While space tourism isn’t brand new, the race to progress commercial space travel has moved along vastly in the past year. With NASA – once the center of the space industry – taking its time to bring commercial space flight into the realm of possibility, the doors have opened up for wealthy individuals to try their hand at space travel. Space tourism is not without criticism, despite being an exciting idea in theory. Today, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of space tourism, raise questions about the billionaire space race, and think about whether space tourism is the beginning of a new future or an environmental catastrophe.
What is Space Tourism?
The fundamental purpose is for human pleasure, as all tourism is. We can divide space tourism into orbital, suborbital, and lunar space tourism. While orbital space tourism involves extremely high speeds (17,400 mph), as it allows a rocket to orbit around Earth, suborbital flights are a lot slower (though still 3,700mph) and tend to fly directly up into space and then back down again. Suborbital flights are what space tourism companies are offering more commonly. Lunar space tourism involves trips to the moon. While there are some broader definitions of space tourism, such as watching rocket launches or stargazing, we’ll be focusing on commercial space travel in this article, as it has the most far-reaching consequences.
Does Commercial Space Travel exist today?
The short answer to this question is yes. However, currently, commercial space travel is extremely exclusive, and this shows no signs of changing shortly. July 2021 was a pioneering month, with both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin successfully launching suborbital spaceflights with tourist passengers from their spaceports. Eventually, each of these companies wants to provide regular space travel opportunities to private paying customers.
Large carbon footprint
Eloise Marais, a physical geography professor at UCL, suggests that the carbon footprint of flying to space in a rocket is about 100x more than taking a long-haul flight.
Depleting ozone layer
There are several ways space tourism can contribute to a depleting ozone layer. CO2 emissions and soot trap heat in the atmosphere and rockets emit up to 10 times more nitrogen oxides than the largest thermal power plant in the UK.
One of the biggest environmental concerns with space tourism is the soot cloud that rockets leave behind. Soot can accumulate in the stratosphere, which is between 5 and 31 miles above Earth, where it can’t be washed away by the weather.
It seems as though the current plans that the billionaire space company owners have for space tourism are perhaps too ambitious, and focus on the wrong things. It’s true that space exploration and research could bring a wealth of new ideas and resources to Earth, and could provide a future existence for humans. But regular, short space flights for the recreational activities of the rich do not seem to be in the best interest of Earth.