March 6, 2020

Do We Really Need to Send Humans into Space?

Automated spacecraft cost far less; they’re getting more capable every year; and if they fail, nobody dies

By Donald Goldsmith & Martin Rees

why is space travel unnecessary

The Mars 2020 Rover.

NASA and JPL-Caltech

This article was published in Scientific American’s former blog network and reflects the views of the author, not necessarily those of Scientific American

What future lies ahead for humans in space? Last year, the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing found a host of private and governmental projects that aim to send astronauts far beyond the near-Earth orbits that have limited human space exploration since 1972. China, which landed the first spacecraft on the lunar far side in 2019, has plans to place astronauts to the moon. India, which crashed a lander on the moon in 2019 , dreams of doing likewise. Russia, which doesn’t seem to have much of an ongoing astronaut program, still provides the rockets and launch facilities that provide astronauts with access to the International Space Station. The Trump administration proposes to create a lunar base as a key step in sending astronauts to Mars. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have spent large sums on future human space missions. Indeed, Musk has already created a thriving rocket business, which NASA uses to resupply the Space Station, 250 miles above Earth’s surface.

What benefits will flow from these efforts to send humans much farther into space? As children of the 1950s, we were thrilled and inspired by the satellites that began to circle Earth in 1957, the first astronauts—who followed similar paths in the 1960s and made the first spacewalk in 1965—and what turned out to be the culmination of human spaceflight: NASA’s six astronaut explorations of the lunar surface from 1969 through 1972. Beyond any scientific returns, these efforts elevated the human spirit, reaching a peak on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong set humanity’s first footprints on the moon. During the 1960s, we became astronomers with a deep passion to explore the cosmos.

But the past five decades have taught a clear lesson about how best to explore the cosmos. People venturing into space are fragile: They require a continuous supply of oxygen, water, food and shelter. They must endure long intervals of weightlessness. Their physical capabilities remain constant across generations. And their loss, when it occurs, casts a pall over our would-be joy of identifying with their exploration. In contrast, automated spacecraft require only a power supply. They cost far less than humans do, and we know how to improve them every year. And if they fail, we lose only dollars and scientific results.

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Since the first moon landing, we have sent several hundred probes throughout the solar system, from innermost Mercury to Arrokoth (previously nicknamed “Ultima Thule”), a planetesimal orbiting far beyond Pluto. Spacecraft have landed on Mercury, Venus and Mars, spent years in orbit around Jupiter and Saturn, and surveyed Uranus and Neptune. And the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft will soon pass by Earth to release a capsule with material from the asteroid Ryugu, one of the oldest members of the solar system. Multiple lunar missions have mapped the moon’s far side, detected the gravitational anomalies that make the “man in the moon” always face Earth and discovered huge amounts of water frozen in the soil at the lunar poles.

Limited to low-Earth orbits, astronauts have basically performed extensive experiments on the hazards and requirements of living in space-bound habitats. By far, the finest achievement of humans in space has been the five servicing missions that allowed astronauts to repair instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits Earth at the maximum altitude that the now defunct Space Shuttle could carry it to. Astronomers, who cheered these efforts more than anyone, remained deeply aware of an ironic fact: Hubble suffers from close proximity to our planet, whose reflected and emitted radiation greatly hampers the telescope’s ability to peer clearly and deeply into space. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to supplant the now creaky Hubble next year, will be directed to the much more astronomically favored “L2 point” (for second Lagrange point), a million miles from Earth. Spacecraft at L2 can easily maintain a stable orbit, avoiding the slow drift that gravitational tugs from the sun and moon produce elsewhere. Astronomers have already maintained spacecraft at L2 to observe the cosmos in infrared, ultraviolet and x-radiation, unaffected by interference from our own planet.

Why, then, should we not expect future astronauts, if called upon, to repair one of the numerous space-borne instruments to be sent to L2? An astronaut expedition to repair one of these great observatories at L2 would involve at least as much complexity as a landing on the moon—and possibly a greater expense than the creation and launch of a new and improved observational platform. In fact, the missions to repair the Hubble telescope cost significantly more than replacing it with a newer and better version. But these missions elevated our spirits, whereas writing off the telescope would have been a profound downer—a reminder that public opinion, which would have scorned the latter action while celebrating the former, understandably plays a crucial role in determining what our government chooses to do.

The contrast between astronaut and automated space missions will grow ever stronger as we improve our miniaturization, virtual-reality and artificial-intelligence capabilities. Today a trained geologist on the moon can perform as well as a robotic explorer, but the future of geologic investigation of other worlds lies with highly improved versions of our Mars rovers. These explorers will deploy numerous tools to probe rocks and minerals, using a memory equal—and soon superior—to any human’s. They will traverse the lunar or Martian surface for decades, continuously learning about the topography, seismographic activity and distribution of geologic strata in bulk and in detail. Conceptually similar robots will eventually be able to repair spacecraft at the L2 point, while others could construct complex structures in space, including an array of radio telescopes on the radio-quiet far side of the moon.

The fundamental issue of sending humans into the cosmos asks not how easily astronauts can repair instruments in deep space, how quickly they can land on the moon and construct a base there, or why they should travel to Mars and attempt to create a habitat there. Instead it queries, Why should we do any of this? Four major motivations deserve special attention as answers to this question.

Uplifting the human spirit . Sending humans into space adds glory to our lives. Overcoming the manifold challenges to long-term spaceflight inspires and delights us. Almost everyone naturally responds to heroic accomplishments, and many of us would regard a human landing on Mars as a paramount achievement of our species. But to many scientists, and to some among the public, such potent reactions fail to justify the costs and dangers of these missions.

We should note that several other motivations lie behind the push for astronaut expeditions to our celestial neighbors. These include the desire to outdo our rivals, the belief that space offers an eventual refuge from a debilitated Earth and an eagerness to exploit raw materials in the nearby solar system. Each of these arguments, in our opinion, favor expeditions not with humans but with our ever improved spacecraft and robot explorers—at least until the habitats for the refuge of a chosen population are ready.

National pride . The cold war argument that the Russians could “seize the high ground” by establishing a lunar base never made sense, because any nation seeking to use space to launch weapons would attempt to do so close to Earth, not from a quarter-million miles away. There remains the pride that a nation may feel from sending the first humans to other worlds, as when President Donald Trump exalts a future “when American astronauts will plant our beautiful Stars and Stripes on the surface of Mars,” adding the pride of ownership to the thrill of human achievement.

Human survival . Shortly before his death in 2018, Stephen Hawking stated that “spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.” More recently, Bezos has said that humans need space travel because “we are in the process of destroying this planet.” Among other outcomes, he envisions giant space colonies that would each allow millions of people to live in space.

To their enthusiasts, giant space colonies and human habitats on Mars offer not only sites to develop a better society but also places where we may modify humans themselves, partly for adaptation to the lower gravity on Mars or, in many scenarios, to the artificial gravitational force produced within the enormous rotating wheel of a million-person “posthuman environment,” where genetic engineering could attempt to reduce diseases and prolong human life.

Such future plans appeal to those who see Earth’s future as deeply uncertain or even hopeless. A moment’s thought, however, tends to reveal that (a) the notion that we can learn from our errors on Earth in order to survive in space involves pie-in-the-sky optimism and (b) the billions of people to be left behind deserve greater consideration. If we can’t solve humanity’s problem on our home planet, we seem highly unlikely to be able to do so by establishing ourselves in space.

Raw materials . Although less cited in the wider world, a great incentive for reaching nearby solar system objects springs from an old-fashioned, solid desire: the quest for raw materials for profit. One of the asserted justifications for sending humans back to the moon focuses on their potential for harvesting helium-3, a rare isotope of helium. Unlike those of helium-4, the far more common stable isotope of the element, helium-3 nuclei will fuse readily once they reach a sufficiently high temperature. Because this fusion releases large amounts of energy but no radioactive by-products, helium-3 nuclei could provide an almost ideal nuclear fuel. On Earth, helium-3 nuclei furnish only about one one-millionth of already scarce helium nuclei, but their relative abundance in lunar soil rises 100 times higher. Visionaries propose a future society that runs on helium-3 nuclei from the moon, which contains enough of these nuclei to provide many centuries of the world’s current power consumption.

The asteroids likewise offer a road to wealth. Although most asteroids have a composition that resembles Earth’s, a few of them consist largely of metals such as iron, nickel and cobalt—together with a much smaller amount of silver, gold and platinum. A metal-rich asteroid that is only the size of a house would contain a million pounds of metal, including 100 pounds of platinum, gold and other rare metals. We can imagine future space missions that use the more abundant minerals for the construction of mining colonies but that draw the bulk of their profits from the return of the most valuable metals to Earth.

Do any existing international agreements deal with these issues? In 1967 several countries ratified the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty, whose full formal title includes “the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” The 100-plus nations that ratified this treaty include all those likely to carry out space exploration during the coming decades (with the possible exception of Iran, which signed the treaty but did not ratify it).

The treaty’s key provisions forbid placing weapons of mass destruction on the moon, in orbit or elsewhere in outer space. They also state that celestial bodies are to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and are “not subject to national appropriation” by any means and that all parties will follow international law in their activities relating to the exploration and use of outer space. One may easily see that space lawyers, who have a growing future ahead of them, can dispute the term “national appropriation,” which hardly seems to rule out operations by private parties that do not add directly to a nation’s wealth. Furthermore, the current geopolitical climate suggests the treaty’s terms might not fully govern the actions of any state or private party.

Let’s examine the arguments in favor of sending humans into space in the in reverse order from which we have posed them.

Raw materials and the transformation of planetary surfaces . In 2015 the U.S. Congress passed legislation, informally known as the SPACE Act, that denies any assertion of authority over cosmic objects but promotes the right of U. S. citizens (which naturally includes corporations) to engage in the “commercial recovery of space resources free from harmful interference ... subject to authorization and continuing supervision by the Federal Government.” The marvelous word “recovery,” common in mineral-extraction circles, tends to hide the obvious impacts of such activities. On a moral basis, do we, as humans, U.S. citizens, or private individuals or corporations, possess the right to alter or even destroy the landscape of other celestial objects? To some, the answer is obvious: Of course we do. And the resources of these worlds belong to those who can first exploit them.

The opposing moral argument begins with the thought that humans ought not to embark on these activities lightly, because whatever we do may not be capable of being repaired. To scientists, the gravest threat from the “recovery” of other worlds’ resources resides in the possibility that human activities can forever cloud our knowledge of the origin and distribution of life in the solar system. Wherever we land, we inevitably leave behind traces of our own forms of life. NASA has worried about this problem ever since the first lunar probes and has taken pains, which the agency knows can never be entirely successful, to avoid the biological contamination of other worlds. Large-scale extraction efforts, however, could never proceed without this contamination. Even the moon or asteroids, hostile to life though they now are, may contain traces of past biological activity.

For colonies on Mars—even “harmless” ones whose purpose is purely exploration—the problem increases steeply: Most experts agree that life probably existed on Mars when water ran freely over its surface and may that it may yet survive in underground pools. The discovery of life on a nearby world should reveal, through comparison of its DNA or equivalent material, whether life in the solar system originated separately or transferred itself from world to world onboard meteoroids or asteroids. If we find Earth-like organisms on Mars, our ability to discriminate will be lost if we cannot tell whether this transfer occurred in recent years or eons before.

Advocates of exploiting other worlds often point to a glorious future on Mars after engineers have “terraformed” the planet to produce more Earth-like conditions. By releasing sufficiently large amounts of carbon dioxide that currently reside in rocks and in Mars’s modest polar caps, along with other gases even better at trapping heat, we could produce a “greenhouse effect” that would raise the planet’s surface temperature and increase its atmospheric pressure to the point that liquid water could once again flow over the Martian surface. Those who oppose reworking an entire planet begin with a hard look at what humans have done to “terraform” Earth.

Human survival . Aside from the immense difficulties of creating sustainable, million-person colonies (required for sufficient long-term genetic variation), any lunar or planetary colonists will bring the same human attributes that have caused problems on Earth. In addition, plans to leave behind eight billion of their fellow humans on a dying planet might produce unrest sufficient to derail the project.

