SPACE TRAVEL AND ITS IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Written by Regina Dideles
“Beautiful. Magnificent desolation.” Those are some of the first few words that NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin said as he followed Armstrong to walk onto the moon’s surface. 52 years later on July 20, 2021, Jeff Bezos, an American billionaire and the owner of Amazon, went briefly above the Kármán line to experience weightlessness with three other passengers to prove that his spaceship, Blue Origin, is safe to go and that space travel/vacation is now within our hands. Everyone considers that the billionaire space race is a milestone for all, not just for them. It is indeed but at what cost?
Environmentally speaking, there are way too many costs (literally and figuratively). These rockets emit poisonous gases (nitrogen oxide) just like how cars emit excess carbon dioxide that transforms into greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, therefore, heating up the Earth’s temperature. VSS Unity, Richard Branson’s spaceship, used a hybrid propellant composed of the following: a solid carbon-based fuel, HTPB (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene), or a mixture of crystalline oxidizers, and nitrous oxide also known as the laughing gas. These propellants, like the carbon emissions from cars, make greenhouse gases and add to the current air pollution problem in the ground.
On the other hand, the literal way is that these space travel expenses are way too high. Space travel should not be the priority right now as the world faces many global crises: COVID-19, Wildfires, Extreme Weather Disturbances, all of which root in the carelessness and ignorance by huge capitalist companies and some governments who choose not to prioritize environmental problems. It has been previously discussed above that the gases which are used for the rocket fuel release greenhouse gases which heat up the atmosphere causing extreme weather disturbances in the ground. Since 1980, the US has spent almost 2 trillion dollars dealing with extreme heatwaves, drought, snowstorms, hurricanes, etc. This is expected to go higher if space travel is going to be commercialized. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong famously said that in their Apollo 11 expedition to the moon. It is indeed a great milestone, a history in the making, but it also results in bigger problems, bigger disasters than humankind expects. Space is always going to be there but Earth is not. Let’s make the wise decision and choose what benefits everyone and the future generations.