventure. Fulfilling his own dream, and those of others.
5. Jeff Bezos – Club for the Future
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spent nearly two decades developing the New Shepard rocket and spacecraft for suborbital flight. It finally made its inaugural flight on July 21, 2021. Blue Origin auctioned off one of the seats on this first flight, to fly alongside Jeff and his brother, with the proceeds ($28 million) going to Blue Origin’s own Club for the Future – “a foundation whose mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and to help invent the future of life in space”.
Blue Origin later announced that $19 million had already been donated with $1 million each directed to a list of 19 space related non-profits.
Private spaceflight is capable of generating enormous media interest. With a well-designed program, this interest can be leveraged for philanthropic benefit. Space Adventures has long held that a private individual launching to space contributes to the advancement of human spaceflight. By also incorporating a philanthropic program in their mission, they are making an even bigger contribution to society.