The Environmental Effects Of Pioneering Space Travel


Pat Rawlings

On July 11th, 2021, Richard Branson of Virgin Group took off to space on the New Galactic rocket. Nine days later, Jeff Bezos of Amazon blasted off on the New Shephard rocket.

Elon Musk recently predicted that humans will have reached Mars by the end of the 2020s.

The billionaire’s space race has officially begun, leading to a discussion on the implications of space travel on the environment.

In this article, we’ll be taking a deep dive into what space travel is and how it will impact the planet’s future.


What is Space Travel?


Pat Rawlings

Space travel is the use of vehicle and space technology to explore outer space.

Humanity’s first experience exploring space was by simply observing the sky through the naked eye.

In 1608, the first telescope was invented by a Dutch eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey. His patented invention revolutionized our knowledge of space as humans were able to take a closer look at what lies beyond our planet.

On April 12, 1961, Turi Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, took to outer space on the Vostok 1, becoming the first human in history to exit the planet.

After 12 different men landed on the moon from 1969 to 1972, space travel was halted mainly due to budgetary and political hurdles.

Rocket technology has improved in recent decades, and with a plethora of issues taking place on Earth, such as climate change, overpopulation, and water scarcity, people are looking to space travel for potential solutions.


How Space Travel Can Damage the Planet


Pat Rawlings

The average human produces 2 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while a rocket launch emits 300 tons of carbon dioxide.

A single launch has the same carbon footprint as 150 years of human life.

If space tourism takes off and space travel becomes a daily occurrence, the environment will be devastated with horrifying amounts of CO2.

The American Geophysical Union found that just 400 space flights per year, over 40 years, would produce enough emissions to increase the Arctic temperature by 1.8°F (1°C).

Blue Origin, the aerospace company, owned by Jeff Bezos, claims that its liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel is less harmful to the environment, but the last impacts are still significant.

Paul Peeters, a tourism sustainability professor at the Breda University of Applied Sciences, stated the following on space tourism:

“There are some risks that are unknown. We should do much more work to assess those risks and make sure that they do not occur or to alleviate them somehow — before you start this space tourism business.”


The Potential for Good

Pat Rawlings

The recent rocket launches that billionaires have enjoyed only take them into suborbital space. While they cross the Kármán line (62 miles above sea level), they don’t actually achieve enough speed to orbit the planet.

Reaching suborbital space is nothing new. NASA first completed a suborbital space launch in the early 1960s, but this time around, new technology is being implemented, which could prove to be vital in pioneering new grounds in space travel.

Beyond just discovering new technology in space travel, these launches allow us to further research other sciences. An example of this can be seen when the Virgin Galactic carried plants to test how they responded to microgravity.

Another potential perk to advancing space travel would be our ability to travel around the world quickly. SpaceX has stated that long-distance traveling could be reduced to just 30 minutes through space travel.


Conclusion

As the global population continues to rise and climate change’s deadly march proceeds, people are beginning to look more and more at the potential of space travel.

Unfortunately, the science is far-from-perfect, and the environmental consequences of rocket launches today are disastrous for the health of the planet.

But, with improved technology, the potential for space travel is beyond the scope of our imagination. If we can pioneer sustainable and ethical methods of space travel, the trajectory of humankind can be turned for the better.


This article was brought to you by The Earth Store, an eCommerce business that sells bamboo toothbrushes and donates a portion of each purchase to plant trees so tomorrow’s world can be a better one. Check out our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to receive more content on climate change and the environment.

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