A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sits on a platform at the Kennedy Space Center before sending four tourists into orbit. Photo / AP
With all the challenges on planet Earth, it may seem like a frivolous waste of money and carbon emissions to send wealthy “tourists” into space for a few moments of weightlessness.
But a lot of the same
dismissed the Wright brothers’ efforts at Kitty Hawk in December 1903 as a disappointing flight.
In fact, it was a small but crucial first step in the history of flight, which ultimately opened up global travel and connectivity to the masses, which transformed humanity forever.
In a similar vein, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are symbols of the frontier of the second great era of space exploration, one where private industry is in the driver’s seat.
The first era of space exploration saw the United States and Russia invest vast public resources in their space programs, even in the face of demanding domestic problems.
But when President Kennedy promised to send Americans to the moon by the late 1960s, he knew it would unleash human potential in ways no one could fully imagine. He was right.
Eyes in the sky
It is almost entirely thanks to the series of satellites launched by NASA in 1992 that we are even able to accurately measure sea level rise.
The awakening of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was informed by data from dozens of satellites and remote sensing instruments
These “eyes in the sky” are fundamental to our understanding of global warming. monitor the vital signs of our planet: temperature changes, greenhouse gas emissions, soil moisture and glacier movements.
The Carbon Mapper and MethaneSAT projects are expected to deliver new satellites to space that will monitor powerful methane emissions from gas wells, pipelines, refineries and power plants, allowing scientists to pinpoint locations to target with localized emission mitigation efforts.
Emerging competition in the space industry is crucial to achieving the critical mass that will make space exploitation more affordable and spur a new wave of innovation.
Elon Musk’s satellite broadband company, Starlink, was born out of SpaceX’s pioneering work, with its reusable rockets taking people to and beyond the International Space Station, most recently with Spaceflight Inspiration4. non-professional astronauts.
Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism business has previously branched out from Virgin Orbit, which aims to make the delivery of small satellites to space cheaper and more sustainable.
This pioneering challenge is part of what drew me to Branson’s quest to launch a space tourism industry and pursue the breakthroughs that might come with it.
When I, along with what were then around 300 other potential astronauts, put our money in 2012 for a Virgin Galactic ticket, we played a role in helping to underwrite and validate the claim for a bold company that perhaps wouldn’t. never seen the light of day. .
This new era of space exploration that I am committed to being a part of is risky and costly but will provide, I believe, a net benefit to humanity. This does not mean that we have to look up to the sky to solve the problems we face on our warming planet. We should aspire to do both
Finance climate technology
It is encouraging to see record amounts of funding pouring into climate technology, with Silicon Valley Bank declaring that US $ 58 billion ($ 83.7 billion) will be invested in 2021, breaking the record US $ 35 billion of Last year.
At Aera VC, we have funded companies like Noya, which uses cooling towers common to industry around the world to suck in air and extract carbon dioxide from it. On a large scale, this technology could have a significant impact on reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Dawn Aerospace, another of our investments, is creating a reusable drone-like spacecraft that will usher in a new era of inexpensive and sustainable orbital access. Their goal is to be the first spacecraft in history to reach space and return to Earth twice in one day. They recently completed a series of successful test flights from New Zealand, where I live and work.
Some very ambitious thinkers pursue more ambitious reasons for going further into space, such as mining asteroids for minerals or relocating our polluting industries there. If we can do this while consciously tackling the resulting space debris without causing chaos to the rest of the solar system, why not?
Since the dawn of time, it has been inherent in human nature to make room for risky challenges and long shots that allow us to understand ourselves, our planet and the universe in which we inhabit.
We must continue to pursue them.
These efforts have culminated in the best times of human endeavor and will ultimately play a role we cannot even yet comprehend, in meeting the biggest challenge ahead – avoiding catastrophic climate change.
– Derek Handley is a future Virgin Galactic passenger and co-founder of Aera VC, an early growth fund investing in climate and deep tech companies that are accelerating the world towards a sustainable future.
– Aera is co-hosting an event with Outset Ventures, âBuilding a Climate Technology Company to Save the Worldâ on October 28 as part of the Auckland Climate Festival.