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Olya Ivanova (F, 34)
Washington, DC, US
Immortal since Oct 26, 2009
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
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    From oyahuasca's personal cargo

    Love for inner space
    Ares 1-X, a flight test rocket, is scheduled to launch today from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of this prototype is to collect information on re-entry dynamics for recovery, vehicle control, and improve specifications based on new information received. Mainly, this launch will test the first stage of the rocket separation and the flight environment during this separation. Ares 1-X is equipped with never-been-used technology, which includes a reusable rocket booster, a flight control system, and a few other components that are beyond my knowledge. I hope you enjoyed the “little bit of a background” about this mission. But this is not an essay on astronomy, technology, or black holes (although it sounds enticing); what came to my mind is the ethics. Considering that a diverse sack of industrial gases gets released during lift-off causing not only air pollution, but ozone depletion; when does the need to preserve our planet begin to outweigh endeavor for knowledge of space?

    Recent prognoses have shown that solid rocket motor emissions reduce the total amount of stratospheric ozone by only about 0.04 percent. Significance seems measly, I know; but think about the global warming prediction being 1°C increase every century and the effects this has on our environment. One of the many examples is the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. This is the largest block of ice in the Arctic region that has been around for 3,000 years. In the year 2000 it began cracking and within two years it has split and is now breaking into pieces. And this is with only .01°C increase in temperature per year, which was also considered insignificant a few decades ago. Now NASA asserts that the temperatures have been increasing by an average of 0.2 °C every decade for the past 30 years.

    Ok… You might argue that carbon dioxide emissions may have a different impact in terms of magnitude and the speed of escalation, but remember that space transportation, which used to be dominated by government, has become an important part of our commerce world. The industry of launching freight into orbit is expected to nearly double in the next decade.

    At last, the main ozone-destroying radicals, such as the chlorine atom (Cl), nitric oxide (NO), and the hydroxyl radical (OH), are able to regenerate after destroying an ozone molecule. Scientific term for this event is a catalytic cycle; where these “toxic” molecules affect the ozone even at the smallest quantities. This means that small excretions of ozone-destroying radicals into the stratosphere caused by industrial activity, including rocket exhaust, might cause relatively large changes to the ozone layer.

    Here is an example of the ozone hole found near the North Pole:

    NASA – Arctic Ozone Depletion


    Images courtesy Eric Nash and Paul Newman, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.


    My question remains: did we come to love the outer space more than our planet Earth?

    P.S. Just to leave on a positive note: solar radiation produces ozone in the stratosphere, so total ozone levels increase during the solar flares. Sunspot 1029 has been releasing 6 solar flares in the last few days. Here is a peak :)


    Paul Haese photographed the maelstrom from his backyard observatory in Blackwood, South Australia

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    Comments:


    nagash     Tue, Oct 27, 2009  Permanent link
    that's a great post!
    just another block for the huge wall between technology progress and a sustainable future... the issue just keep getting more and more complex...
    oyahuasca     Wed, Oct 28, 2009  Permanent link
    Sometimes it seems like humanity passed the event horizon and is now trying to find a quick solution. "Anything is better than nothing."
    First Dark     Tue, Feb 23, 2010  Permanent link
    While I certainly sympathize with your concerns, I think there are a few basic problems with the final analysis being made. Isn't it more important to keep things in perspective by looking at the most major sources of pollution first? On that end, given their tremendous volume, airplanes and cars are vastly worse for the environment than space flights even with the prospect of a burst in commercial space freight. Combine passenger air travel, commercial air freight, and military/government transportation (not to mention all other earthbound commercial practices), and there's no comparison.

    I also think a clear distinction should be made between commercial/private space endeavours and scientific space endeavours. The former emphasize consumerism and leisure, whereas the latter emphasizes advancement (of both technology and understanding) and inspiration. We should be concerned about the commercial space industry, but if anything, scientific space programs need more public support these days. With regards to emissions, we can be certain that scientists are working to make the technologies used more efficient and environmentally friendly as we speak, not to mention they are giving us the perspectives and data we need to understand our planet's situation (such as your image above).

    Here's a clip of one of my big heroes, Neil deGrasse Tyson, that might be of interest.

    I think the more important question to ask would be: Do we love our cars and vacations more than our planet? Should we continue to focus on consumption and leisure, or shift the focus to responsibility and survival?
    nagash     Tue, Feb 23, 2010  Permanent link
    Do we love our cars and vacations more than our planet? Should we continue to focus on consumption and leisure, or shift the focus to responsibility and survival?

    answering your question, I sold my car two years ago and I don't abuse the use of taxis and airplanes (most times I use the subway, it's not that comfortable but it's ok to me. traffic in my city is a chaos anyway, and I'm young, so, whatever). that's my personal choice and I don't go around preaching to others. If you got a SUV and flight every week to attend useless meetings, fine. one person alone cannot make any difference for good or for bad, it's a question of conscience.