National pride . One need not be a one-worlder to recognize that national competition to explore nearby objects—and, even more so, to exploit space resources—fails to furnish a sustainable basis for rational exploration. By exporting our Earthly competition into space, we increase the likelihood of conflict in both venues.

Uplifting the human spirit . Debating the wisdom of sending humans into space inevitably returns to the immense boost that humanity will receive from tracking astronauts as they explore other worlds. Undeniable though these emotions may be, they hardly settle the issue. What remains is the key question of whether this spiritual uplift so far surpasses any news that may be sent by spacecraft that humans in space must be worth the expense and the danger of contaminating other worlds, along with encouraging the exploitation of these worlds for economic gain.

Approximately 3 percent of astronauts who have begun a journey into space have not survived.” Although our increased understanding of how to launch and return spacecraft safely may reduce this percentage, “space tourism”—a phrase that suggests that ordinary people can enjoy the thrill of travel around the Earth or even farther—conceals the actual risks. Space travelers will long resemble stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel more than they do Jules Verne’s fictional adventurer Phileas Fogg .

Those who feel that our automated planetary explorers can never come close to the human experience in uplifting our spirits may find a modest rebuttal in our robotic explorers on Mars, which have commanded widespread attention and even some human identification during their years on the red planet. NASA’s Opportunity rover, for example, spent more than 15 years on Mars and traversed complex topography for more than two dozen miles, at a price tag that is almost certainly less than 1 percent of what a comparable human expedition would cost today. In addition, we may reasonably expect that popular culture will expand our identification with our marvelous spacefaring machines.

Private expeditions . This discussion has assumed the existence of a forum to debate the pros and cons of humans in space and reach a (more or less) logical conclusion. What of the superrich who operate free from such constraints? The exploitation of raw materials in space offers a wide range of construction, destruction and confrontation among private parties and corporations. If these parties choose to act, who can stop them? Should we try? Human history shows that no scarcity of volunteers will arrive, including those who would gladly gain fame from being among the first to land, for example, on Mars, without any prospect of a return journey.

What, then, should be done? Should members of the public confront these arguments and attempt to influence governmental decisions? Do we want to regulate space adventuring—and if so, how? Or do we prefer to let the “space frontier” work itself out? Private individuals, though aware of the considerations we have raised, need answer to none but themselves in their spacefaring endeavors. Statements by Musk and Bezos testify to deep beliefs in human activities in space, which they apparently regard as not even requiring justification. Musk has so deeply embraced the belief that only humans in space can fulfill the human desire to explore other worlds that he has tweeted “nuke Mars!” to express his plan to use nuclear weapons in order to release carbon dioxide stored in the Martian soil and polar caps in order to create a greenhouse effect to warm the planet.

Whether the exploits proposed by Musk and Bezos will inspire us to greater efforts on Earth—or cause us to imagine that we can forget about problems on our planet—remains an open question. Because little hope of curtailing these endeavors exists, we may do well to let them advance as the masters of space would wish, believing, as we always must, that humans will soon see the wisest way to proceed.

None of our discussion and suggestions looks beyond the next few decades, a sufficiently long stretch of time to beware the accuracy of our predictive abilities. If human civilization successfully overcomes its current problems and achieves long-term stability, we shall certainly send people to the other worlds in our solar system. If we discover much faster means of propulsion or find a way to prolong human life or invent a means of inducing limitless suspension of life during a multicentury journey, we can send humans to the nearest stars and their planetary systems. If we create human colonies in space, their inhabitants might undergo evolutionary changes that make them more fit for space travel. If, as is likely to happen soon, we can manipulate the human genome as we like, we could manufacture a new set of beings designed for space travel.

None of these “ifs” tells us much about what we should do within the next few years. Nor do they rule out machines as superior to whatever humans we may invent. Designs now exist for spacecraft that include photography and radio communication equipment, but which weigh only one-thirtieth of an ounce. These could be accelerated by lasers to 20 percent of the speed of light and reach the closest stars within a couple of decades. This concept leads to the mind-bending, though hardly impossible, notion that eventually we can send human consciousness, downloaded from individuals or created by artificial intelligence, to nanoexplorers that will range through the vastness of space in the name of humanity. Possibly, they may meet and interact with similar probes from an array of other civilizations.

Meanwhile we would do well to ponder the current advantages that our automated explorers of realms close to Earth maintain over their human counterparts.

October 1, 2023

14 min read

Why We’ll Never Live in Space

Medical, financial and ethical hurdles stand in the way of the dream to settle in space

By Sarah Scoles

Illustration of a woman at a desk and her dog living in a spacecraft.

Tavis Coburn

N ASA wants astronaut boots back on the moon a few years from now, and the space agency is investing heavily in its Artemis program to make it happen. It's part of an ambitious and risky plan to establish a more permanent human presence off-world. Companies such as United Launch Alliance and Lockheed Martin are designing infrastructure for lunar habitation. Elon Musk has claimed SpaceX will colonize Mars. But are any of these plans realistic? Just how profoundly difficult would it be to live beyond Earth—especially considering that outer space seems designed to kill us?

Humans evolved for and adapted to conditions on Earth. Move us off our planet, and we start to fail—physically and psychologically. The cancer risk from cosmic rays and the problems that human bodies experience in microgravity could be deal-breakers on their own. Moreover, there may not be a viable economic case for sustaining a presence on another world. Historically, there hasn't been much public support for spending big money on it. Endeavors toward interplanetary colonization also bring up thorny ethical issues that most space optimists haven't fully grappled with.

At the 2023 Analog Astronaut Conference, none of these problems seemed unsolvable. Scientists and space enthusiasts were gathered at Biosphere 2, a miniature Earth near Tucson, Ariz., which researchers had built partly to simulate a space outpost. Amid this crowd, the conclusion seemed foregone: living in space is humans' destiny, an inevitable goal that we must reach toward.

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The conference attendees know it's a big dream. But their general outlook was summed up by Phil Hawes, chief architect for Biosphere 2, who gave the opening talk at the meeting. He recited a toast made by the first team to camp out here decades ago: "Here's to throwing your heart out in front of you and running to catch up with it."

The question remains as to whether we can—and will—ever run fast enough.

In 1991 eight people entered Biosphere 2 and lived inside for two years. This strange facility is a 3.14-acre oasis where scientists have re-created different terrestrial environments—not unlike an overgrown botanical garden. There's an ocean, mangrove wetlands, a tropical rainforest, a savanna grassland and a fog desert, all set apart from the rest of the planet they're mimicking. One goal, alongside learning about ecology and Earth itself, was to learn about how humans might someday live in space, where they would have to create a self-contained and self-sustaining place for themselves. Biosphere 2, located on Biosphere 1 (Earth), was practice. The practice, though, didn't quite work out. The encapsulated environment didn't produce enough oxygen, water or food for the inhabitants—a set of problems that, of course, future moon or Mars dwellers could also encounter. The first mission and a second one a few years later were also disrupted by interpersonal conflicts and psychological problems among the residents.

Today the people who participate in projects like Biosphere 2—simulating some aspect of long-term space travel while remaining firmly on Earth—are called analog astronauts. And although it's a niche pursuit, it's also popular: There are analog astronaut facilities in places such as Utah, Hawaii, Texas and Antarctica. People are building or planning them in Oman, Kenya and Israel. And they all share the goal of learning how to live off Earth while on Earth.

The people who are mingling on Biosphere's patio, where the desert sunset casts a pink light on the habitat's glass exterior, are part of that analog world. Some of them have participated in simulation projects or have built their own analog astronaut facilities; others are just analog-curious. They are astronomers, geologists, former military personnel, mail carriers, medical professionals, FedEx employees, musicians, artists, analysts, lawyers and the owner of the Tetris Company. On this night many have donned Star Wars costumes. As the sun goes down, they watch the rising moon, where many here would like to see humans settle.

Human bodies really can't handle space. Spaceflight damages DNA, changes the microbiome, disrupts circadian rhythms, impairs vision, increases the risk of cancer, causes muscle and bone loss, inhibits the immune system, weakens the heart, and shifts fluids toward the head, which may be pathological for the brain over the long term—among other things.

At the University of California, San Francisco, medical researcher Sonja Schrepfer has dug into two of the conditions that afflict space explorers. Her research, using mice floating within the International Space Station, has revealed that blood vessels leading to the brain get stiffer in microgravity. It's part of why today's astronauts can't simply walk out of their capsules once they return to Earth, and it would play out the same way on Mars—where there's no one to wheel them to their new habitat on arrival. Schrepfer and her colleagues did, however, uncover a molecular pathway that might prevent those cardiovascular changes. "But now the question I try to understand is, 'Do we want that?'" she says. Maybe the vessels' stiffening is a protective mechanism, Schrepfer suggests, and limbering them up might cause other problems.

She also wants to figure out how to help astronauts' faltering immune systems, which look older and have a harder time repairing tissue damage than they should after spending time in space. "The immune system is aging quite fast in microgravity," Schrepfer says. She sends biological samples from young, healthy people on Earth up to orbit on tissue chips and tracks how they degrade.

Vision and bone problems are also among the more serious side effects. When astronauts spend a month or more in space, their eyeballs flatten, one aspect of a condition called spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome, which can cause long-lasting damage to eyesight. Bones and muscles are built for life on Earth, which involves the ever present pull of gravity. The work the body does against gravity to stay upright and move around keeps muscles from atrophying and stimulates bone growth. In space, without a force to push against, astronauts can experience bone loss that outpaces bone growth, and their muscles shrink. That's why they must do hours of exercise every day, using specialized equipment that helps to simulate some of the forces their anatomy would feel on the ground—and even this training doesn't fully alleviate the loss.

Perhaps the most significant concern about bodies in space, though, is radiation, something that is manageable for today's astronauts flying in low-Earth orbit but would be a bigger deal for people traveling farther and for longer. Some of it comes from the sun, which spews naked protons that can damage DNA, particularly during solar storms. "[That] could make you very, very sick and give you acute radiation syndrome," says Dorit Donoviel, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH).

Future astronauts could use water—perhaps pumped into the walls of a shelter—to shield themselves from these protons. But scientists don't always know when the sun will be spitting out lots of particles. "So if, for example, astronauts are exploring the surface of the moon, and there is a solar particle event coming, we probably have the capability of predicting it within about 20 to 30 minutes max," Donoviel says. That means we need better prediction and detection—and we'd need astronauts to stay close to their H2O shield.

If you didn't get to safety in time, the nausea would come first. "You would vomit into your spacesuit," Donoviel says, "which now becomes a life-threatening situation" because the vomit could interfere with life-support systems, or you might breathe it in. Then comes the depletion of cells such as neutrophils and red blood cells, meaning you can't battle germs or give your tissues oxygen effectively. You'll be tired, anemic, unable to fight infection, and throwing up. Maybe you'll die. See why lots of kids want to be astronauts when they grow up?


From September 1991 to September 1993, eight people lived inside the Biosphere 2 research facility in Arizona, helping scientists learn how humans might live in outer space. Credit: Science History Images/Alamy Stock Photo

There's another type of radiation, galactic cosmic rays, that even a lot of water won't block. This radiation is made of fast-moving elements—mostly hydrogen but also every natural substance in the periodic table. The rays burst forth from celestial events such as supernovae and have a lot more energy and mass than a mere proton. "We really cannot fully shield astronauts from them," Donoviel says. And inadequately shielding explorers makes the problem worse: the rays would split when they hit a barrier, making more, smaller particles.

The radiation an astronaut en route to Mars might get from galactic cosmic rays at any one time is a small dose. But if you're on a spaceship or a planetary surface for years, the calculus changes. Imagine, Donoviel says, being in a room with a few mosquitoes. Five or 10 minutes? Fine. Days? Months? You're in for a whole lot more itching—or, in this case, cancer risk.

Because shielding astronauts isn't realistic, Donoviel's TRISH is researching how to help the body repair radiative damage and developing chemical compounds astronauts could take to help fix DNA damage in wounds as they occur. "Everybody's worried about waiting for the cancer to happen and then killing the cancer," Donoviel says. "We're really taking the preventive approach."

