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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are casting the fortunes they've spent on building new rockets to help humankind escape our home planet as a far greater legacy than funding more terrestrial good deeds.

The big picture: They're reframing for-profit businesses — SpaceX and Blue Origin — in philanthropic terms.

Musk spent $100 million to get SpaceX off the ground in 2006.

  • On the other hand, his private charity, the Musk Foundation, started in 2001, gave away $54 million over 15 years to environmental, educational, medical and other causes, according to an analysis by The Guardian. (He has also signed the Giving Pledge.)
  • “We’re faced with a choice: Which future do you want?" Musk said at the unveiling of SpaceX's Starship in September.
  • "Do you want the future where we become a space-faring civilization and are on many worlds and are out there among the stars, or one where we are forever confined to Earth?”

Bezos has reportedly funneled $1 billion a year into Blue Origin — compared with recent grants of $98.5 million focused on homelessness and education from his year-old philanthropy, the Bezos Day One Fund, that was seeded with $2 billion.

  • As for space travel, “I think it is important for this planet," Bezos told CBS in July.
  • "I think it’s important for the dynamism of future generations. It is something I care deeply about. And it is something I have been thinking about all my life.”

Both billionaires believe the only way for humanity to survive as a species is to go to space — to provide an insurance policy against damage to Earth, or allow harmful activities to be moved off-world.

Keep in mind: SpaceX brings in billions from government and commercial contracts, and Blue Origin is chasing after those contracts to get its launch business up and running.

The bottom line: The Bezos-and-Musk brand of philanthropy says, in effect: “My big contribution to human knowledge and understanding is my space company.”

Go deeper:

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

2 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.