For every article written about the amazing advances in space vehicle technology, there are two negative comments about the pointlessness of space exploration. “What’s the point?“, “We have war, famine, poverty and human suffering around the world, why invest billions on space?“, “What’s space exploration ever done for me?“. However, today, after I wrote a pretty innocuous article about the awesome SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being hoisted vertically on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, I get a comment (anonymous, naturally) starting off with, “This launch and others like it should be halted indefinitely until it’s carbon footprint and environmental impact can be accounted for.” The commenter then goes into something about making an environmental assessment, levying SpaceX’s taxes and setting up a board of environmental scientists. Oh please.
On the one hand, I’m impressed by this person’s spirited stand against environmental damage, carbon emissions and global warming, but on the other, this is probably one of the most misplaced environmentalism attacks I have seen to date. There are extremists on both sides of the “green” debate, but the last thing we need is an attack against the only answer we have to fight climate change. And that answer comes in the form of a cigar shaped polluter, blasting into Earth orbit; whether you like it or not, it is a necessary (yet small) evil…
Some of the comments I get on the Universe Today are hilarious. Admittedly, they can be pretty nasty too (2012 anyone?), and others are outright rude (edit»delete). It’s not that I mind, but there seems to be this online attitude that you can say what you like to whom you like without consequence. Fortunately, on the Universe Today and Astroengine, we both exercise the right to ban, so be nice.
To be honest, this doesn’t happen too often (apart from if I mention the LHC, Mayans or Planet X; they are the keywords for anger, and cursing, plus personal attacks), and I totally embrace any alternative theories and opinions. I actually really, really appreciate a good debate in the comment boxes, and I make a point of participating when I can.
So today, I get this comment that started a good meaty debate under my SpaceX article, so I felt compelled to get involved. The best reply to the above comment was left by a regular reader, Maxwell, saying, “Spaceflight is too important an endeavor to dick around with red tape.” And I agree.
As I spent 15 minutes writing my reply, I thought I’d base an Astroengine post around it, so here’s my response to the whole “rockets are bad” argument:
I write an article about one of the biggest advances in commercial spaceflight history and we wind up talking about how bad rockets are for the environment!
I’m pretty sure the effects of rocket emissions on the atmosphere are minimal compared with the routine daily emissions we all generate. Also, from articles I’ve previously written, companies such as SpaceX are acutely aware of pollution and have taken measures to supplement launches with enrolment in carbon-offset projects. Also, their engines are generally very efficient, minimising pollution.
The argument against advancing our spacefaring ability because “there are more problems on Earth that need fixing first” simply does not hold water. Science endeavour in general enhances our lives in ways I doubt we’ll ever fully comprehend. For now, rocket launches are the best way to get us into space, and until another alternative comes along (that I’m sure a commercial entity such as SpaceX will be the first to design), the small amount of ecosystem damage caused by a few launches might be a necessary evil (although I’d debate it is not a huge contributing atmospheric impact).
Space-based solar power could be THE revolution for the future of mankind. We have a long way to go, but if we are looking for an endless energy resource, we might be on the verge of becoming a viable space-borne civilization. All going well, this will help the world on a vast scale.
Unfortunately, wars, famine and human/ecological suffering will still continue, but it can, perhaps, be alleviated by having an extroverted view on human evolution. Introverted attitudes stifle growth (economic, evolutionary, technological), therefore making the world a very bleak place.
Peaceful technological advances do not equal human suffering, it’s illogical to think otherwise. Weapon tech advances on the other hand will continue whether we have rockets or not, unfortunately, that is human nature. — Moi, Universe Today.
By an amazing stroke of luck, I find that fellow blogger, Ethan Siegel over at Starts With A Bang! had written a great article about the environmental impact of Shuttle launches. After running the numbers, he finds NASA is responsible for a pretty tiny amount of pollution:
So let’s be honest about this: if NASA managed to get rid of the solid rocket boosters altogether and replace them with hydrogen fuel, they would have saved a total, over the last 28 years, of 42,000 tonnes of pollutants in the atmosphere. On the other hand, American cars, of which there are about 125 million on the road in any year, have emitted about 14 billion tonnes of your favorite greenhouse gas (Carbon Dioxide) into the atmosphere over that time. NASA’s contribution vs. the automobile’s contribution? 0.0003% for NASA. Meanwhile, the auto industry is responsible for about 50% of the greenhouse gas emission for the entire country. — Ethan Siegel, Starts With A Bang!
Of course, there are other space agencies, and now we have a growing number of private rocket companies, but compared with the daily carbon emissions we individuals and industry are responsible for, rocket launches aren’t exactly the Spawn of Satin.
The reasons why the exploration of space is important to mankind, I’ll save for another day (and I’ll be looking forward to that, with my finger hovering over the “moderate” button)…