Even if most of the body's issues can be fixed, the brain remains a problem. A 2021 review paper in Clinical Neuropsychiatry laid out the psychological risks that astronauts face on their journey, according to existing research on spacefarers and analog astronauts: poor emotional regulation, reduced resilience, increased anxiety and depression, communication problems within the team, sleep disturbances, and decreased cognitive and motor functioning brought on by stress. To imagine why these issues arise, picture yourself in a tin can with a small crew, a deadly environment outside, a monotonous schedule, an unnatural daytime-nighttime cycle and mission controllers constantly on your case.

Physical and mental health problems—though dire—aren't even necessarily the most immediate hurdles to making a space settlement happen. The larger issue is the cost. And who's going to pay for it? Those who think a billionaire space entrepreneur is likely to fund a space colony out of a sense of adventure or altruism (or bad judgment) should think again. Commercial space companies are businesses, and businesses' goals include making money. "What is the business case?" asks Matthew Weinzierl, a professor at Harvard Business School and head of its Economics of Space research efforts.

For the past couple of years Weinzierl and his colleague Brendan Rousseau have been trying to work out what the demand is for space exploration and pursuits beyond Earth. "There's been a ton of increase in supply and cutting of costs of space activity," Weinzierl says, "but who's on the other side?" Space companies have historically been insular: specialists creating things for specialists, not marketing wares or services to the broader world. Even commercial undertakings such as SpaceX are supported mostly by government contracts. Company leaders haven't always thought through the capitalism of their ideas; they're just excited that the rockets and widgets work. "Technical feasibility does not equal a strong business case," Rousseau says.

Today private spaceflight companies target tourists for business when they're not targeting federal contracts. But those tourists aren't protected by the same safety regulations that apply to government astronauts, and an accident could stifle the space tourism industry. Stifling, too, is the fact that only so many people with money are likely to want to live on a place like Mars rather than take a short joyride above the atmosphere, so the vacation business case for permanent space outposts breaks down there as well.


The Biosphere 2 research facility in Arizona houses a greenhouse. Credit: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

People tend to liken space exploration to expansion on Earth—pushing the frontier. But on the edge of terrestrial frontiers, people were seeking, say, gold or more farmable land. In space, explorers can't be sure of the value proposition at their destination. "So we have to be a little bit careful about thinking that it will just somehow pay off," Weinzierl points out.

Weinzierl and Rousseau find the idea of a sustained human presence in space inspiring, but they're not sure when or how it will work from a financial perspective. After all, inspiration doesn't pay invoices. "We'd love to see that happening," Rousseau says—he thinks lots of people would. "As long as we're not the ones footing the bill."

Many taxpayers would probably agree. As hard as it is for space fans to believe, most people don't place much value on astronaut adventures. A 2023 Pew poll asked participants to rate the importance of nine of NASA's key missions as "top priority," "important but lower priority," or "not too important/should not be done." Just 12 and 11 percent of people thought sending humans to Mars and to the moon, respectively, should be a top priority. That placed those missions at the bottom of the list in terms of support, behind more popular efforts such as monitoring Earth's climate, watching for dangerous asteroids and doing basic scientific research on space in general.

Similarly, a 2020 poll from Morning Consult found that just 7 to 8 percent of respondents thought that sending humans to the moon or Mars should be a top priority. And although history tends to remember the previous moon exploration era as a time of universal excitement for human spaceflight, polls from the time demonstrate that that wasn't the case: "Consistently throughout the 1960s, a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969," wrote historian Roger Launius in a paper for Space Policy . "And consistently throughout the decade 45–60 percent of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space, indicative of a lack of commitment to the spaceflight agenda."

When space agency officials discuss why people should care about human exploration, they often say it's for the benefit of humanity. Sometimes they cite spin-offs that make their way to citizens as terrestrial technology—such as how telescope-mirror innovations improved laser eye surgery. But that argument doesn't do it for Linda Billings, a consultant who works with NASA. If you were interested in furthering a technology, she suggests, you could invest directly in the private sector instead of obliquely through a space agency, where its development will inevitably take longer, cost more and not be automatically tailored toward earthly use. "I don't see that NASA is producing any evidence that [human settlement of space] will be for the benefit of humanity," she says.

Whether tax dollars should support space travel is an ethical question, at least according to Brian Patrick Green of Santa Clara University. Green became interested in science's ethical issues when he worked in the Marshall Islands as a teacher. The U.S. used to detonate nuclear weapons there, causing lasting environmental and health damage. Now the islands face the threat of sea-level rise, which is likely to inundate much of their infrastructure, erode the coasts and shrink the usable land area. "That got me very interested in the social impacts of technology and what technology does to people and societies," he says.

In space travel, "Why?" is perhaps the most important ethical question. "What's the purpose here? What are we accomplishing?" Green asks. His own answer goes something like this: "It serves the value of knowing that we can do things—if we try really hard, we can actually accomplish our goals. It brings people together." But those somewhat philosophical benefits must be weighed against much more concrete costs, such as which other projects—Earth science research, robotic missions to other planets or, you know, outfitting this planet with affordable housing—aren't happening because money is going to the moon or Mars or Alpha Centauri.

And an even simpler ethical question is, "Should we actually send people on these sorts of things?" Green says. Aside from incurring significant risks of cancer and overall body deterioration, astronauts aiming to settle another world have a sizable chance of losing their lives. Even if they do live, there are issues with what kind of an existence they might have. "It's one thing just to survive," Green says. "But it's another thing to actually enjoy your life. Is Mars going to be the equivalent of torture?"

If people make the attempt, we will also have to acknowledge the risks to celestial bodies—the ones humans want to travel to as well as this one, which they may return to if they haven't purchased a one-way ticket. The moon, Mars or Europa could become contaminated by microscopic Earth life, which NASA has never successfully eradicated from spacecraft, although it tries as part of a "planetary protection" program. And if destination worlds have undetected life, then harmful extraterrestrial microbes could also return with astronauts or equipment—a planetary-protection risk called backward contamination. What obligation do explorers have to keep places as they found them? Setting aside the question of whether we can establish ourselves beyond Earth, we also owe it to ourselves and the universe to consider whether we should.

on this question, science-fiction scholar Gary Westfahl casts doubt on space travel's inherent value. In his vast analyses of sci-fi, he has come to view the logic and drive of the enterprise as faulty. "I inevitably encountered the same argument: space travel represents humanity's destiny," he says of the impetus for writing his essay "The Case against Space." Space explorers are often portrayed as braver and better than those who remain on their home planet: they're the ones pushing civilization forward. "Philosophically, I objected to the proposition that explorers into unknown realms represented the best and brightest of humanity, that progress could be achieved only by boldly venturing into unknown territories," Westfahl says. After all, a lot of smart and productive people (not to mention a lot of happy and stable people) don't spend their lives on the lam. "Clearly, history demonstrates no correlation between travel and virtue," he writes. "The history of our species powerfully suggests that progress will come from continued stable life on Earth, and that a vast new program of travel into space will lead to a new period of human stagnation," he concludes ominously.


Celestial bodies, including our moon, are at risk of contamination by microscopic Earth life. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

In some ways, the desire for simpler living is part of what motivates space explorers. Astronauts are stuck with just a few people they have to get along with, or else they'll be miserable—a communal way of living that's more common to villages. They must make do with the nearby supplies or create their own, like people did before Walmart and Amazon. Communication with those beyond their immediate sphere is slow and difficult. They have a strict but straightforward and prescribed work schedule. Everything is a struggle; there are no conveniences. Unlike in a modern, digitally connected environment, their attention isn't split in many directions—they are focused on the present. Or at least that's how analog astronaut Ashley Kowalski felt during the SIRIUS 21 endeavor, an eight-month-long joint U.S.-Russia "lunar mission" that took place in a sealed space in Moscow.

Kowalski's talk at the Analog Astronaut Conference at Biosphere 2 was called "Only Eight Months." The goal of those eight months was to study the medical and psychological effects of isolation. She and her teammates regularly provided blood, feces and skin samples so researchers could learn about their stress levels, metabolic function and immunological changes. Researchers also had them take psychological tests, sussing out their perception of time, changes in cognitive abilities and shifts in interpersonal interactions. Inside they had to eat like astronauts would, guzzling tubes of Sicilian pizza gel and burger gel. Kowalski would squeeze them into rehydrated soup to make meals heartier. Via their greenhouse, they got about a bowl of salad between the six of them every three weeks.

Kowalski missed freedom and food and friends, of course. But the real struggle came with her return to the real world once the isolation was over: "reentry, not to the atmosphere but to the planet," she told the conference audience. She didn't remember how to go about having friends, hobbies or a job and had trouble dealing with requests coming from lots of sources instead of just mission control. In the Q&A period after the talk, Tara Sweeney, a geologist in the audience, thanked Kowalski for talking about that part of the experience. Sweeney had just returned from a long stay in Antarctica and also didn't quite know how to reintegrate into life in a more hospitable place. They had both missed "Earth," the real world. But it was hard to come back.

Still, the Analog Astronaut Conference crowd remained optimistic. "Where do we go from here?" conference founder and actual astronaut Sian Proctor asked at one point. On cue, the audience members pointed upward and said, "To the moon!"

Analog-astronaut work can't solve space travel's hardest problems—the intractable medical troubles, the in-red money questions, the touchy ethical quandaries. But while we all wait to see whether we'll ever truly migrate off this planet, and whether we should, these grounded astronauts will continue to escape Earth, for a time at least, without leaving it.

Sarah Scoles is a Colorado-based science journalist, a contributing editor at Scientific American and Popular Science, and a senior contributor at Undark . She is author of Making Contact (2017) and They Are Already Here (2020), both published by Pegasus Books. Her newest book is Countdown: The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons (Bold Type Books, 2024).

Scientific American Magazine Vol 329 Issue 3

NASA scientists consider the health risks of space travel

NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn (at left) and Kayla Barron are seen outside of the Quest airlock at the International Space Station during a spacewalk on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. Experts are continuing to study how space affects the human body.

Humans aren't built to live in space, and being there can pose serious health risks . For space administrations like NASA, a major goal is to identify these risks to hopefully help lessen them. 

That was a major theme during NASA’s Spaceflight for Everybody Virtual Symposium in November, a virtual symposium dedicated to discussing current knowledge and research efforts around the impact of spaceflight on human health. During a panel discussion titled “Human Health Risks in the Development of Future Programs” on Nov. 9, NASA scientists discussed these risks and how they are using existing knowledge to plan future missions. 

Each panelist emphasized that the health risks presented by space travel are complex and multifaceted and that all types of risks should be considered closely when planning future missions. 

Related:  Space travel can seriously change your brain  

Five types of risk

When discussing the risks presented by living in space and space travel, there are five main types, the scientists outlined in the presentation. 

Two types of risk, radiation and altered gravity, come simply from being in space, they said. Research has shown that both can have major negative effects on the body, and even the brain . Others, like isolation and confinement as well as being in a hostile closed environment, encompass risks posed by the living situations that are necessary in space, including risks to both mental and physical health. 

Then, there are the risks presented simply by being a long way from Earth. The farther humans get from the Earth, the riskier living in space becomes in almost every way. 

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Everything from fresh food to unexpired medication will be extremely difficult to make accessible with longer journeys farther away. On the International Space Station, astronauts aren’t too far from us, and we can routinely send supplies to the crews in orbit. But a mission to the moon or Mars would pose more problems. 

Communication delays would increase, and there would likely be communication blackouts, said Sharmi Watkins, assistant director for exploration in NASA’s Human Health and Performance Directorate who served as a panelist for this discussion.   She said it would also take longer to get back to Earth if there was a medical emergency. 

"We're not going to measure it in hours, but rather in days, in the case of the moon, and potentially weeks or months, when we start to think about Mars," said Watkins.

Steve Platts, the chief scientist in NASA’s human research program, broke down different levels of risk in space and discussed how NASA uses a "phased approach" when it comes to research on human health. In this approach, initial "phases" include research on the health effects of being in space has also been done in simulated conditions on Earth, from isolation experiments in Antarctica to radiation exposure at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York. Likewise, experiments on the space station will help us to prepare for risk on the moon and Mars — these later phases build on knowledge gained from simulations. 

"We do work on Earth, we do work on low earth orbit and then we'll be doing lunar missions, all to help us get to Mars," Platts said. 

— Deep-space radiation could cause have big impacts on the brain, mouse experiment shows

— Without gravity, the fluid around an astronaut's brain moves in weird ways

— Long space missions can change astronaut brain structure and function

Still, no matter how much we may prepare on Earth, every space mission comes with risk, so NASA has set health standards to minimize this risk for astronauts. 

