The Billionaire Space Race: Masculine Ego and Capitalism

Space, at least post-Cold War, is generally associated with the potential scientific discoveries and opportunities that it provides. NASA consistently launches probes and telescopes which are expanding human understanding of space. So then, why are private companies, helmed by some of Earth’s most famous CEOs, building rockets to take themselves and those who can afford a ticket on short range space trips? What scientific purpose are these spacecraft serving? These billionaires would tell you they are pushing the frontiers of space. But they aren’t telling the full story. These commercial trips have not yet produced any type of scientific discovery or insight, and most reactions to these publicized jaunts up to space are negative (Nguyen 2022). And for good reason. Billionaire space travel serves no purpose, instead illustrating the egos of these CEOs and the inherent inequality of capitalism.

Figure 1. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson on their journey to space (Kaplan 2021)

This race between Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson (Figure 1) is fueled not by genuine scientific curiosity, but by their egos. Each of these three, high powered, public figures has a history of both excessive stunts for public attention and of competition with each other (Kaplan 2021). At the same time, throughout the new “space race,” there have been multiple public, albeit subtle, jabs towards each other. Jeff Bezos tweeted “Welcome to the club,” to Musk after he landed a rocket vertically for the first time, establishing the fact that he had done so first. Musk responded by making it clear that while his rockets had gone into orbit, Bezos’ had only gone to space (Kaplan 2021). Clearly, scientific discovery is not especially top of mind for any of these billionaires. Rather, they are more concerned with publicly winning against each other.

Figure 2. Amazon workers protest for their rights at an Amazon Fulfillment Center (Guendelsberger 2019)

While rich CEOs spend their spare money on space exploration, their employees are struggling with basic workers rights. In the same summer while Bezos, Musk, and Branson were competing over the first to space, the Covid-19 pandemic was ravaging the public and climate catastrophes were happening throughout the world (Silverman 2021). To spend billions of dollars on something as inessential as a short joyride to space while there are so many other deserving causes seems unethical, to say the least. But Bezos took this a step further, taking the time to thank his employees before the launch of his rocket, “because you guys paid for this” (Skinner 2021). Thanking the same people who are struggling to support their families for helping him take a quick trip to space seems dystopian, especially given the allegations of worker mistreatment in Amazon warehouses (Figure 2). Under capitalism, such intense class inequality can not only exist, but be publicly celebrated. Billionaire space travel is largely useless and inaccessible to the majority of the public due to price. It is fueled only by masculine ego, and made possible only through the class inequality created by capitalism.


Guendelsberger, Emily. “Amazon Treats Its Warehouse Workers like Robots: Ex-Employee.” Time, July 18, 2019.

Kaplan, Michael. “Space Race: Inside Ego-Fueled Competition of Bezos, Musk and Branson.” New York Post, June 26, 2021.

Nguyen, Terry. “It’s the Dawn of a New Space Age – at Least for Billionaires.” Vox, February 2, 2022.

Silverman, Jacob. “The Billionaire Space Race Is a Tragically Wasteful Ego Contest.” The New Republic, July 9, 2021.

Skinner, Chloe. “Billionaires, Backlash and the Phallic Symbolism of Space Colonisation.” Countering Backlash, August 2, 2021.

Further Reading:

The Role of Animal Tool Use in Understanding Human Cognitive Development

Recent discoveries of stone flakes from Macaque monkeys are challenging previously made assumptions of human cognitive evolution and abilities (Greenfieldboyce 2023). The earliest stone tools were quite simple – using direct percussion, one would use a hammer stone to break off flakes of another stone, called the core, to create a tool. In the first stages of this development, tool-making often only meant breaking a stone in half to create a sharp edge, but this developed into more refined tools, created by carefully flaking off stone, eventually on both sides of the tool (Renfrew 2018, 212).

An example of the earliest examples of stone tools – often simply sharp rock edges or flakes (Renfrew 2018).

An important part of the daily life of the Macaque monkeys in Thailand is the consumption of oil palm nuts. To eat the nuts, Macaques place the nut on a flat stone and then hit it with another stone, cracking it open. When the monkeys miss the nut, which can happen often, they may unintentionally break the flat stone underneath the nut, creating stone flakes that are very similar to early stone tools (Zorich 2023).

A Macaque monkey sits holding the stone tools used to crack a nut, surrounded by stone flakes (CGTN 2018).

Despite the fact that these flakes are largely understood to be unintentional and not used, there are a few possible implications of this discovery. The first is that early humans could have been inspired by the flakes they saw macaques making, leading them to create the first intentional stone flakes. Recent research has suggested that the date of development for stone tools may be over 3 million years ago rather than the previously imagined 2.6 million years ago. The discovery of these artifacts provides concrete evidence for an earlier date of the development of stone tools (Proffitt 2023).

The discovery of the Macaque stone flakes is also significant as it calls into the question the validity of flakes previously identified as anthropogenic. The stone flakes that the Macaques produce are almost indistinguishable from those intentionally created by humans. According to a study by Tomos Proffitt, around 20-30% of the earliest flakes could be attributed to the Macaques (2023). However, it is still possible to distinguish the two. Because the Macaque flakes were produced unintentionally and not used as tools, they lack the distinctive use-wear patterns that early human stone tools. In addition, if an archeologist has access to the core stone that the tools were flaked off of, they can analyze percussive patterns to determine if the entity creating the flakes had knowledge of fracture patterns and was using those patterns intentionally (Greenfieldboyce 2023). 

Because both types of flakes are so similar, this discovery emphasizes the importance of an accurate behavioral interpretation of artifacts. Upon first glance, Macaque flakes can easily be confused with human’s intentional flakes. Only with careful observation and analysis can the two be identified as separate entities. However, the striking similarities between the two types of flakes provides important evidence for an earlier development date of stone tools used by humans, potentially altering our understanding of the evolution of human cognitive ability.


Greenfieldboyce, Nell. “Stone Flakes Made by Modern Monkeys Trigger Big Questions about Early Humans.” NPR, March 10, 2023, sec. Shots – Health News.

“Monkeys Use Tools to Crack Nuts, Shuck Oysters .” CGTN, March 2018.

Proffitt, Tomos, Jonathan S. Reeves, David R. Braun, Suchinda Malaivijitnond, and Lydia V. Luncz. “Wild Macaques Challenge the Origin of Intentional Tool Production.” Science Advances 9, no. 10 (March 10, 2023): eade8159.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.

Zorich, Zach. “What Stone-Wielding Macaques Can Tell Us about Early Human Tool Use.” Scientific American, March 10, 2023.

Further Reading: