Warren Buffett won’t be following Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson into space – he ruled out a rocket trip 25 years ago

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett. CNBC
  • Warren Buffett won’t be following Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson into space.
  • The investor once said he admired space explorers but had no desire to board a rocket himself.
  • Buffett joked he would charge less to insure Elon Musk’s Mars mission if Musk was on board.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin’s Richard Branson blasted themselves into space this month, while SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s grand vision is colonizing Mars. Warren Buffett doesn’t share his fellow billionaires’ passion for interstellar travel – he ruled out leaving Earth 25 years ago.

Buffett – who made his fortune investing in staid companies like Coca-Cola and Gillette – takes the same approach to fast-changing businesses and industries as he does to extraterrestrial voyages, he said in his 1996 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

“As investors, our reaction to a fermenting industry is much like our attitude toward space exploration: We applaud the endeavor but prefer to skip the ride,” Buffett said.

The 90-year-old investor clearly has zero interest in planning a trip to space. However, he found it a useful analogy to underscore the problem of a ballooning global population on a planet with limited resources during Berkshire’s shareholder meeting in 2002.

“If you were going to go on a spaceship for a hundred years and you knew in the back of the spaceship there were a lot of provisions, but you didn’t know exactly how much – in terms of filling the front of the spaceship with a given number of people, you would probably err on the low side,” Buffett said.

The Berkshire chief argued that if the exact amount of provisions and the precise timing of the spaceship’s return were unclear, it would make sense to be conservative with passenger numbers and reduce the risk of mass starvation.

“We are in a vehicle called Earth,” Buffett continued. “We don’t know its carrying capacity. We have learned that it’s a lot larger than might have been thought by Malthus or somebody a few hundred years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s infinite at all.”

Buffett returned to the subject of space at Berkshire’s annual meeting this year. When an audience member asked if Berkshire would insure Musk’s mission to Mars, the investor quipped that he would charge a lower premium if the Tesla CEO was on the spaceship.

“I would probably have a somewhat different rate if Elon was on board or not on board,” he said. “It makes a difference. If somebody is asking you to insure something, that’s called getting skin in the game.”