NASA has over 800 health standards that they’ve developed based on current research. These standards describe everything from how much space astronauts should have in a spacecraft to how much muscle and bone loss an astronaut can experience without being seriously harmed. These standards also include levels of physical fitness and health the astronauts need to meet before going into space. All of NASA’s health standards for astronauts are available online . 

A mission can impact astronauts’ health, but it also works the other way — health troubles with astronauts could impact a mission if they aren’t able to perform mission tasks adequately, said Mary Van Baalen, acting director of human system risk management at NASA and the panel’s moderator. She emphasized the complex interplay between these two types of impacts, both of which NASA scientists must keep in mind when planning missions. 

"Space travel is an inherently risky endeavor," she said. "And the nature of human risk is complex."

You can watch the full recording of the panel discussion and other talks from the symposium here . 

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Join our Space Forums  to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:  [email protected].

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected].

Rebecca Sohn

Rebecca Sohn is a freelance science writer. She writes about a variety of science, health and environmental topics, and is particularly interested in how science impacts people's lives. She has been an intern at CalMatters and STAT, as well as a science fellow at Mashable. Rebecca, a native of the Boston area, studied English literature and minored in music at Skidmore College in Upstate New York and later studied science journalism at New York University. 

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The Illogical Case for Space

Over the past few months, I’ve written a half-dozen columns examining the ethics and rationale behind a variety of space initiatives. But there’s one central question that I have yet to tackle: Why should we care about space exploration in the first place?

Some space enthusiasts choose to ignore this question altogether. If you ask them why you ought to care about space, they might look at you like you’re crazy — “Well, why wouldn’t you? Are you, like, against science or something?” But when billions of taxpayer dollars are going into space-related research every year, and the benefit to the public is not always evident, the “why” question needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, the common arguments in favor of space exploration have glaring holes in their logic.

Take a hypothetical space enthusiast. He might begin his defense of space spending by citing all the useful technologies that have been created as a result of space exploration. This point is indisputable — the list of technologies that NASA has produced or refined is extensive , ranging from portable laptops to baby formula. But if our primary desire is the production of useful consumer technologies, a space agency doesn’t seem like the most intuitive place to invest. Plenty of other industries could produce similar technologies if given NASA’s multi-billion dollar budget, and they likely could do so more efficiently, given that the development of these technologies is only one small part of NASA’s overall mission.

The space geek might then point out that going after NASA for financial reasons is misguided. After all, NASA’s funding only makes up 0.5 percent of the total U.S. budget; if you really wanted to save money, you’d best look elsewhere. But this is where we wade into politically divisive waters — what exactly can we scale back instead of NASA? If you said (as I’m inclined to) that the military is the most deserving of a budget cut, you’d immediately lose the attention of many conservative listeners. A call to slash social spending would be dismissed by the progressive bloc. It would be nigh-impossible to find any element of the U.S. budget that could be slashed with bipartisan support — that is, perhaps, besides NASA itself.

At this point, the space fanatic might pull out one last desperate card: Space research is necessary in order to protect the human race. If we never branch out to other planets, then we’re all sitting ducks waiting to be wiped out by the next extinction event. And, indeed, this might be true in the long term. But in the short term, we don’t have the capability to transport humans to another planet en masse, and making a distant planet fully habitable is certainly out of reach. So, for now, it’s more important to keep Earth safe than to start colonizing another planet; fighting existential threats like climate change is actually feasible, and climate research could certainly benefit from an annual budget of $22.6 billion.

So, it seems, our space enthusiast has failed to provide a convincing defense of space spending.

Now for the dramatic twist — that hypothetical space advocate was actually me, about two days ago, when I sat down to write this final column. At first, I wanted to write a traditional defense of space spending, but I quickly realized that every argument I constructed or encountered online had major holes in its logic. As a result, I was forced to ask myself: Does my deeply-held passion for space exploration actually have no logical basis?

And, I realized, the answer is yes. The very act of exploring space — launching humans on giant hunks of metal to go wander around distant space rocks — is a deeply illogical undertaking. Still, millions of humans across the globe are inspired by daring space missions, even if those missions offer no tangible benefit to their own lives.

To me, this is because space research — from the search for extraterrestrial life to figuring out how to get humans to Mars — is more of a spiritual pursuit than a pragmatic one. It excites and fascinates us; it satisfies our collective desire to learn more about the unknown — to go where we’ve never been before. Space allows us to explore our deepest questions about the nature of our role in the universe.

Asking why we should fund space exploration is like asking why we should fund art. Arguments rooted in pragmatism miss the point — that space exploration is for the heart and soul.

That said, not everyone will get the same fulfillment from space, like not everyone finds value in the same work of art. So, it’s important that we space advocates be flexible in order to keep our dream alive.

When pragmatists point out that the money currently going towards space seems excessive, we should say, “You know, you might be right,” and look for alternatives — like an emphasis on less-expensive unmanned space exploration or partnerships between NASA and private companies. When they tell us that some space initiatives — like terraforming — are unrealistic, we should abandon those goals. And when they ask what tangible benefits can be reaped from outer space, we should point out the potential opportunities to turn a profit — like asteroid mining .

These are all ideas that I’ve explored in this column. I’m obviously one of the people who finds great spiritual fulfillment through our exploration of space, but I completely understand that not everyone feels the same way. I urge my fellow space enthusiasts to recognize that our passion is not shared by everyone; in response, we should always be looking for cheaper and more efficient ways to carry out the big goals that we would love to see accomplished.

If we want to take the next giant leaps, we mustn’t step on too many toes.

Daniel L. Leonard ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint History of Science and Philosophy concentrator in Winthrop House.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 15, 2020.

Revive the US space program? How about not

Space exploration is an incredibly expensive and unnecessary way to ignore the many problems here on earth

I t’s been a half century since Gil Scott-Heron recorded the spoken-word poem Whitey on the Moon for his 1970 debut album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox: “I can’t pay no doctor bill/ (but Whitey’s on the moon)/ Ten years from now I’ll be paying still/ (while Whitey’s on the moon).”

The year before, the same administration that successfully led Apollo to the moon assassinated Black Panther deputy chairman Fred Hampton and party member Mark Clark. Police had raided the Stonewall Inn and the US supreme court had only just ordered the desegregation of public schools in the south. One in 10 families lived in poverty, Black people at a rate three times that of white people. The US space program was a sprawling and expensive endeavor, perhaps too complicated a subject to understand in one sitting, but its cost was apparent. An “inner city” high school teacher quoted in a 1969 article from the Nation said: “Every time one of those things blasts off I can’t think of anything except all that money we need here on earth.’’ While the fantasy of “out there” was trotted around the world as the next step in human advancement, people on the ground were suffering.

In 2017, the Trump administration launched the Artemis space program, with the goal of putting the first woman (and next man) on the moon by 2024, an endeavor costing in excess of $30bn. In May of 2019, Jim Bridenstine, former administrator of Nasa, said of the program, “I have a daughter who is 11 years old, and I want her to be able to see herself in the same role as the next women who go to the moon see themselves in today.” The moon has been a lodestar of optimism and exploration for decades. During the Apollo 11 pre-flight news conference, Neil Armstrong said, “I think we’re going to the moon because it’s in the nature of the human being to face challenges.”

But that quintessential human being is a myth, those challenges unmet. There is a distinction to be made between the people of earth and the people from earth. In that gap, the most expendable cease to exist.

Last month, aerospace researchers at the University of Arizona proposed a plan for a “lunar ark”, capable of storing 6.7m cryogenically frozen plant, animal, and fungi species, an insurance policy against the volatility of life on Earth that would run a rough estimate of hundreds of billions of dollars.

When the vastness of space is cited as a means of escape from disaster, it’s exceedingly difficult not to believe nihilism acts as the prime motivator. Rather than sparking inspiration, it speaks of blatant fatalism about what is worth saving, a preference for the lofty and unpopulated that rewards cognitive dissonance with delusions of innovation and heroism. The concept of space as a clean slate comes with the caveat that only a select few are worthy of salvation, that escape will lead to freedom, that whoever builds the future will have learned from the mistakes of the people they left behind, that all of this will justify the costs needed. How condescending.

And a few days after the “lunar ark” proposal, the Society of Jesus, better-known as the Jesuits, announced a $100m initiative of racial reconciliation to atone for the Catholic order’s slave-owning history. Days after, eight people, six of them Asian women, were murdered in a spa in Atlanta.

The gap between science fiction and reality has often been seen as a marker of human progress, technology as the slippery Promethean knowledge through which every problem might eventually be solved. Folded into this is the idea that these advancements reflect our collective ambitions – records broken, processes streamlined, representation expanded – all with a hope (a word that often functions like an incantation) for the best versions of ourselves to prevail. That these advancements are usually state-funded with some sort of military involvement, or privately hoarded to maintain exclusivity, is rarely challenged. Government, as an apparatus that reflects and inflicts the biases and prejudices of its members onto the public, escapes interrogation. And only when burdensome subjects like bigotry and inequality are reframed as viruses, sicknesses, diseases to be spread, do they receive any rigorous attention. This is par for the course, as science in the mainstream tends to be separated from on-the-ground events and from history. The truth is that none of these things occur in a vacuum.

In 2016, A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service . On the opening track The Space Program, the trio continue the same conversation Gil Scott-Heron contributed to in 1970. “Put it on TV, put it in movies, put it in our face/ These notions and ideas and citizens live in space/ I chuckle just like all of y’all, absurdity, after all/ Takes money to get it running and money for trees to fall.”

Nicholas Russell is a contributor to The Believer, The Point, Reverse Shot and other publications

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Space exploration is not a luxury, it’s a necessity

why is space travel unnecessary

Candidat au doctorat en océanographie, Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR)

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Daniel Fillion does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Oh, come on Daniel, space travel is so expensive, and pointless!

These were the words of my friend Max, during a Christmas party where I was discussing my thesis project: studying places on Earth where the living conditions are so extreme, they could hold lessons for future space missions .

This disdainful attitude toward space research is actually quite common.

Space exploration is currently booming. Just think of the Artemis missions, SpaceX’s ambitious plans for Mars, the deployment of the James Webb telescope or the recent “race to the moon.”

A number of large-scale projects are getting the green light now, mainly from NASA, including the Artemis II mission that will carry four astronauts to the moon, which will have Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen aboard . This will be a first since 1972. Incredibly, it’s been 50 years since the last human mission to Earth’s natural satellite.

4 astroonauts

Although many people find space exploration inspiring, others are skeptical and even angered by what they see as an unjustifiable waste of resources and money on an activity that only spreads pollution to another place. This sums up the feelings of my friend Max.

In this article, I will try to prove him wrong.

Humans are explorers first

My great curiosity has led me to travel to extreme places so I can study them . But I am not the only one with this desire to explore.

In my Grade 9 history class, my teacher stood on top of her desk and, with a grave and serious tone, went on to act out Jacques Cartier’s arrival in North America in her own, colourful style. A few years earlier, I had learned about how the first humans left their caves to climb mountains. One hundred and thirty years ago, humans sailed further and further south until they saw the glacial landscapes of Antarctica for the first time . At the same time, humans were attempting to dominate the skies and aiming for the beyond with planes and rockets — which is how we got to the moon.

What is the common denominator in our history? Exploration, of course.

Human nature is characterized by a propensity to travel, to look further and to discover. We are all curious by nature. If we stop wanting to explore, we stop being human.

The Earth has rings

So, my friend Max, let me invite you outside. It’s a beautiful, starry night with no moon. It’s a bit cold, but at least the atmosphere isn’t too humid, which makes the sky more transparent. We can see stars flickering. Some are blue, others are red. And the more our eyes adapt, the more the sky reveals its secrets.

Suddenly, something else stands out. It’s another light, but it’s not flashing, and it’s moving quite quickly. A shooting star? No, the atmosphere would have burned it up in a few seconds .

It’s a satellite, one of thousands that orbit the Earth like rings. These satellites are a direct consequence of space exploration. We would be living in a completely different world without them.

