The New Space Race
Billionaires still don't realize that they're the problem

Illustration: Camden Benesh

With the way things are going, now, more than ever feels like a great time to get strapped into a rocket and be blasted into outer space with a destination of another habitable planet. Especially knowing the autopilot is set on course to take us to a new civilization where the planet isn’t trying to purge us like day old gas station sushi. No judgment of the Earth though, if there was something stealing all of my resources without any work of replenishment, I would react in the same way.

The idea of our human civilization living somewhere other than planet Earth, or purchasing a ticket to get past the stratosphere for a joy ride, is starting to become less of a fever dream and more of a tangible reality as we make massive scientific progressions — but at what cost will to the Earth? And who can afford to join in on the fun?

You may have noticed over the last decade or so that the interest in achieving regular space travel, like catching the Amtrak to Seattle to catch a ball game, is starting to skyrocket. The leading companies in the game of making space more accessible include Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos. However, what is happening is that these tax evaders have created a fun little game only they can play: who can produce the first commercial-use orbital rocket for a quick little cruise around the planet? It is a new age “space race,” which is rapidly increasing the damage to our ozone layer.

Musk takes the vision a little bit further with plans to get these rockets to the planet Mars, in hopes of setting up a civilization on a surface that hasn’t been completely ravished by human existence. However, it seems rather ironic–Musk is apparently aware of how unstable the Earth is becoming, while also being one of the biggest contributors of black carbon, or soot, into the atmosphere.

When each of these million-dollar-joy-ride rockets blast through the Earth’s outermost atmospheric layer, the stratosphere, soot gets trapped and then reflects light onto the already extremely fragile ozone layer, (causing it to thin) and wreaks havoc on the Earth’s surface. In dreaming of human existence stretching through space, we are creating more damage to the planet we already exist on. The billionaires  are able to continue the abuse because there is currently no protection against rocket emissions in the stratosphere. 

One of the biggest reasons why there are no regulations on the pollutants put out into the stratosphere is a simple one: it is a new age problem and widely misunderstood. Scientists at NOAA have conducted several studies to look into the impacts of the projected 10-fold increase of rocket emissions that will most likely happen over the next decade and, not surprisingly, have found a few areas of concern. 

One of the potential issues found is that the kerosene-burning rocket engines emitting the soot (and thus causing the thinning effect of the ozone layer) will cause harmful impacts on the amount of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation produced by the sun. UV radiation is known  to cause skin cancers and weaken immune systems to us humans, as well as interfering  with ecosystems and agricultural cultivation. And, as we all know, all of those things are already in a high-risk category just from things we are doing on the ground.

Through running a climate model simulation that dumps 10,000 metric tons of black carbon into the stratosphere over a 50 year period, researchers have found a potential global temperature rise of 1 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit. And if temperatures increase to that degree, , it has the potential of disrupting the global circulation patterns that help to circulate the subtropical jet streams—even more than it already has.

Outside of the scientific impact of the billionaires trying to one up each other with their excess  fuck-you money to fly to outer space with, there is a huge socioeconomic divide in who will actually be able to access a joy ride through the stars.

If you want to hop on a flight with Mr. Bezos on his Blue Origin rocket or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, well you will need to cut a check in the price range of $250,000 to $500,000 dollars for a suborbital trip. However, if you really want to shoot for the stars, you can hitch a ride with SpaceX for a cool $55 million dollars. But don’t worry, food costs are included in that price.

It seems too easy to predict the inevitable PR fluff stories that will come out once these overly-praised billionaires start to participate in “charity trips” for people who live in significantly lower tax brackets. 

But for now, those of us who chortle at the idea of accessible space travel within our lifetime get to scroll through social media to see the rich live out their best lives. But it still begs the question: will these billionaires be able to see the irony that the Earth is becoming less and less habitable due in part to their own actions? They’re  leaving us behind to torch in their rocket fumes. 

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