These days the newest topic of conversation and social media news seems to be space travel and how what once was a distant possibility is now so very real. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have already made the prized journey to the edge of the Earth and there is a line of people in the wait to do the same.
But as in the case of every milestone, there are its effects on people and the world at large. Space tourism may be the buzzword of the day, but is it beneficial to an Earth that is reeling under the effects of climate change and pandemics and global warming? Check it out.
Is space travel impactful on the environment?
Everyone on the planet, every living creature has a carbon footprint of its own. The total number of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane etc that are released by an individual during his/her lifetime is the carbon footprint.
When one takes a flight to space, the carbon footprint increases significantly and this is not good, Eloise Marais, a physical geography professor at the University College London said in a statement. In fact, the professor pointed out that the carbon footprint of launching yourself into space in a rocket is a hundred times higher than if you took a long-haul flight.
This is another point of contention, as in flights there are several passengers in a single one in contrast to when one takes a trip to space by rocket. The emission per person is much larger in the latter scenario. The soot released by around 1000 space flights is enough to warm the Antarctic by around 1 degree Celsius, according to a study.
It is not solely the emissions that are damaging to the Earth but also the production and manufacturing of the rockets and space material and the very journey into space that can pose harm to the environment.
What do the billionaires claim?
When these questions about the damaging effects of space travel on the environment were posed to the billionaires, they did have a response. In a press conference where Jeff Bezos answered questions about his trip to space, he said that Blue Origin rocket used "the most environmentally benign propellant you can choose."
Does this mean that a Blue Origin flight could be zero-risk to the environment?
No, say researchers.
The emissions from any rocket pose a threat to the environment. In the case of Blue Origin, this may be nitrogen oxides or water vapour. In the case of other rockets, it may be the carbon dioxide from conventional rocket fuels. Every emission whatsoever impacts the ozone layer.
Now that you are aware of the effects of space travel on the environment, and why it isn’t just a joyride to be taken as often as you wish, here’s a question: What does one even see on this journey?
What do you see on your journey to space?
When you are up in the unknown, where the Universe is literally a glance away, there is a feeling of awe that engulfs you. Known as the Overview Effect, many astronauts and everyone who has the experience of going into space really feels it. It is the sense of viewing the Earth as an outsider and feeling a great sense of responsibility to the Mother planet.
Once you experience this Overview Effect, you can be prepared to see the view which is similar to those artistic impressions you’ve seen wherein the Earth lies with its arch on the background of the black inky Universe in all its glory.
If you plan on taking the Blue Origin flight, you witness the Karman line which is the defining boundary line between the Earth and space. The Virgin Galactic flight goes to a slightly lesser height.
As far as the duration of the escapade, this can vary greatly in terms of which company you plan on making the trip with. A Blue Origin flight can last around 10 minutes, whereas a Virgin Galactic flight can go on to about 90 minutes, and companies that are coming up with their own private missions may just offer trips that go on for a few months or years.
Is space travel a risky business?
It’s zero gravity out there. Does this harm your body in any way? Can you contract weird inhuman viruses? Do you age in space? Here’s how space affects your body.
If you are planning on making a trip to space, be prepared to undergo intensive training for the same. In contrast to an ordinary flight trip where you just reach 2 hours before take-off, space travel is a whole new level. Space travel has effects on the body that in the long run could manifest into conditions.
Radiations: On Earth, the levels of radiation we are exposed to are negligible, but in space these increase manifold. This could pose risks to those who plan on frequently making trips into the outer cosmos, or those whose space flights last longer durations.
Nutrition: A space flight that lasts 10 minutes wouldn’t necessitate carrying ample food along. But with companies planning on extending the duration of space travel, it is necessary to have well and balanced diets even in space. An astronaut typically loses around 5% of the bodyweight during a trip of around 4 months.
Your bones need attention: A mineral that you absolutely cannot afford to slack on in space is calcium. The bones are made up of osteoclasts, which break down the old bone, and osteoblasts which form the new bone. Due to low gravity in space, astronauts often experience an overtime activity of the osteoclasts and thus a 1 to 2% loss in bone mass. Take your calcium!
The liver: In space with micro-gravity conditions, blood is pumped more easily through the body. Thus, the body needs lesser RBCs and lesser iron for the deed. However, the excess iron begins to deposit itself in the liver and this can be harmful.
When you are in space for a prolonged period of time, you may experience a slight lengthening of the spine, loss of sleep, aging much more slowly, and the movement of certain body fluids. On the whole a different experience.
In conclusion, a trip to space is no way a joyride but requires extreme levels of awareness, health, adjustment, and well, the Earth can face the impact of it in the future in unimaginable ways.