Tree People Love

loving Earth and Bozena

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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