Is Commercial Space Travel Really Necessary ?

Written by Priyal Maheshwari

2021 has seen a huge increase in people, mostly billionaires, traveling into space for recreational purposes. In the recent past, space-travel was restricted to astronauts, but now, as more and more billionaires are going to space, “common people” may increasingly want to fly off to see Earth’s curvature for themselves. Even though commercial rockets usually don’t go as high as NASA’s rockets, they can sometimes orbit our Earth, displaying breathtaking views. With all the spectacle behind our voyage into the final frontier however, there is a seemingly banal but important question to ask. Do we really need to travel to space? Personally, I don’t think so on account of the following reasons:

The climate impact of space travel is drastic

A larger looming problem for our generation is climate change, and rather than addressing it, commercial space exacerbates the problem. Rockets are extremely damaging to the atmosphere as they release greenhouse gasses directly into the upper layers of the atmosphere, aggravating climate change. Just a single commercial rocket ejects 300 tons of carbon dioxide. Aside from greenhouse gases, releasing water can also cause formations of clouds in the atmosphere, leading to global warming. Therefore, just taking a few people into space for a couple of hours is very damaging for the environment. 

It’s important however to note the difference between space travel and exploration. Although one may argue that space exploration, like space travel, also contributes to global warming, space exploration has more use than space travel. NASA and many other institutions around the world are figuring out how to mitigate climate change on Earth by observing how Venus’s atmosphere is being affected by greenhouse gases. This can help solve or at least mitigate the impact of climate change on Earth. Moreover, NASA has been aware of the negative effects of rocket emissions on the environment since the 1980s. Therefore, as technology has improved NASA has begun to use green fuel in a few of their rockets, slowly transitioning to exclusive use of green fuel. Green fuels should likewise be employed in space travel to avoid greater consequences for Earth’s climate.

Space travel isn’t necessarily safe 

Aside from environmental effects, safety is also a concern in space travel. If something goes wrong inflight, the crashing rocket would not only hurt, and likely kill people onboard the rocket but also on the ground as well. Moreover, when venturing into space, the human body is exposed to radiation, zero-gravity fields, and muscle atrophy – to name a few. These will affect the bodies for a long time – making this venture dangerous for people with preexisting health conditions. Additionally, sleeping in space is not fun, in fact, the sleep schedule is “disentrained” in space”. These issues, however, are not addressed by companies operating in commercial space travel, and could lead to huge casualties in the coming years as they aim to venture even further into space. 

Space traveller for the average person is a while away

On top of that, even though companies, like SpaceX and Virgin Atlantic, market these travel programs as a way to increase interest in space exploration, the price of the ticket is too high for “common” folk to afford it. So while in theory we can all now live out our long held fantasies of exploring space, in practice it’ll just be billionaires and their kids going. Moreover, many folks including me, believe that the cost of taking a few people up to space could be better invested in more addressing sustainability issues on Earth such as the climate crisis, global poverty and hunger just to name a few.

There are advantages to an increase in competition in the space travel industry as competition leads to creativity, and might even contribute to technological advancements in the field. However, the negatives outweigh the positives, and as of now these “tourism” programs are unnecessary, and a wasted investment. 

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