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Popular Science Australia

IN SPACE, EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU SPEND

Consider the billionaire. Especially the young billionaire. His business empire is booming and he has literally more money than he can ever spend. Unless, of course, he embarks on a massive construction project to burn some serious cash. I’m talking about custom luxury super-yachts, of course. Right now, the absolute epitome of this is the A. That’s right, the A. It belongs to Andrey Melnichenko, a major shareholder of fertiliser megacorp, EuroChem. He’s worth US$16.2 billion and he needs to world to know it. So he commissioned the A.

The A has the world’s tallest carbon fibre masts, three of them, to hold the massive sails. Not that the A can sail on wind-power alone: at 142 m and 12,558 tonnes, it needs motor assistance at all times. Why is it called the A? So it always appears first in the shipping news, basically. These billionaires; so funny! More importantly for Melnichenko than having a giant, slow, likely-to-be-plagued-by-technical-glitches-forthe-first-few-years boat, is the way the entire boating world talks about the A. And yet at the same time nobody really knows anything about it that can’t be seen from the outside, because Melnichenko won’t tell anyone. It’s all a huge tease, a game. It’s great fun for him and, if I’m honest, it’s pretty great fun for us too. And the existence of the A implies, for me, that the trillionaires of the next century will absolutely build private spacecraft. And they’ll make sure we know it.

Trillionaires? Almost definitely. When offworld resource development really kicks off, we’re going to see fortunes held by private individuals that are beyond the realms of mere arithmetic. And these guys will need something to spend their money on.

Today, a properly indulgent yacht takes the kind of money that only governments could muster, back in the 19th century.

By 2100, the idea of spending several hundred billion dollars on a spacecraft (the first generation of which won’t even be able to get out beyond the Moon) will be something richies boast about.

So what will a private spacecraft be like? In a word: nice. Like a yacht, it will be a luxury apartment sealed off - this time literally - from the rest of the world.

The interiors will be sumptuous. The life support systems will be both perfumed and properly deionised for maximum follicular comfort. The AI will be discreet and incredibly powerful.

The whole time this thing is being constructed, mostly likely in orbit, we will be told not to look at it, even as the rich person dangles it over our heads. So it will be, so it is, and so it ever was.

And the ability of the ship to go anywhere at any kind of speed will be a joke. But then, that’s not the point is it? Like with the luxury yacht, the journey is the destination. These ships will host parties and be used to impress (and sure, bribe) mere “government officials”.

We do need a little infrastructure here on Earth first, though. Suich as a quick and easy way to get to orbit, wearing variously a tailored suit, a cocktail dress, an opera gown and tennis whites.

And alcohol. There always has to be alcohol, and right now alcohol in space is considered so dangerous, no one even really wants to do the experiment. They have to solve that problem most of all.

Because without boozy parties, your $200 billion luxury spacecraft might as well not have been built at all.

afordham@nextmedia.com.au
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