Wednesday, September 29, 2021
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Space Tourism and its Pitfalls

By Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

The private travel into space is now a reality. One need not be a trained astronaut to be in space, albeit for a few minutes, to enjoy the view from the space, is proved with the massive investments made by billionaires in their competitive run into space. Richard Branson’s journey on Virginia Galactic vessel and his triumphalist return heralded the new idea of ‘space tourism’. With Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin bettering what Virginia Galactic and its space tourists did by carrying 82 year old, the oldest and a 15 year old youngest the message that the age is no barrier for space has been established. The Virginia Galactic is a pilot driven while Blue Origin is self-driven. With Elon Musk’s space X planning all civilian orbital mission ready for September launch it is now time for the world to come to terms with the space tourism and it’s after effects.

That the actual fare collected or to be collected is not yet officially announce by none of those three companies. But as per the unofficial version it is $250,000 apiece not affordable by any one from a developing nation. However the Virgin Galactic has reportedly had 600 reservations at that price. After some more test flights the space tourism, for sure, will officially launched in 2022 and that will be the year certain to be labelled as beginning of space tourism.

Humans always love to have thrill. It was that thrill which made man turn adventurous. That made men in every generation to venture into the unknown and men’s inherent desire to be the first in that adventure further pushed him to take life threatening risks. Going to the poles, finding new sea routes, going round the earth covering all the seas, crossing the deserts, going deep into oceans are all the adventures which gave mankind to progress scientifically and understand the nature. New technologies were developed to overcome the difficulties faced in those risky adventures. But at every scientific advancement there was a problem and that was pollution. Pollution through the industry, automobiles and for that matter any machinery is causing the health and environmental problems.

Tourism is also now found to be a major cause for pollution. Oceans are filled with plastics and metals causing damage to the marine fauna. All tourism places are made dumping grounds of revelers. The only space now left relatively left untouched is the space and with the space tourism catching up the worrying point is the likely impact of that pollution in the space.

Till now the carbon di oxide emissions into the space are negligible as per NASA’s Chief climate advisor Gavin Schmidt. But with the space tourism picking up the impact particularly impacts on the Ozone layer is worrying point. The upper atmosphere and Ozone layer are not fully studied and understood in its totality. With the estimation of less than 30 minute space tourism vehicle the fossil fuel guzzling is almost equivalent to air flight from New York to London. While air flights carry many more passengers the space tourism vehicle carries hardly 10 tourists. While air travelers has a purpose to travel the space tourists are just for thrill. For the thrill of the few billionaires the entire globe has to suffer because of that environmental impact. The recent Virgin Galactic space trip has estimated an emission of 4.5 tons per person and that is very high concentration in the context of very short time it has taken to release that. This disproportionate impact has to be challenged as per the environmentalists. Space debris is already an issue and with the space tourism concept growing it is going to be dangerous one as no one knows the long term impact of this debris in space.

Should the world accept the human nature of adventurisms or call to stop the thrill of few billionaires and save the planet earth owned by billions of commoners.  

(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at duggarajusrinivasarao@gmail.com)

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