Billionaire 'space race': A new chapter in space exploration or a waste of money?

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is scheduled to blast off Tuesday morning onboard his Blue Origin rocket, and it's stirring up some discord among people who think the money could be better spent on more pressing issues.

Bezos will be riding with his brother Mark Bezos, as well as 82-year-old Wally Funk, who will become the oldest person in space, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemon, soon to be the youngest person in space.

The launch comes a little more than a week after billionaire Richard Branson launched his spacecraft from an airplane already 50,000 feet in the air. Bezos is scheduled to go even deeper into space than Branson, topping out at 62 miles from the surface of earth compared to the 53 miles at which Branson's craft peaked.

But the billionaire space race is spurring some public headshaking.

"There's a lot of needs right now in the community," said Josiah Smith of Burbank. "Man, there's so much more effective things that can be happening with that (money)."

"I think they should be spending money helping people on this Earth instead of getting off it," said one woman from Silver Lake.

It doesn't help that Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk reportedly didn't pay income tax. And Musk garishly launched a Tesla into space.

But experts say the recent space race is more than just billionaire brats flexing their financial muscles.

"We should go to the stars," said USC professor of astronautics Mike Gruntman.

Gruntman says the U.S. space program has been the creative birthing ground for countless pieces of everyday technology. One of the most popular: GPS.

"The people who are complaining that money is going into space instead of other areas, they are those who are getting lost in shopping malls and using space technology to rescue them," Gruntman told Eyewitness News.

Many people also add that the billionaires should be able to spend their money however they want. Others see the efforts to extend humanity into space as inspirational.

"It's hope in just such a time of uncertainty," said Dawn Russell of Burbank. "There's something to look forward to, even distract from, all the craziness going on."

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