    but, returning to the topic of space endeavours.... I think that the commercial/private trips can also help in the advance of understanding and inspiration. I for one, hope that I can take a good look at our mother big-blue-ball before I die *_*

    I'm all for the sustainable advance of technology,
    but in that especific order: first sustainable, then advance ^_^


    First Dark     Tue, Feb 23, 2010  Permanent link
    That's true in a sense but I think you're looking at it the wrong way. I'm sure we can all agree that the vast majority of air flights have basically nothing to do with understanding or inspiration. In fact, most people see them as an inconvenience which they have to put up with before they get to their destination. And airplanes are by far one of the worst polluters out there. Just as we don't all need to be astronauts to be inspired and learn from space programs, we don't all need to fly in order to see spectacular views from above. And that's all that air travel really has to offer in and of itself.

    Beyond that, it's just a means of long-distance transportation. On that front, we have developed a global society which is completely dependent upon fast, dirty travel, but we need to question its necessity with regards to sustainability. The technology isn't getting efficient enough quickly enough for us to hope that the environmental consequences will be cut down significantly any time soon. So we have to decide which types of flights are the least necessary, and personal/business trips are on the top of that list. As much as people want to travel to exotic places or visit relatives, it just isn't sustainable. It's selfish.

    I think we're in a far worse position than most people are willing to accept, one which requires major lifestyle changes in order to ensure our collective prosperity and survival. Worst of all, the ones who will suffer first and most are the people (and other life forms) that aren't even taking flights or driving SUVs. If we don't make major changes, such as huge cut downs of air travel, we are condemning the innocent, along with ourselves and future generations.

    Personally, I feel obligated to point out unethical and irrational behaviour whenever I have a good opportunity. Remaining silent is no different than saying "That's okay, you can keep doing that." But many would certainly call my views "radical"/"alarmist". I guess we'll see...

    "one person alone cannot make any difference for good or for bad"

    That's a deeply pessimistic thing to say. But more than that, it's unrealistic. If that were true, there would be no revolutionary icons, no infamous dictators, no noteworthy individuals.
    oyahuasca     Wed, Feb 24, 2010  Permanent link
    I do agree that air flights and ground transportation contribute a lot to the overall pollution of our planet, but is it our place to decide what type of environmental degradation is better or worse? The fact that global warming and ozone depletion are two totally different aspects of pollution causes me to infer that each should be focused on separately with equal emphasis. I do agree that space exploration for knowledge gain and inspiration is more ethical than commercial flights for tourism. But I also think that exploration should be limited to actually exploring and not testing out new equipment of space crafts which was the purpose of Ares 1-X. Definitely "a waste of the ozone". It seems immature to create additional complications with our environment before taking care of the original problems. All in all, I feel like there should be certain standards regarding space travel and allowable damage to our planet because of it.
    First Dark     Wed, Feb 24, 2010  Permanent link
    While I agree that we should be just as concerned about ozone depletion as we are about global warming, I don't think there's a question at all that we need to decide which types of environmental degradation are the most hazardous and urgent. It is absolutely our responsibility to monitor and address such issues.

    In my response, I was particularly addressing the question you posed: "did we come to love the outer space more than our planet Earth?" which I think oversteps the real issue. It's not that we love outer space more than Earth, but rather that we are just generally too selfish and short-sighted. (But how many people really care about space programs these days? Certainly a whole lot less than during the "Space Race" era. Therefore even the collective "we" who may seem to disregard Earth's health in favour of space exploration is in fact a minority.)

    My further argument is that we should keep things in perspective and recognize that the masses who care very little (if at all) about space programs are vastly more neglectful of the environment than space enthusiasts have ever been. If we're talking specifically about the ozone, let's not forget that the greatest perpetrators of ozone depletion still come from very earthbound practices.

    Yes, the effects of rocket launches are a danger, but again we should keep things in perspective. The growth and predicted boom in rocket travel has far more to do with commercial freight and space tourism than of scientific endeavours. On top of that, only through science will the technology ever be made more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, the only way for us to remain thoroughly informed about our planet's situation is through such endeavours. It's important to recognize that the very research which ends up warning us about the effects of excessive rocket usage comes through the space programs and organizations themselves.

    I agree that there need to be standards for space travel, but the emphasis should be placed on opposing the excesses of the commercial and space tourism industries (at least until the technology becomes far more efficient). At the same time we should continue to support the scientific space endeavours and research programs which (beyond inspiration) will keep us informed about our planet's health and develop more Earth-friendly technology to use in the future. The true immaturity lies within the wasteful practices which don't advance our collective knowledge and understanding at all.

    As for your point about Ares 1-X being a "waste of the ozone" because it was a test, you seem to be overlooking that such tests are a very important part of actual space exploration. I'm sure you understand the dangers of not testing technology before putting it into regular production and use. Such tests actually prevent the waste which would be caused by malfunctions while also providing data which can help develop more efficient technology.
     
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