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When rockets launch into space, they require a vast amount of propellants to make it out, and these fuels excrete carbon dioxide, water, chlorine and other chemicals into the atmosphere. These emissions go right into the upper atmosphere, and could stay there for years. Even water injected into the upper atmosphere – where it can form clouds – can have warming impacts. Most distressingly, the ozone layer can be destroyed by the combination of elements from burning fuels.
“For one long-haul plane flight it’s one to three tons of carbon dioxide [per passenger],” Eloise Marais, an associate professor of physical geography at University College London, told the Guardian, “For one rocket launch it’s 200-300 tonnes of carbon dioxide carrying 4 or so passengers – close on two orders of magnitude more,” according to Marais.
New figures estimate that the space tourism market is estimated to reach $2.58bn in 2031, growing 17.15% each year of the next decade. This makes curbing the industry’s environmental impacts especially crucial.
Failure to Launch? Most space transportation has focused on transporting cargo to the International Space Station and satellite launch services. Lately, private companies have turned to in-space transportation, planetary explorations, crewed missions, suborbital transportation and space tourism.
Some find it dispiriting that billionaires have been pursuing private space travel — and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the process — when they could be funneling this money into improving life here on Earth. For instance, the former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted last week: “Is anyone else alarmed that billionaires are having their own private space race while record-breaking heatwaves are sparking a ‘fire-breathing dragon of clouds’ and cooking sea creatures to death in their shells?”
Eloise Marais told the Guardian that it’s possible to have new developments in space technology without sacrificing environmental responsibility. She suggested that the space tourism industry should proceed with caution, even though there are currently no international rules around the kinds of fuels used and their impact on the environment.
“We have no regulations currently around rocket emissions,” she said. “The time to act is now – while the billionaires are still buying their tickets.”
“Arguably, the light bulb is the most transformative invention humans have introduced to this planet. But if light bulbs have a dark side, it’s that they have stolen the night.” Nadia Drake, a contributing writer for national geographic, says that losing our connection to the night sky is one of the world’s great tragedies. But now, […]
In the span of two weeks, two of the world’s richest men blasted off to suborbital space with the intended goal of promoting commercial spaceflight. This past week, Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos took his trip on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. This prompted questions about the environmental impact of private space travel. The […]
A new study from NASA has found that a “wobble” in the moon’s orbit may cause frequent coastal flooding well into the 2030s. Phil Thompson, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii, describes what that could mean for coastal communities. “If it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business […]
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