Your Golden Ticket to Space?
Would you use the golden ticket to space?If you had a golden ticket to visit space – would you go? In many ways, I feel like the world’s billionaires are our real-life Willy Wonka,” and outer space is the chocolate factory. These billionaires are people with a lot of money who can do extraordinary things with it – and share it with the rest of humanity if they so choose. I imagine when passengers come aboard Bezos’ Blue Origin space shuttle, he breaks out in song – Come with me, and you’ll be In a world of pure imagination! This golden ticket to space grants insight into a perspective of our world from space. A mystery that has been entirely unimaginable to most humans throughout history.
Why is space travel attractive?
We know that space tourism, or traveling to space for recreation, is growing. Predictions by Northern Sky Research estimate that the number of space tourism flights will skyrocket over the next decade, from around ten a year to 360 a year by 2030.
And Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to launch 400 of these flights annually.
The Overview Effect
The most intriguing thing about passenger space travel is the ability to shift perspectives. Astronauts have observed a mental shift known as the Overview Effect when traveling in space. Coined by space writer Frank White in 1987, Nasa says the “Overview Effect is described as a feeling of awe for our home planet and a sense of responsibility for taking care of it.”
Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, said in an interview with Recode that “When you see Earth from that high up, it changes your perspective on things and how interconnected we are and how we squander that here on Earth.”
And she is right. In the National Geographics documentary series “One Strange Rock,” narrated by Will Smith, astronauts tell their experiences of traveling to space, and there is a common theme of home. Astronaut Nicole Stott, who spent over three months in space, said,
“The thing I left space with is…I live on a planet. We live on a planet. And it is blanketed by this thin, fragile atmosphere, and that’s the only natural border that exists around us…And we’re all Earthlings. And I when I went back to the station the second time, I felt like the station had become part of Earth too. The space station became part of this whole ecosystem that I know is home.”
It shifts a perspective of what is home from something local to a more global sense of home.
Even one of Blue Origin’s most recent passengers, William Shatner, said he hopes he never recovers from the feeling he got in space. Saying, “It’s so, so much larger than me and life. It hasn’t got anything to do with a little green planet, a blue orb; it has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death.”
The Overview Effect is something that could benefit all of us. Sometimes we need something so awe-inspiring that it takes us away from our bubble and helps us see the bigger picture of our world. That we are all connected and that what we do does affect everyone on this fragile planet.
Beyond the shift in consciousness that people would receive from space travel and potentially lead to more altruistic behaviors here on Earth, new opportunities could become possible.
Reusable Space Vehicles
One of the benefits of commercial space travel is the development of reusable space vehicles – making their overall cost cheaper and allowing us to travel more feasibly. Having reusable crafts would potentially open the door to space projects that were not possible before.
One of the biggest hurdles that government-funded space research has run into is funding. With reusable space crafts, governments would have the ability to travel to space more frequently and with bigger crews to conduct scientific research.
Satellite Solar Power System
Space has also allowed for significant strides in telecommunications, but these reusable space crafts could also mean we could scale up our solar energy. Satellite Solar Power System Projects would enable us to collect unfiltered solar energy on a large scale and transmit it back to Earth as microwave beams for us to use as electricity. This technology was patented in 1973 by Peter Glaser – but research by NASA and related groups on SSPS discontinued in the 80s. This was because of the high cost of getting and maintaining the equipment into space, and they were unsure of its economic and environmental impacts.
With reusable crafts, this project has come back into the light and is currently being tested again.
It is also of interest to many who see the commercial benefits of space tourism. People want to go into space to observe the earth and stars – but is there a future beyond that where people could travel to space for low gravity sports like swimming or gymnastics or growing plants and food.
What is the actual cost of space exploration?
However, these golden tickets to space can’t be found within a candy bar though. You have to have enough money to get yourself a golden ticket like Veruca Salt. Currently that number ranges from $250,000 – $500,000. To make this more accessible, there needs to be more flights.
But what are the hidden costs of these flights to society and our environment?
Will we end up like Mike Teavee – so enthralled by the great potential of being transported to a different location only to rush in and end up feeling small and disgruntled.