Indeed, not an hour goes by in our lives when we don’t use a satellite .

why is space travel unnecessary

On the one hand, you would likely have gotten lost on your way here, Max, because there would have been no GPS to show you which exit to take. And secondly, I wouldn’t have been able to help you find your way because there would be no wifi. We can push our thinking even further; agriculture, environmental monitoring, communications, the weather, even banks, all of these depend on satellites.

But how does this work? You have to understand that these satellites move so quickly they actually circle the Earth several times a day. Combined with a very large workforce, they provide a complete view of the globe. From the middle of the oceans to the highest mountains and the almost inaccessible poles, we have eyes everywhere. By drawing on this vast quantity of observations, we obtain data on changes to the earth’s surface, the spread of forest fires, the movement of winds, the melting of ice and many other things, while enabling global communication and credit card transactions .

Space exploration was the trigger that enabled us to develop and operate these technologies. And it doesn’t stop there.

Two birds, one stone

The practice of medicine in remote areas also benefits from space exploration. It’s not easy for communities in remote areas to access health care, especially since hospitals don’t always have the sophisticated equipment they need.

If you think about it, when astronauts explore space, they become a small population in a very, very remote region. It’s true. What happens if someone has a really bad stomach ache? Or breaks an arm? They don’t have time to come back home for treatment, so we have to react, and quickly.

Scientific research in telemedicine has developed to address this important issue, producing a number of innovative technologies. And if these are useful for astronauts, why not use them for rural populations, too?

A few years ago, three Québec researchers from different universities were working on a tiny probe that could rapidly analyze and diagnose a blood sample .

Although some prototypes are not yet on the market, others are already in widespread use, such as the ultrasound scanner designed by NASA . This scanner takes precise photos of organs and bones that can be transmitted to a doctor, who will then have crucial information on hand to recommend treatments.

In a way, space exploration provides us with opportunities to respond to urgent needs on Earth. So, Max, are you beginning to see the need for it?

Another perspective

Finally, I have to admit that I find it rather encouraging to see Russians, Americans, Japanese, Canadians and Europeans living together on the Space Station. Not so long ago, some of these countries were attacking each other with nuclear bombs. In space, no such borders exist.

Exploration brings people together. It opens our eyes to new perspectives. It shows us that we’re all in the same boat together. That’s pretty important, don’t you think, Max?

why is space travel unnecessary

Our planet is magnificent and unique, an oasis of impossible life. But it is fragile. We need to protect it. That’s why exploring beyond the Earth should not be considered a luxury; it’s an investment in our shared humanity.

So, Max, when Jeremy Hansen and his crew take off in 2025, will you be there to watch them?

This article was originally published in French

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Comment and Space

Why space is the impossible frontier.

By Theunis Piersma

10 November 2010

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Encouraging words, but could our bodies handle it?

(Image: NASA)

Dreams of long-haul space travel or even colonisation ignore basic biological constraints that anchor us firmly to the Earth, argues Theunis Piersma

AT A news conference before his first experience of weightlessness in 2007, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said that he hoped his zero-gravity flight would encourage public interest in space exploration. He argued that with an ever-increasing risk of wiping ourselves out on Earth, humans would need to colonise space.

Hawking has since argued that we must do this within two centuries or else face extinction . He was no doubt encouraged by US President Barack Obama’s announcement in April this year of a new initiative to send people to Mars by 2030 .

Hawking, Obama and other proponents of long-term space travel are making a grave error. Humans cannot leave Earth for the several years that it takes to travel to Mars and back, for the simple reason that our biology is intimately connected to Earth.

To function properly, we need gravity. Without it, the environment is less demanding on the human body in several ways, and this shows upon the return to Earth. Remember the sight of weakened astronauts emerging after the Apollo missions? That is as nothing compared with what would happen to astronauts returning from Mars.

One of the first things to be affected is the heart, which shrinks by as much as a quarter after just one week in orbit ( The New England Journal of Medicine , vol 358, p 1370 ). Heart atrophy leads to decreases in blood pressure and the amount of blood pushed out by the heart. In this way heart atrophy leads to reduced exercise capacity. Astronauts returning to Earth after several months in the International Space Station experience dizziness and blackouts because blood does not reach their brains in sufficient quantities.

Six weeks in bed leads to about as much atrophy of the heart as one week in space, suggesting that the atrophy is caused by both weightlessness and the concomitant reduction in exercise.

Other muscle tissue suffers too. The effects of weightlessness on the muscles of the limbs are easy to verify experimentally. Because they bear the body’s weight, the “anti-gravity” muscles of the thighs and calves degenerate significantly when they are made redundant during space flight.

Despite the best attempts to give replacement exercise to crew members on the International Space Station, after six months they had still lost 13 per cent of their calf muscle volume and 32 per cent of the maximum power that their leg muscles could deliver ( Journal of Applied Physiology , vol 106, p 1159 ).

Various metabolic changes also occur, including a decreased capacity for fat oxidation, which can lead to the build-up of fat in atrophied muscle. Space travellers also suffer deterioration of immune function both during and after their missions ( Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine , vol 79, p 835 ).

Arguably the most fearsome effect on bodies is bone loss ( The Lancet , vol 355, p 1569 ). Although the hardness and strength of bone, and the relative ease with which it fossilises, give it an appearance of permanence, bone is actually a living and remarkably flexible tissue. In the late 19th century, the German anatomist Julius Wolff discovered that bones adjust to the loads that they are placed under. A decrease in load leads to the loss of bone material, while an increase leads to thicker bone.

It is no surprise, then, that in the microgravity of space bones demineralise, especially those which normally bear the greatest load. Cosmonauts who spent half a year in space lost up to a quarter of the material in their shin bones, despite intensive exercise ( The Lancet , vol 355, p 1607 ). Although experiments on chicken embryos on the International Space Station have established that bone formation does continue in microgravity, formation rates are overtaken by bone loss.

What is of greatest concern here is that, unlike muscle loss which levels off with time, bone loss seems to continue at a steady rate of 1 to 2 per cent for every month of weightlessness. During a three-year mission to Mars, space travellers could lose around 50 per cent of their bone material, which would make it extremely difficult to return to Earth and its gravitational forces. Bone loss during space travel certainly brings home the maxim “use it or lose it”.

“Losing 50 per cent of bone material would make it extremely difficult to return to Earth’s gravity”

Bone loss is not permanent. Within six months of their return to Earth, those cosmonauts who spent half a year in space did show partial recovery of bone mass. However, even after a year of recovery, men who had been experimentally exposed to three months of total bed rest had not fully regained all the lost bone, though their calf muscles had recovered much earlier ( Bone , vol 44, p 214 ).

Space agencies will have to become very creative in addressing the issue of bone loss during flights to Mars. There are concepts in development for spacecraft with artificial gravity, but nobody even knows what gravitational force is needed to avoid the problems. So far, boneless creatures such as jellyfish are much more likely than people to be able to return safely to Earth after multi-year space trips. For humans, gravity is a Mars bar.

The impossibility of an escape to space is just one of many examples of how our bodies, and those of our fellow organisms, are inseparable from the environments in which we live. In our futuristic ambitions we should not forget that our minds and bodies are connected to Earth as by an umbilical cord.

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How bad is space tourism for the environment? And other space travel questions, answered.

Six questions to consider before launching yourself into space.

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Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew Jeff Bezos, Wally Funk, Oliver Daemen, and Mark Bezos walk near the booster rocket to pose for a picture after their flight into space.

For many, the rise of commercial space tourism is a vulgar display of wealth and power . Amid several global crises, including climate change and a pandemic, billionaires are spending their cash on launching themselves into space for fun. When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told reporters after his first space tourism trip on Tuesday that Amazon customers and employees had “paid” for his flight, that only intensified that criticism.

But critics won’t deter Bezos and the other superrich. Space tourism is now a reality for the people who can afford it — and it will have repercussions for everyone on Earth.

In fact, all signs indicate that the market for these trips is already big enough that they’ll keep happening. Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight company Blue Origin already has two more trips scheduled later this year , while Virgin Galactic , the space firm founded by billionaire Richard Branson, has at least 600 people who have already paid around $250,000 each for future tickets on its spaceplane.

Now, as the commercial space tourism market (literally) gets off the ground, there are big questions facing future space travelers — and everyone else on the planet. Here are answers to the six biggest ones.

1. What will people actually be able to see and experience on a space trip?

The biggest perk of traveling to space is the view. Just past the boundary between space and Earth, passengers can catch a stunning glimpse of our planet juxtaposed against the wide unknown of space. If a passenger is riding on a Virgin Galactic flight, they will get about 53 miles above sea level. Blue Origin riders will get a little bit higher, about 62 miles above sea level and past the Kármán line, the internationally recognized boundary between Earth and space. Overall, the experience on both flights is pretty similar.

Welcome aboard #Unity22 , Virgin Galactic's first fully-crewed test flight. Watch the historic moment through the eyes of our mission specialists. — Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 13, 2021

The view is meant to be awe-inducing, and the experience even has its own name: the Overview Effect . “​​When you see Earth from that high up, it changes your perspective on things and how interconnected we are and how we squander that here on Earth,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told Recode.

Another perk of these trips is that space tourists will feel a few minutes of microgravity, which is when gravity feels extremely weak . That will give them the chance to bounce around a spacecraft weightlessly before heading back to Earth.

But Blue Origin’s and Virgin Galactic’s flights are relatively brief — about 10 and 90 minutes long , respectively. Other space tourism flights from SpaceX, the space company founded by Elon Musk , will have more to offer. This fall, billionaire Jared Isaacman, who founded the company Shift4 Payments, will pilot SpaceX’s first all-civilian flight, the Inspiration4 , which will spend several days in orbit around Earth. In the coming years, the company has also planned private missions to the International Space Station, as well as a trip around the moon .

These trips are meant to be enjoyed by space nerds who longed to be astronauts. But there’s another reason rich people want to go to space: demonstrating exclusivity and conspicuous consumption. More than a few people can afford a trip to Venice or the Maldives. But how many people are privileged enough to take a trip to space?

“What a nice way of showing off these days than to post a picture on Instagram from space,” Sridhar Tayur, a Carnegie Mellon business professor, told Recode.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos)

2. Does commercial space travel have any scientific goals, or is it really just a joyride?

Right now, space tourism flights from Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have only reached suborbital space , which means that flights enter space but do not enter orbit around Earth. Scientifically, that’s not a new frontier. Though these current flights use new technology, suborbital flight with humans aboard was accomplished by NASA back in the early 1960s , Matthew Hersch, a historian of technology at Harvard, told Recode.

Right now, it’s not clear these trips will offer scientists major new insights, but they might provide information that could be used in the future for space exploration. In fact, these trips are also being marketed as potential opportunities for scientific experiments. For instance, the most recent Virgin Galactic flight carried plants and tested how they responded to microgravity .

These private companies primarily see opportunities in their commercial vehicles that can be reused at scale, which will allow the same rockets (or in Virgin Galactic’s case, spaceplanes) to go to space again and again, which lowers the overall cost of space tourism.

Billionaires and their private space companies also see the development of these rockets as an opportunity to prepare for flights that will do even more, and go even farther, into space. Bezos, for instance, has argued that New Shepard’s suborbital flights will help prepare the company’s future missions, including its New Glenn rocket, which is meant for orbital space.

“The fact of the matter is, the architecture and the technology we have chosen is complete overkill for a suborbital tourism mission,” Bezos said at Tuesday’s post-launch briefing . “We have chosen the vertical landing architecture. Why did we do that? Because it scales.”

Beyond potential scientific advancements in the future, suborbital spaceflight might also create new ways to travel from one place on earth to another. SpaceX, for instance, has advertised that long-haul flights could be shortened to just 30 minutes by traveling through space.

3. Is it safe?

Right now, it’s not entirely clear just how risky space tourism is.

One way space tourism companies are trying to keep travelers safe is by requiring training so that the people who are taking a brief sojourn off Earth are as prepared as possible.

On the flight, people can experience intense altitude and G-forces. “This is sustained G-forces on your body, upwards of what can be 6 G in one direction — which is six times your body weight for upwards of 20 or 30 seconds,” Glenn King, the chief operating officer of the Nastar Center — the aerospace physiology training center that prepared Richard Branson for his flights — told Recode. “That’s a long time when you have six people, or your weight, pressing down on you.”

