If you have been dreaming about hopping on Jeff Bezos’s penis-shaped rocket and blasting off to the stars for a bit of middle-class space tourism in the near future, you might want to think again. Preliminary studies suggest that space tourism could be bad for the planet. Like, really, really bad. That is a huge letdown for people who have been following the development of commercial space companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic.
Rockets put out a lot of harmful emissions when they burn their fuel to get into orbit. The emissions produced by the current generation of space rockets are more numerous and more potent than the emissions put out by commercial jetliners.
Increasing the number of annual rocket launches has the potential to increase the average temperature growth in the Arctic, reverse the progress we have made on holes in the ozone layer and produce smog around areas where frequent rocket launches take place.
Massive Environmental Effects
A typical commercial space flight has a carbon footprint 100x larger than a typical airline flight. That is bad news for anyone who was hoping to be able to commute via rocket someday.
One of the worst things produced by rocket launches is soot, known as “black carbon,” which is harmful to the ozone layer. The hole in the ozone layer created in the early 20th century has started to shrink, but increased rocket launches could slow or even reverse that progress which would be a huge blow to climate health.
Rockets also produce a large amount of dreaded carbon dioxide (CO2), further degrading their sustainability.
One study suggested that 400 rocket launches per year could increase the temperatures in the Arctic by 1 degree Celcius and accelerate the rate of climate change. The temperature increase could, in turn, lead to a decrease in polar ice volume by 5%.
The combination of higher temperatures, more soot, and less ozone could contribute to the kind of negative feedback loop that climate change alarmists have been warning about for years. Rockets could pose an existential threat by vastly increasing the likelihood of these events.
According to recent data, 2021 saw 144 rocket launches attempted, of which 133 successfully made it into orbit. That is not too far off from 400 a year, especially considering the rate of growth these companies are striving for.
Space tourism has been a buzzy phrase for a while. Rich people are already lining up to have themselves blasted into space, and there were hopes that the practice could one day be affordable for affluent middle-class families as well as the world’s richest. But the environmental costs might not be worth the leisure value of such trips.
A Big Bummer
Unfortunately, reality often interferes with fantasy. While the explosion of space exploration efforts is certainly exciting and poses many unique opportunities for humanity going forward, it is also having an adverse effect on the planet at a time when every bit of new pollution should be scrutinized.
Rockets are contributing to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. These rockets are also putting out way more harmful emissions than jetliners, producing black carbon soot that can eat away at the ozone layer and are littering orbit with dangerous space junk. That is quite the butcher bill when it comes to environmentalism.
The question may arise in the future as to whether or not we are going to focus on nursing this planet back to health or making it into the stars. Right now, it looks like those two things might not be compatible.
Next time you see your favorite billionaire launching a rocket into orbit filled with your favorite celebrities, remember the environmental impact that these rocket launches are producing.
* ABC News
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