Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Environmentalism and space exploration

I must admit that I let out a cynical laugh when I heard about the failed launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory yesterday. Apparently a faring on the Taurus XL rocket failed to separate properly and the spacecraft failed to reach orbit. The launch vehicle and its payload landed in the Indian Ocean near Antarctica. The observatory was intended to gather data on atmospheric carbon dioxide and around the globe, but all the mission achieved was to further damage the environment.

While I am sure that there is value in an empirical analysis of the global carbon cycle to see whether there are any associated changes in climate, I do wonder whether that value outweighs the monetary cost of the project and the damage to the environment caused by rocket launches. Taking a Space Shuttle launch as a case in point, whereas only a small proportion of the exhaust from the rockets is made up of greenhouse gases, there is a significant release of carbon monoxide that may react in the atmosphere to produce carbon dioxide. We could add to this the amount of greenhouse gas released as part of the construction and refurbishment processes.

I am sure that NASA and the other space agencies around the world are busy implementing green measures. Nevertheless, I do wonder why environmentalists do not question the need for space exploration as vocally as they question the need for jet air travel and the use of motor cars. Personally I would prefer that the money was spent dealing with diseases like malaria and ensuring that everyone on Earth had access to clean water.

4 comments:

redkathy said...

oh wow clean water IS worth way more! good point

DarthCalenwasMom said...

And why is it that one country must insure access to clean water for everyone else in the world? Shouldn't other countries take care of their citizens, while we focus on taking care of ours?

Stepterix said...

redkathy: Indeed, it is a matter of priorities.

DCM: I don't think that I said that this was the responsibility of any one country. I took pains not to single out NASA or the US in my article.

Thanks for your comments.

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