There’s also the chance that space tourists will be exposed to radiation, though that risk depends on how long you’re in space. “It’s a risk, especially more for the orbital flight than sub-orbital,” explains Whitman Cobb. “Going up in an airplane exposes you to a higher amount of radiation than you would get here on the ground.” She also warns that some tourists will likely barf on the ride.

There doesn’t seem to be an age limit on who can travel, though. The most recent Blue Origin flight included both the youngest person to ever travel to space, an 18-year-old Dutch teenager, as well as the oldest: 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk.

4. How much will tickets cost?

The leaders in commercial space tourism already claim they have a market to support the industry. While Bezos hinted on Tuesday the price would eventually come down — as eventually happened with the high prices of the nascent airline industry — for now, ticket prices are in the low hundreds of thousands, at least for Virgin Galactic . That price point would keep spaceflight out of reach for most of humanity, but there are enough interested rich people that space tourism seems to be economically feasible.

“If you bring it down to $250,000, the wait times [to buy a ticket] will be very long,” Tayur, of Carnegie Mellon, told Recode.

5. What impact will commercial space travel have on the environment?

The emissions of a flight to space can be worse than those of a typical airplane flight because just a few people hop aboard one of these flights, so the emissions per passenger are much higher. That pollution could become much worse if space tourism becomes more popular. Virgin Galactic alone eventually aims to launch 400 of these flights annually.

“The carbon footprint of launching yourself into space in one of these rockets is incredibly high, close to about 100 times higher than if you took a long-haul flight,” Eloise Marais , a physical geography professor at the University College London, told Recode. “It’s incredibly problematic if we want to be environmentally conscious and consider our carbon footprint.”

These flights’ effects on the environment will differ depending on factors like the fuel they use, the energy required to manufacture that fuel, and where they’re headed — and all these factors make it difficult to model their environmental impact. For instance, Jeff Bezos has argued that the liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel Blue Origin uses is less damaging to the environment than the other space competitors (technically, his flight didn’t release carbon dioxide ), but experts told Recode it could still have significant environmental effects .

There are also other risks we need to keep studying , including the release of soot that could hurt the stratosphere and the ozone. A study from 2010 found that the soot released by 1,000 space tourism flights could warm Antarctica by nearly 1 degree Celsius. “There are some risks that are unknown,” Paul Peeters, a tourism sustainability professor at the Breda University of Applied Sciences, told Recode. “We should do much more work to assess those risks and make sure that they do not occur or to alleviate them somehow — before you start this space tourism business.” Overall, he thinks the environmental costs are reason enough not to take such a trip.

6. Who is regulating commercial space travel?

Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has generally been given the job of overseeing the commercial space industry. But regulation of space is still relatively meager.

One of the biggest areas of concern is licensing launches and making sure that space flights don’t end up hitting all the other flying vehicles humans launch into the sky, like planes and drones. Just this June, a SpaceX flight was held up after a helicopter flew into the zone of the launch.

There’s a lot that still needs to be worked out, especially as there are more of these launches. On Thursday, the Senate hosted a hearing with leaders of the commercial space industry focused on overseeing the growing amount of civil space traffic .

At the same time, the FAA is also overseeing a surging number of spaceports — essentially airports for spaceflight — and making sure there’s enough space for them to safely set up their launches.

But there are other areas where the government could step in. “I think the cybersecurity aspect will also play a very vital role, so that people don’t get hacked,” Tayur said. The FAA told Recode that the agency has participated in developing national principles for space cybersecurity, but Congress hasn’t given it a specific role in looking at the cybersecurity of space.

At some point, the government might also step in to regulate the environmental impact of these flights, too, but that’s not something the FAA currently has jurisdiction over.

In the meantime, no government agency is currently vetting these companies when it comes to the safety of the human passengers aboard. An FAA official confirmed with Recode that while the agency is awarding licenses to companies to carry humans to space , they’re not actually confirming that these trips are safe. That’s jurisdiction Congress won’t give the agency until 2023.

There doesn’t seem to be an abundance of travelers’ insurance policies for space. “Passengers basically sign that they’re waiving all their rights,” Whitman Cobb said. “You’re acknowledging that risk and doing it yourself right now.”

So fair warning, if you decide to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a joyride to space: You’d likely have to accept all responsibility if you get hurt.

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Think space exploration isn’t moving fast enough you’re not alone..

Playing it safe won’t get us to the stars

Dirk Schulze-Makuch

Dirk Schulze-Makuch

Saturn-with planets-631.jpg

Where is our Moon Base? What about those Earth-like planets we’re supposed to have found by now? Extraterrestrial life? A human mission to Mars? In short, what happened to the 20 th century dreams that were fueled by the Apollo missions and Viking landings on Mars?

There is still plenty of excitement in the fields of space science and technology. That was evident at the recent Kepler Science Conference , held at NASA Ames to report on the discovery of new exoplanets, and is regularly found at astrobiology science meetings. But these days, there are at least as many setbacks as advances. The NASA-sponsored 2014 Astrobiology meeting has been postponed due to federal spending restrictions on conferences, and when it comes to launching new missions to address big scientific questions, progress is painfully slow. Why should we wait years for another mission to search for second Earths? Why send another orbiter to Mars ( MAVEN is scheduled to launch next week ) when we have the technological capability to search for life on the planet’s surface, or launch a probe to splash down on one of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes?

Is it really all about budget? Or did we lose the type of risk-taking ability that propelled Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen to the South Pole and NASA to the Moon—the willingness to also accept failure, which is inherent when you attempt giant strides. Frustration with the slow pace of progress extends all across the public, including college students , scientists and fiction writers.

It’s also been noted by government agencies. In 2011 NASA finally reinstated the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to fund far-horizon research, but since then only ten in-depth studies have been funded, with another five to seven to be selected in August 2014. The National Science Foundation initiated its INSPIRE program with the goal to promote “bold interdisciplinary projects.” But innovation frequently gets short-changed when review panels realize that a high-impact study often comes with a high risk of failure.  All too often, the word “innovative” ends up being only lip service, because reviewers and funding agencies prefer to play it safe. The result is that many scientists are becoming high-tech technicians who only try to optimize past inventions rather than propose something truly revolutionary. And the ones still willing to take risks are chronically underfunded.

Another possibility is that we really are running out of ideas. “You’re the ones who’ve been slacking off!” said Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, addressing science fiction writers at the Future Tense Conference a couple of years ago. Good science fiction not only helps us set goals, but also shows ways to reach the envisioned technological future. According to writer Neal Stephenson, implementing new technologies on a heroic scale is no longer the childish preoccupation of a few nerds, but is the only way for the human species to escape from its current predicaments . One outcome of the Future Tense Conference was the proposal to produce an anthology of new science fiction, referred to as the Hieroglyph Project, to show new pathways to invention and discovery. Finally, two years later, one of the major academic science publishers took up this idea and came out with a new Science and Fiction book series .

Just envisioning the future won’t take us there, however. Maybe it’s just me, but I miss the cowboy mentality of the 1960s. We decided to go to the Moon and we did it – even if it seemed dangerous, reckless, even insane. Now we’re on a much more timid course, exploring from our safe, computer-generated virtual environments. Perhaps this is the true solution of the Fermi Paradox – the reason why we haven’t met other spacefaring civilizations. It’s time to turn things around.

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Dirk Schulze-Makuch

Dirk Schulze-Makuch | | READ MORE

Dirk Schulze-Makuch is a Professor at the Technical University Berlin, Germany, and an Adjunct Professor at Arizona State University and Washington State University. He has published eight books and nearly 200 scientific papers related to astrobiology and planetary habitability. His latest books are The Cosmic Zoo: Complex Life on Many Worlds and the 3rd edition of Life in the Universe: Expectations and Constraints. Website

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Space exploration pros and cons: Are space programs a waste of money?

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Space exploration is a hugely expensive affair. Should we spend money on space exploration when we have so many problems on planet Earth? We debate the pros and cons of space exploration and the reasons for investing in space agencies and programs. 

Should we spend money on space exploration?

The launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket into has brought back media attention to space exploration . Elton Musk's private aerospace company is in the process of becoming a major player and a partner for many space programs. However, most of the efforts to discover whats out still depend mostly on public funding. 

Space exploration is costly, and many argue that in times of belt-tightening, we should focus on solving problems here on Earth, especially since the knowledge gained from space exploration has few immediate benefits. On the other hand, pronponents of space exploration argue that the knowledge to be gained is invaluable, and that it is in the very nature of humankind to explore. In addition, proponents of these programs argue that they have had significant benefits and resulted in the discovery or popularisation of many useful new technologies . Furthermore, space exploration could be the only way to escape  human extinction in case living conditions become unsustainable on Earth.

Today there are six big government space agencies with the capacity to create, launch and recover satellites: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( NASA ), Russian Federal Space Agency ( Roscosmos or RFSA),the China National Space Administration ( CNSA ), the Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO ),  the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency ( JAXA ) and the European Space Agency ( ESA ) which integrates several European space agencies. Among them only NASA, ROSCOSMOS and CNSA have full capacity for human spaceflights and lunar soft-landing.  In addtition to these there are many other government space agencies with variable capabilities, most of them have only the capacity to operate satellites, a few of them also have launch capabilities and can operate extraterrestrial probes. Some of these space agencies are competing to be the first to send humans to Mars  and investigating if there is intelligent life on other planets .

These space programs and agencies are very costly. It is estimated that the total annual budget of space agencies is $41.8 billion. Among them the highest budgets correspond to:

  • NASA (USA, $19.3 billion)
  • Roscosmos (Russia, $5.6 billion) 
  • ESA (Europe, $5.5 billion)
  • CNES (France, $2.5 billion)
  • JAXA (Japan, $2.5 billion)
  • DLR (Germany, $2 billion)
  • ASI (Italy, $1.8 billion)
  • CNSA (China, $1.8 billion)
  • ISRO (India, $1.2 billion)

Are all these costs justfified? Are there better ways to spend public funding? Should we mainly rely on private investors such as Elton Musk to promote space expliration? Will capitalistic incentives lead the way towards space exploration? In order to help make up your mind we outline next the most important benefits and problems of space exploration.

Space exploration pros and cons

  • Knowledge generation.  Thanks to space exploration programs we are discovering many things that help us understand the universe. For instance, learning about planets, comets, stars, etc. can help us find solutions for some of the problems our civilization will face, such as overopulation  and the need to colonize other planets.
  • Exploration and discovery are beneficial. Humans have always engaged in exploration to satisfy their sense of curiosity and look for opportunities. During the Age of Discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries, countries such as Spain and Portugal heavily invested in expeditions, but thanks to them they became super-powers and gained many riches. Later, during the second age of explorations in the 18th and 19th century, the discoveries of pioneers such as Captain Cook or Livingstone heavily contributed to scientific discovery.
  • Artificial satellites are crucial tools in modern society. For instance they are used for defence purposes and to fight against terrorism. Satellites help us also monitor the effects of global warming  and detect wildfires. Space agencies are necessary to operate satellites.
  • Scientific advancement and by-products. Space exploration programs help introduce and test new technologies. Much of the research carried out to find solutions for space travel have applications elsewhere. For instance NASA research has contributed to develop velcro, fire-resistant materials, medical devices to relieve muscle and joint pain, new precise thermometers, artificial limbs, new air conditioning systems, land mine removal systems, improved radial tires, etc. 
  • Space race may save humanity. Life on Earth may be threatened by climate change, pollution, depletion of resources, infectious diseases or nuclear war. Further, space exploration is necessary to find another planet on which humans could pursue their lives. Space programs help also find solutions to adapt human lives to the space or other planets.
  • Space industry jobs. The space industry employs directly about 120,000 people in the OECD countries and 250,000 in Russia.
  • Few direct benefits to space exploration . True, space technology has helped us launch satellites and introduce many useful products, but do we need to keep pushing forward? The direct intellectual gains from learning about far away planets or satellites such as the moon can hardly compensate the costs. Historical exploration on Earth allowed collect and trade resources. Bringing resources to Earth is not possible with the current technology.
  • Space travel is hazardous.  Many lives have been lost in space expeditions. Space missions are very dangerous and can often cost lives and stress to the families of the astronauts or cosmonauts. Should highly qualified professionals and scientists risk their lives traveling outside Earth? 
  • Failure is common. Many of the space exploration fail. Probes and satellites crash, exploration robots are lost, rockets blow up in the air, etc. It is frustrating to see how so much money and time are wasted in unsuccessful missions.
  • Danger of establishing contact with alien life. One of the main goals of space exploration is to find out if there is life outside Earth. However, establishing contact with other civilizations can be extremely dangerous and could jeopardize human life. If we flag our existence to technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, we may be somehow exposing ourselves to their attacks and invasion. The wanna-be colonizers could be colonized. Primitive life-forms such as virus and bacteria could also provoke epidemic diseases.
  • New source of international tensions. The space race is not over. There is a growing international competition to be the first in fulfilling some challenges in space exploration. Sovereignty over other planets and satellites, and over their resources, will become a controversial issue. With the advancement of technology domination of the outer space may tip the balance of power on a bipolar or multipolar Earth.
  • Priorities and opportunity costs.  Even if there are benefits to space exploration, spending so much money and effort in reaching other planets is highly questionable. That money and brain power could be used to solve other more important problems for us. For instance governments could invest much more to prevent global warming, reduce crime rates and find a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's Disease.

