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Space Tourism Faces Obstacles

Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos. These are the leaders when it comes to space tourism and innovating the private sector of space exploration. We’re all rooting for them to succeed, because it means we’ll be one step closer to living out Star Trek in real life.

Unfortunately, the tourism industry has hit a little snag, namely on the environmental side of things. As it turns out, black carbon buildup in the atmosphere has been predicted to grow in correspondence with the emerging flights of private space companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

The majority of environmental scientists predict that the impact of sub-orbital flights won’t make a large enough impact to adversely affect our climate, but there will be a noticeable increase in carbon buildup, which leads some to worry at night.

Even while Richard Branson proudly tells us that his spaceships emit less carbon dioxide than an average flight from New York to London, many scientists claim that measuring the impact of greenhouse gasses by the space industry has little to nothing to do with carbon dioxide output. It’s all in the black carbon, they say.

There’s one issue and it’s simple: you don’t want to put black carbon in the stratosphere. Period.

This from Darin Toohey, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado. For those in need of a quick science lesson, black carbon is what you see when diesel trucks spew smoke from their pipes. It’s poisonous, and gets trapped in the atmosphere like everything else, only it’s different than carbon dioxide.

It has a shorter life, which means that rain and wind can cause it to dissipate faster. Unfortunately, in the Earth’s stratosphere, black carbon stays around for 5-10 years longer than it would just a few short miles below, due to the lack of rain or wind.

This, predictably, is of some concern to environmentalists. Industry insiders claim it won’t have much effect, but others argue that space industry idealists are missing out on the facts.

Currently, both sides of the issue are at a standstill. Until further research is conducted, the overall consensus is that space tourism’s effect on climate change is miniscule at best, and shouldn’t be of any concern. We’ll learn more about this in the years to come as the young industry continues to blossom and grow.

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