Space tourism can help beat climate change

Actor William Shatner soared into space this week on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, putting civilian space travel in the global spotlight for the second time in two months.

In September, SpaceX took non-professional astronauts on a space flight aboard Inspiration4.

With all the challenges on planet Earth, it can seem like a frivolous waste of money and carbon emissions to send famous and wealthy “tourists” into space for a few moments or days of weightlessness.

But many also dismissed the Wright brothers’ efforts at Kitty Hawk in December 1903 as a disappointing soaring.

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 the same vein, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are the symbols of the frontier of the second great era of space exploration, one where private industry is in the driver’s seat.

The early era of space exploration saw the United States and Russia invest vast public resources in their space programs, even in the face of domestic issues that demand attention.

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.

Arc of light spaceship taking off

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 emissions mitigation efforts.

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.

Is space travel good for the planet?

Emerging competition in the space industry is crucial to providing the critical mass that will make space operations more affordable and spur a new wave of innovation.

Elon Musk’s satellite broadband company, Starlink, grew out of SpaceX’s pioneering work, with its reusable rockets taking people to and beyond the International Space Station, most recently with Inspiration4 space flights.

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. .

William Shatner nods to Bezos’ “lofty ambitions” for space travel in a Blue Origin video posted hours before takeoff,

“Someone has to start. We are only at the beginning, but how miraculous this beginning is and how extraordinary it is to be part of the beginning.

This new era of space exploration is risky and costly, but will offer a net benefit to humanity. This does not mean that we have to turn our gaze to the sky to solve the problems we face on our warming planet. We should aspire to do both.

earth from space

Finance climate technology

It is encouraging to see record amounts of funding pouring into climate technology, with Silicon Valley Bank indicating that $ 58 billion will be invested in 2021, surpassing last year’s record of $ 35 billion.

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 a 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 greatest challenge ahead – avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Derek Handley is a future Virgin Galactic passenger and co-founder of Aera VC, an early-growth fund that invests in deep climate and technology projects that accelerate the world toward a sustainable future.

Comments are closed.