Will we realize the fragility of our world and how important it is to protect it if research begins to emerge that the environmental impact is too high?
For instance, when atmospheric scientists announced that “holes” in our ozone had been developing, they sent a distress call to the world. These teams went to work and realized that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the cause. They discovered that the chlorine in CFCs broke down the ozone, binding with the ozone to make oxygen and chlorine monoxide.
Vox reports that “In 1986, UN negotiations began on a treaty to ban substances that reacted with ozone in the upper atmosphere, mainly CFCs.” By 1989 the substance ban was enforced, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), an extremely potent greenhouse gas took its place. At the time, this was an important environmental step forward that the world could get behind and take action quickly – so much so that CFC consumption declined, and experts estimate that by 2050 the ozone layer will be back to the state it was in in 1980. Although the goal now is to phase out those HFCs, the point is that we were able to recognize an environmental crisis and come together to fix it.
I say this because space tourism is raising a red flag with scientists. One study says that “While there are a number of environmental impacts resulting from the launch of space vehicles, the depletion of stratospheric ozone is the most studied and most immediately concerning.”
Solid rocket fuel produces a lot of chlorine and nitrogen oxides that deplete our ozone, as well as high c02 emissions. So that 2050 estimate for ozone healing might have a hiccup if space travel grows as fast as companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic hope they will.
Bezos claims that he is more environmentally friendly because he uses Blue Engine 3 (BE-3), a mixture of propellants versus solid rocket fuel. However, BE-3 produces large quantities of water vapor, which facilitates chemical reactions to deplete the ozone. And the other space flight companies that don’t use BE-3 produce CO2, soot (also known as black carbon), and water vapor.
One study raises the concern about this soot, stating that “The particles created by rockets remain in the atmosphere for years, efficiently absorbing sunlight that would otherwise reach the Earth’s surface.” The c02 stays trapped in our atmosphere as well, both lending a hand to global warming.
Ultimately, our ozone disruption is the “largest and likely the most significant impact from these flights.”
If the ozone becomes depleted from space travel, will we be able to act this time for massive, collective action to stop the damage? Only time will tell.
And finally, one of the other critical points is that obviously, space travel is available only to the wealthy elite. Making the risk for space travel a little bit higher for those who are still humbly on planet earth dealing with the worst of the climate crisis as well as potential environmental kickbacks from space travel. The reality is that the utopia we think we can create in space won’t be available to many people for years to come, and that utopia might not even be a utopia at all.
Space is not the answer to our economic, social, or political problems. And the idea that it could be is a dangerous one.
The wealthy feel like they are making strides in civilization by taking these flights into space. Still, many argue that the money spent on space travel could help fix our current issues on planet earth – poverty, injustice, climate change, and more, which would tangibly help make strides in our civilization. Which begs the question – why wouldn’t they?
In my research, I found a book by De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space – that I suggest reading if you want to learn more about how the conquest of space (fiction and nonfiction) intersects with race, class, and gender. It’s important to understand these intersections if we want to understand the problem entirely.
something to grow on
In this week’s segment of something to grow on, I want to bring you back to our definition of sustainability.
Sustainability is the ability of a system to endure. It’s about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future.
So while we want to see what the future would be like with space travel as a regular occurrence that inspires and connects us deeper with this planet, it might come at the risk of meeting our needs now. This doesn’t mean that I think we shouldn’t continue to explore the possibilities of space. But we do need to grow responsibly and evaluate all future risks with caution.
NASA’s Chief Historian, Steven J. Dick, said
“Exploration shapes world views and changes cultures in unexpected ways, and so does lack of exploration.”
We need to explore so that we can learn more about how to protect this planet. We need to regulate space travel and the components used to make it possible to safely travel into space without the risk to our people and planet. But this will take more research and care. We still don’t know about our impact as we explore space, so while there are potential benefits, there are potential consequences.
After hearing this – would you take the golden ticket? For now, I think I’m inclined to say no.
It is a beautiful world we live in, and we should try to appreciate it as much as we can – seeing it from its awe-inspiring views from the ground.
As Willy Wonka says,
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Wanna change the world?
There’s nothing to it.
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