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Why We Should Be Spending More on Space Travel

why is space travel unnecessary

L et’s stipulate one thing: there’s absolutely no reason for us to go to space. It does nothing to feed us, to clothe us, to protect us, to heal us. It’s dangerous and hideously expensive too, a budget-busting luxury that policy makers and administrators have spent decades trying to defend—always unsuccessfully because the fact is, there’s no practical defense for it. So stand down the rockets, take down the space centers, pocket the money and let’s move on. Still want the adventure of going to space? That’s what they make movies for.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s stipulate the opposite: Space is precisely where the human species ought to be going. We accept that we’re a warring species. We accept that we’re a loving species. We accept that we’re an artistic and inventive and idiosyncratic species. Then we surely must accept that we’re a questing species. Questing species don’t much care for being stuck on one side of an ocean and so they climb aboard boats—indeed they invent boats—to cross it. They don’t much care for having their path blocked by a mountain and so they climb it for no reason other than finding out what’s on the other side. Accept that, and you can’t not accept that we have to embrace space.

April 12 marks the 60th anniversary of the day Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space , taking off in his Vostok 1 spacecraft, spending 88 minutes making a single orbit of the Earth, and returning home to a species that seemed forever been changed by his efforts. The date will mark, too, the 60th anniversary of the by-now familiar argument that journeys like Gagarin’s and all of the ones that followed achieve nothing that can be touched and pointed to as a practical dividend of the effort made and the resources expended.

I found myself turning the old debate this way and that over the last week, when I was reading a column in the Guardian with the provocative headline, “Revive the U.S. space program? How about not,” by essayist Nicholas Russell. It opens with a mention of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 spoken word poem, “Whitey on the Moon,” which compellingly lamented the hard social truth that the U.S. was spending $24 billion in 1960s money on the Apollo program at the same time 10% of Americans were living in poverty, with Blacks suffering at three times the rate of whites.

“Was all that money I made last year (for Whitey on the moon?)” Scott-Heron wrote. “How come there ain’t no money here? (Hm! Whitey’s on the moon.)”

Russell goes on to cite the estimated cost of the new Artemis lunar program , which some analysts have placed at $30 billion; the role—a troubling one as he sees it—of the military in so many space projects, and the ongoing scourge of racism and inequality on Earth that persists while we still keep looking spaceward. Then he mentions, by way of caution, a University of Arizona proposal to send seed, spore, sperm and egg samples of 6.7 million terrestrial species to the moon as a sort of space ark in case life on Earth should come to an end. “When the vastness of space is cited as a means of escape from disaster, it’s exceedingly difficult not to believe nihilism acts as the prime motivator,” Russell argues. “Rather than sparking inspiration, it speaks of blatant fatalism about what is worth saving, a preference for the lofty and unpopulated … with delusions of innovation and heroism.”

Russell is right about some things—especially about the continuing blight of racism. But expenditures on space and expenditures on social programs have never been a zero-sum proposition, any more than any dollar the U.S. government spends on anything at all—the military, farm subsidies, tax cuts for corporations—is by definition a dollar not spent on something else. And the Artemis price tag is indeed high—but only if you look at it as a standalone figure. In the context of the federal budget? NASA funding currently accounts for just 0.4% of the total the government spends each year—down from 4% in the golden era of Apollo. The military’s role in the space program is inevitable, even if Russell sees it as regrettable. Rockets are rockets, after all, and physics is physics, and if the first machines that blasted humans off the Earth were originally designed as ballistic missiles, well, that was what the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had on the shelf. What’s more, every Soviet R-7 rocket or American Atlas that was used to send an astronaut or cosmonaut to orbit was one fewer that could be used in a theater of war.

And as for that space ark? Well yes, it does suggest a certain fatalism. But the fact is, we are eminently capable of screwing the global pooch, to paraphrase the old Mercury astronauts. Unless you’re confident that no autocrat or hermit king with nuclear weapons and a button in reach won’t do something impulsive, storing the Earth’s genetic essence for safekeeping does not seem like a completely insane idea.

That doesn’t mean space exploration is inherently nihilistic, however. Look at the old footage of the global reaction to the Apollo 11 moon landing . Watch the worldwide relief when the Apollo 13 crew —three people the vast majority of the planet had never met—made it home safely. Consider the reaction today when a rover lands on Mars or a spacecraft whizzes past Pluto or a pair of women aboard the space station perform the first all-female spacewalk.

Yes, we can live without traveling to space. Indeed, we did perfectly well over all of the millennia that preceded April 12, 1961. We can meet most of our needs when we stay on Earth—we can raise our families and earn our salaries and feed our bellies. But we feed something less literal, more lyrical when we extend ourselves as far as we can. Once that meant crossing an ocean. Now it means more. Space is out there—and we should be too.

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NASA has a plan to clean up space junk—but is going green enough?

Astronomers laud NASA's plan to protect the space environment, but the agency needs to act fast to make a difference.

An illustration of Earth's orbit, full of thousands of dots representing different pieces of debris orbiting the planet.

NASA is taking environmentalism to orbit. The space agency’s deputy administrator, Pam Melroy, recently unveiled the first phase of NASA’s new Space Sustainability Strategy . In the coming months, NASA will roll out additional   parts of the strategy, which together are designed to ensure that the space around Earth gets cleaned up—and that resources in space are shared equitably and sustainably.

“This was a long time coming,” Melroy says. Different parts of the agency have been embracing sustainability on their own and using their own approaches—now, NASA is going to make an agency-wide effort, she says.

The first phase of NASA’s sustainability strategy focuses on junk in orbit around Earth. In fact, the orbital trash problem is arguably the most pressing space issue today. Nearly 10,000 functioning satellites encircle the globe, but there are also many, many more defunct spacecraft , derelict rocket bodies, and millions of pieces of other garbage hurtling around our planet at some 17,000 miles per hour.  

Astronomers who have sounded the alarm about the increasingly crowded space around Earth have praised the new plan, but many say that the U.S. space agency is lagging behind other countries, and it needs more urgency to address this pressing issue of pollution in orbit.

“I’m very happy to see that NASA’s doing this. But I think it’s very important to see whether Congress gives them the budget to actually do anything differently,” says Darren McKnight, senior technical fellow at LeoLabs, a spacecraft and debris-tracking company based in Menlo Park, California.  

Growing pains

What is true is that any satellite orbiting in a crowded area is at increasing risk of getting smashed by an errant chunk of metal careening into it, and thus becoming trash itself.  


Melroy and her colleagues at NASA are particularly concerned about the risks to the International Space Station and the astronauts aboard it—risks that were dramatized by the 2013 movie Gravity , where Sandra Bullock had to flee the orbiting outpost. In such a worst-case-scenario, the space station’s critical modules would be compromised, and any astronaut who couldn’t board a spacecraft and escape would die.

The more satellites there are, the more dangers there are, too. If there were a collision in orbit, say, between an abandoned rocket body and a dead satellite, that would beget yet more debris, risking more collisions, rendering that orbit unusable for years or decades. It’s akin to a car crash pileup on a highway lane, except there are no emergency vehicles in space and no way to clean it all up without spending millions if not billions of dollars on a years-long process.

In the new report, NASA lays out the first part of the sustainability strategy. It cites the rapidly growing satellite population and the increasingly congested space that is low Earth orbit, as well as all those hazardous bits of space junk, large and small. The report also points to the recent expansion of artificial constellations in the sky made up of thousands of satellites apiece. The largest one by far is SpaceX’s Starlink, which could eventually amass more than 40,000 spacecraft in its ranks. Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to be not far behind.

Great garbage patch

NASA’s long-term models are useful, says McKnight, as they show how debris could continue accumulating over decades. But the agency is missing the fact that bad things are already happening now—and they need solutions now, too, he says.  

For example, on February 28, NASA’s TIMED spacecraft, which studies solar radiation in the upper atmosphere, had a close call with a 32-year-old defunct Russian satellite. The satellite was dead and so couldn’t possibly have maneuvered out of the way. If they’d been on a collision course, no one could’ve prevented it.

The stakes are higher for the International Space Station, which houses astronauts. The station has been threatened several times by orbiting garbage over the past couple years—once by a piece of an old Russian rocket and another time by shrapnel from a Russian anti-satellite missile test that took place in 2021, which delayed a planned NASA spacewalk, since debris could easily penetrate a spacesuit.  

The United States, China and India have all tested anti-satellite missiles, too, by blowing up their own satellites, creating space junk in the process. The problem was so acute that in 2022 U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris called for an international moratorium on these space-polluting weapons tests.

National Geographic Explorer Moriba Jah , who is also a University of Texas aerospace engineer and the cofounder of Privateer Space with Apple’s Steve Wozniak, says that, ultimately, NASA and other space agencies and companies need to face the fact that “the fate of everything we launch is to become trash, and that needs to change.”  

Taking action

Some agencies are already trying to do as Jah suggests—and NASA is playing catch up. The European Space Agency released its   zero debris approach more than a year ago. It has specific targets the agency plans to meet by 2030 to reduce risks of satellite-trash collisions in orbit. The United Kingdom’s Space Agency, meanwhile, announced it would put a premium on space sustainability in 2023, and Japan has started to invest in private space companies dedicated to addressing space debris, too. Japan is also working with the United Nations to raise awareness of the problem worldwide.   While NASA has been lagging, some American regulatory agencies like the Federal Communications Commission have their own space junk rules. In 2022 the FCC imposed new rules designed to force telecom companies to dispose of their old spacecraft rather than letting them drift in orbit for decades. The Federal Aviation Administration also has proposed a rule to make space companies dispose of upper-stage rocket bodies left in orbit.  

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But NASA’s strategy could be a significant step forward, Jah says. Yet it’s also a missed opportunity to link to waste management principles already developed for land, ocean, and air pollution, he says.  

“The space community is trying to reinvent the wheel,” Jah says. Unlike its European counterpart, NASA also currently lacks a concrete plan to develop a circular space economy, which means redesigning spacecraft, experimenting with new materials and fuels, and reusing and recycling satellites rather than deploying so many single-use ones.  

Cleanup time

NASA is late to the debris cleanup party, too. A mission called Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan, or ADRAS-J, launched in February and is now attempting to safely approach an old rocket body left in orbit 15 years ago. The team’s aim is to image the giant hunk of space garbage, characterize its condition and movements, and synchronize the ADRAS-J spacecraft’s spin with that of the rocket body—all precursors to removing it from orbit, which a future mission could accomplish.  

Meanwhile, in 2026, the European Space Agency and a private company called Clearspace plan to launch a spacecraft that will use robotic arms to capture a 250-pound rocket part and safely tug it down into the atmosphere, where it and the spacecraft will both safely burn up. According to the U.S. Space Force, the rocket part they’re targeting appears to have itself been hit by smaller debris last summer, further demonstrating the problem and the need for action.

