It has been the long-held dream of many an ordinary citizen I’m sure, to add space travel to their bucket lists. Well, that reality, made possible for those inclined enough to venture beyond the wild blue yonder, may be just around the corner.
All well and good, except for one minor detail: The introduction of released emissions from the burning of fossil fuels as a contributing agent in global mean surface temperature rise. In California, by far the biggest greenhouse gas emitter of all states in the U.S., a significant percentage of these GHGs comes from transportation – 40-to-41 percent by volume, and closer to 50 percent if the fuel-production side is included.
Environment California Research & Policy Center author Jason Barbose and Frontier Group authors Tony Dutzik and Joshua Hoen, meanwhile, in the report Getting California on Track: Seven Strategies to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Transportation point out that a considerable amount of the state’s planet-warming gases comes from flight.1
Moreover, the authors relate that “flights limited to distances of no more than 500 miles more negatively influence climate causing harm and found fuel efficiencies to be especially lacking, most notably during liftoffs and touchdowns resulting in greater fuel consumption on a mile-for-mile basis compared to those greater than 500-miles-in-distance flights.” (See: “Restoring unity, order, smarts, meaning, sanity and balance in the space we call travel – 1: High-speed rail,” here).
Consensus of those in the scientific community who accept that climate change has been deemed to be an existential threat and who support the notion that anthropogenic causes are fueling the recent planetary mean surface temperature increase, seems to be that there is roughly only a decade remaining to set the climate back on what is considered to be its “normal” course; in other words, circumvent the point of no return, that is, the point at which there will be nothing that can be done to avoid the worst effects of a continuously warming world which, I presume will be the case, if we don’t get this right.
All things considered, why in the world would there even be movement, any movement whatsoever in the direction of rocketing ordinary citizens into space?
What goes up …
I must admit that the prospect of traveling in space is intriguing. But, if such travel becomes commercially available to the masses, as such, will the earth’s air be made better or worse, that is, compared to the impact that existing commercial jet and airplane travel has on it?
Jets, airplanes and rockets, they all fly. However, the flight paths – or trajectories, is where air travel in the conventional sense and space flight differ.
Take the profile-view of St. Louis, Missouri’s Gateway Arch, for example, it being emblematic of a rocket’s trajectory – there being a launch point, apex and landing point (the lifting off and landing points being separated by x number of miles) – and using this example to make a point, rockets could provide the means to get both paying passengers and cargo from point A to point B and do this in a way that is not only more efficient in terms of the amount of time needed to fly between disparate locations, but, do so in a way that potentially could be less negatively impacting on air, that is, compared to what is possible with or through conventional flight.
New heights, new horizons
Rockets for space exploration is one thing, but using such a mode to replace commercial (and conventional) aviation, that is a whole other ball of wax.
But, that’s the direction aviation appears headed and, metaphorically speaking, if all of the stars line up, rocket travel could very well be the new direction air travel takes.
All that said, not only could this type of flight be the wave of the future, but some, I’m sure, are banking on it, with or without the notion of climate change and its potential devastating effects weighing on the minds of the pioneers of what appears to be quickly becoming a new travel realm.
- Jason Barbose, Tony Dutzik and Joshua Hoen, Getting California on Track: Seven Strategies to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Transportation, “Executive Summary,” from the Environment California Research & Policy Center, Spring 2008, p. 3
Images: Robert Alfers (upper); Shealah Craighead (middle); NASA (lower)