Spaced Out Green Worries for Future-Trippers


The space-obsessed were treated to a Foursquare check-in from the wild black yonder last week from NASA astronaut and International Space Station Commander Doug Wheelock. For his efforts, he was told: “You are now 220 miles above Earth traveling at 17,500 mph and unlocked the NASA Explorer Badge! Show this badge and get a free scoop of astronaut ice cream.” Tons of press. Presumably, he’s the mayor of Space – for now, anyway. And for all you future-trippers, here’s something you might want to start worrying about right away. I mean, we do have our green priorities.

Bad news, says NewScientist: “Space tourism could have major consequences for Earth’s climate.” This based on brand spanking new computer simulations that say soot-spewing rockets (we recently told you about the climate evils of soot) could have an effect far nastier than airplanes, even though the model would have them “belch out” only about 600 tons of the stuff, which is less than airplanes currently bless us with.

This is because spacecraft are so far out – literally: “…plane soot occurs at low enough altitudes for rain to wash it out of the atmosphere in just days or weeks. Rockets expel the stuff at altitudes three times as high – in the stratosphere more than [about 25 miles] above sea level. There, well above the weather, it can remain for up to 10 years,” the article says.

Why should we worry about this? Well “in the next few years,” (ya think? really?) “space tourism companies hope to start routinely flying passengers on suborbital space flights.” Based on what some companies are saying, their business plans in the “by 2020” column, the simulations were based on an assumed rate of 1,000 suborbital trips per year.

The science is that the soot could warm air in the stratosphere and strengthen currents that carry air from the equator to the poles. This is “not a pretty picture for the Arctic or Antarctic,” says Charles Zender of the University of California, Irvine.

So a word of warning for you green folks who are looking to purchase advance tix for the Buck Rogers express: your eco-priorities might conflict with your moonage daydreams (or Foursquare badge aspirations). I don’t know, though. You might have some time to think about it. In the meantime, maybe stick to “unlocking” where you’re at.

Image: x-ray delta one

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at