Greetings from the uncanny valley, where billionaires conduct a modern-day space race in the midst of a hurtling climate crisis and global pandemic while wearing, naturally, western wear.
Today, billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos became a space cowboy, launching himself just outside Earth’s atmosphere for 10 minutes while wearing a cowboy hat and boots. To put it very plainly: this was a bizarre uniform for a new sort of final frontier.
Bezos unveiled his firm Blue Origin’s uniforms a few days ahead of its inaugural human flight to the edge of outer space, posing alongside a three-person crew comprising his younger brother Mark Bezos, astronautical pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Dutch physics student Oliver Daemen. In the photos, the foursome poses in their cobalt-blue coverall space suits, which the elder Bezos paired with a taupe cowboy hat and matching boots. In post-launch footage of the Blue Origin touching back down earthside today, it appears that Jeff wore the same outfit configuration in space.
We may never know what compelled this particular sartorial choice by Bezos, who does not normally wear any sort of western wear. Is it a reference to a new era of space as an American frontier, a Wild West of the heavens? Or perhaps an homage to the West Texas desert, where the launch took place? Either way, the hat, and boots feel like a strange appeal to the American everyman, which by almost all measures, financial and otherwise, Bezos is not. The incongruity does lend itself nicely, however, to a general air of out-of-touch villainy.
Bezos’s short stint to the Kármán line, which delineates Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, comes just nine days after fellow billionaire and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson also launched into space for a 1.5-hour mission. Branson’s crew’s uniforms, while a similar shade of blue, felt a little bit more Tron, featuring gold inset thigh panels and matching grippy boots that could be, in a different context, maybe sort of sick. Now that Branson has congratulated Bezos on Blue Origin’s successful launch, maybe they can come together to decide on some new spacesuit colorways. It could, of course, be worse: they could be wearing the SpaceX suit.
As astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot, “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” In the meantime, the least the billionaires can do is stitch a little self-awareness into their extraneous-space-mission uniforms.