America will certainly lead its own space junk disposal missions, NASA’s Melroy says, but the agency still has to flesh out its space sustainability plan before it makes any major decisions. She’s already familiar with myriad concepts for decluttering orbit, having previously served at DARPA, an agency that explores far-out ideas, including concepts for using harpoons, nets, or an orbital catcher’s mitt to grab litter in space.   NASA’s annual budgets ultimately depend on Congress, which cut the agency’s fiscal year 2024 budget by 2 percent, with the   Mars sample return mission and other programs losing some funding. A debris disposal mission would be a major new investment. NASA’s cost-benefit analysis demonstrates that removing the top 50 most concerning objects in low Earth orbit—mostly derelict rocket bodies and other objects orbiting near critical satellites—would be expensive but worthwhile in the long run. It would also make financial sense to develop lasers and other technologies that could be used to nudge debris out of harm’s way to prevent imminent collisions, according to that analysis.

But designing and deploying such garbage-hauling tech will take years, and scaling it up will take longer than that.

Ultimately, getting rid of space trash now is important, but “active debris removal cannot be used as a panacea,” says Aaron Boley, a planetary scientist at the University of British Columbia and cofounder of the Outer Space Institute, a network of space experts.  

“I’m pleased they put out this strategy on space sustainability. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he says. It’s also necessary to change behavior, for example, since it’s impossible to clean up the mess if people keep polluting and leaving more junk up in orbit.  

And he argues that the reflectivity of spacecraft altering the night sky should be considered part of space sustainability, too. Boley and his colleagues wrote a paper in March about satellite visibility during 2024's April 8 total solar eclipse that was viewed by millions of people in North America.  

Earth’s orbit marks the cusp of outer space—and sustainability will have to extend beyond that.  

To the moon

The rest of NASA’s strategy will include long-term plans for the moon and its orbit and for deep space, which includes Mars and asteroids.  

Through the Artemis moon program, NASA’s racing to develop a lunar outpost and a space station, while China, Russia, and the commercial space industry have their own designs for the moon, too.  

But there’s limited resources on the moon. That means NASA's use of any water ice there has to take others' needs, including those of future generations, into account. Such considerations will play into NASA’s sustainability efforts, Melroy says. “I think these things will evolve with time as we learn, but we’re going to be focused on preserving areas of scientific significance and areas of historic significance and great natural beauty.”

Melroy likens NASA’s approach to space sustainability to its work on climate change, as the space agency has for decades been studying the Earth’s climate as a holistic system and promoting sustainability on our own planet.  

The climate analogy is apt for the space junk crisis in another way too, McKnight says. “This is like global warming in the sense that we see it coming. But no one wants to act until it’s really a problem,” he says.  

“We’re kind of waiting for something bad to happen so that we’ll respond, but it’s better to deter or deny a threat than recover from it. I applaud NASA taking this step, but I hope it’s with the right level of urgency.”

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Everything you need to know about space travel (almost)

We're a long way from home...

Paul Parsons

When did we first start exploring space?

The first human-made object to go into space was a German V2 missile , launched on a test flight in 1942. Although uncrewed, it reached an altitude of 189km (117 miles).

Former Nazi rocket scientists were later recruited by both America and Russia (often at gunpoint in the latter case), where they were instrumental in developing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) – rockets capable of carrying nuclear weapons from one side of the planet to the other.

A captured German V-2 rocket, the world’s first guided missile, launched at the US Army testing base at White Sands, in New Mexico © Getty Images

It was these super-missiles that formed the basis for the space programmes of both post-war superpowers. As it happened, Russia was the first to reach Earth orbit, when it launched the uncrewed Sputnik 1 in October 1957, followed a month later by Sputnik 2, carrying the dog Laika – the first live animal in space.

The USA sent its first uncrewed satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit soon after, in January 1958. A slew of robotic spaceflights followed, from both sides of the Atlantic, before Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin piloted Vostok 1 into orbit on 12 April 1961, to become the first human being in space . And from there the space race proper began, culminating in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first people to walk on the Moon as part of NASA's Apollo programme .

Why is space travel important?

Space exploration is the future. It satisfies the human urge to explore and to travel, and in the years and decades to come it could even provide our species with new places to call home – especially relevant now, as Earth becomes increasingly crowded .

Extending our reach into space is also necessary for the advancement of science. Space telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope and probes to the distant worlds of the Solar System are continually updating, and occasionally revolutionising, our understanding of astronomy and physics.

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But there are also some very practical reasons, such as mining asteroids for materials that are extremely rare here on Earth.

One example is the huge reserve of the chemical isotope helium-3 thought to be locked away in the soil on the surface of the Moon . This isotope is a potential fuel for future nuclear fusion reactors – power stations that tap into the same source of energy as the Sun. Unlike other fusion fuels, helium-3 gives off no hard-to-contain and deadly neutron radiation.

However, for this to happen the first challenge to overcome is how to build a base on the Moon. In 2019, China's Chang’e 4 mission marked the beginning of a new space race to conquer the Moon, signalling their intent to build a permanent lunar base , while the NASA Artemis mission plans to build a space station, called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway , providing a platform to ferry astronauts to the Moon's surface.

Could humans travel into interstellar space and how would we get there?

It’s entirely feasible that human explorers will visit the furthest reaches of our Solar System. The stars, however, are another matter. Interstellar space is so vast that it takes light – the fastest thing we know of in the Universe – years, centuries and millennia to traverse it. Faster-than-light travel may be possible one day, but is unlikely to become a reality in our lifetimes.

It’s not impossible that humans might one day cross this cosmic gulf, though it won’t be easy. The combustion-powered rocket engines of today certainly aren’t up to the job – they just don’t use fuel efficiently enough. Instead, interstellar spacecraft may create a rocket-like propulsion jet using electric and magnetic fields. This so-called ‘ ion drive ’ technology has already been tested aboard uncrewed Solar System probes.

Star Trek's USS Enterprise, the iconic warp-capable ship © Alamy

Another possibility is to push spacecraft off towards the stars using the light from a high-powered laser . A consortium of scientists calling themselves Breakthrough Starshot is already planning to send a flotilla of tiny robotic probes to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, using just this method.

Though whether human astronauts could survive such punishing acceleration, or the decades-long journey through deep space, remains to be seen.

How do we benefit from space exploration?

Pushing forward the frontiers of science is the stated goal of many space missions . But even the development of space travel technology itself can lead to unintended yet beneficial ‘spin-off’ technologies with some very down-to-earth applications.

Notable spin-offs from the US space programme, NASA, include memory foam mattresses, artificial hearts, and the lubricant spray WD-40. Doubtless, there are many more to come.

Read more about space exploration:

  • The next giant leaps: The UK missions getting us to the Moon
  • Move over, Mars: why we should look further afield for future human colonies
  • Everything you need to know about the Voyager mission
  • 6 out-of-this-world experiments recreating space on Earth

Space exploration also instils a sense of wonder, it reminds us that there are issues beyond our humdrum planet and its petty squabbles, and without doubt it helps to inspire each new generation of young scientists. It’s also an insurance policy. We’re now all too aware that global calamities can and do happen – for instance, climate change and the giant asteroid that smashed into the Earth 65 million years ago, leading to the total extinction of the dinosaurs .

The lesson for the human species is that we keep all our eggs in one basket at our peril. On the other hand, a healthy space programme, and the means to travel to other worlds, gives us an out.

Is space travel dangerous?

In short, yes – very. Reaching orbit means accelerating up to around 28,000kph (17,000mph, or 22 times the speed of sound ). If anything goes wrong at that speed, it’s seldom good news.

Then there’s the growing cloud of space junk to contend with in Earth's orbit – defunct satellites, discarded rocket stages and other detritus – all moving just as fast. A five-gram bolt hitting at orbital speed packs as much energy as a 200kg weight dropped from the top of an 18-storey building.

Sandra Bullock repairs the Hubble Telescope with George Clooney in Gravity © Warner Brothers

And getting to space is just the start of the danger. The principal hazard once there is cancer-producing radiation – the typical dose from one day in space is equivalent to what you’d receive over an entire year back on Earth, thanks to the planet’s atmosphere and protective magnetic field.

Add to that the icy cold airless vacuum , the need to bring all your own food and water, plus the effects of long-duration weightlessness on bone density, the brain and muscular condition – including that of the heart – and it soon becomes clear that venturing into space really isn’t for the faint-hearted.

When will space travel be available to everyone?

It’s already happening – that is, assuming your pockets are deep enough. The first self-funded ‘space tourist’ was US businessman Dennis Tito, who in 2001 spent a week aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for the cool sum of $20m (£15m).

Virgin Galactic has long been promising to take customers on short sub-orbital hops into space – where passengers get to experience rocket propulsion and several minutes of weightlessness, before gliding back to a runway landing on Earth, all for $250k (£190k). In late July 2020, the company unveiled the finished cabin in its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, suggesting that commercial spaceflights may begin shortly.

SpaceX expect that one day their Starship could carry passengers to the Moon © SpaceX/Flickr

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX , which in May 2020 became the first private company to launch a human crew to Earth orbit aboard the Crew Dragon , plans to offer stays on the ISS for $35k (£27k) per night. SpaceX is now prototyping its huge Starship vehicle , which is designed to take 100 passengers from Earth to as far afield as Mars for around $20k (£15k) per head. Musk stated in January that he hoped to be operating 1,000 Starships by 2050.

10 Short Lessons in Space Travel by Paul Parsons is out now (£9.99, Michael O'Mara)

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Waste in space: Why junk in Earth orbit is becoming a huge problem

why is space travel unnecessary

Who knew space could get crowded? Junk is filling the space above Earth.

In recent weeks, some of that junk has made its way back.

In January 2021, astronauts at the International Space Station pitched a pallet of used lithium-ion batteries over the side to free up some room after NASA determined it would "harmlessly reenter the Earth’s atmosphere," according to  Ars Technica .

Three years later, on March 8 of this year, a nearly 2-pound chunk of it may have torn through the roof and two floors of a man's house in Naples, Florida .

 On April 2, large fiery streaks of light appeared over a wide area over Los Angeles. It turned out to be space debris, part of a Chinese spacecraft, according to the U.S. Space Command . 

What is space junk? We explain: 

There are various types of space junk

Space junk basically is any machinery or debris left in space by humans.

Items range in size from large objects such as failed or dead satellites to tiny objects such as paint flecks and nuts and bolts. 

Types of debris include:

  • Rockets : Portions of the rocket stages used in launches and discarded in low Earth orbit.
  • Payload : Satellites that have reached the end of their operational lives.
  • Mission-related objects : Items such as hand tools, screws and nuts and bolts. One example is a tool bag that drifted away during a spacewalk in December 2023. 

Unable to view our graphics? Click here to see them.

Since the beginning of space exploration in 1957, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has collected data on space debris. It tracked Russia's first satellite, Sputnik, which launched the same year. Since then, NASA, the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs and the European Space Agency have tracked thousands of objects orbiting Earth.

NASA estimates 17.6 million pounds − or 8,800 tons − worth of objects are in Earth orbit, according to its most current Orbital Debris Quarterly News. And the number of small satellites is expected to increase.

About 44 tons of space debris falls into Earth’s atmosphere each day. About 95% of it burns up. 

Where do you find space junk?

Space junk typically circles the planet in low Earth orbit, or within 1,200 miles of Earth's surface. Orbits are classified in three basic categories: 

  • High : Most weather and communications satellites, farthest from the planet's surface.
  • Medium : Navigation and specialized satellites, intended to observe a specific area.
  • Low : The majority of research satellites, such as the fleet of NASA's Earth Observing System .

There are 9,777 objects circling Earth, the majority of which are in low Earth orbit, according to the satellite tracking website Orbiting Now . 

Why is space junk dangerous?

There are roughly 100 million debris fragments larger than 0.04 inches in size and about 23,000 particles larger than 4 inches in orbit.

Debris can travel at 18,000 mph , according to NASA. That's 10 times faster than the speed of a bullet, so even a tiny paint chip can rupture a spacesuit or damage delicate solar arrays and electronics on a satellite.

Future and current missions can be at risk of debris strikes. There are drawbacks to maneuvering a satellite to avoid space junk: the satellite may end up in a less efficient orbit.

How does junk get into space?

Countries that launch objects into space contribute to debris. 

Since 1957, the U.S. has launched 9,632 objects into space, according to Our World in Data. The U.S. accounted for the majority of satellites launched into orbit last year. 

Number of launches in 2023: 

  • U.S. 2,166 
  • United Kingdom 144
  • Luxembourg 12

What’s the risk of being hit by a piece of falling space debris? 

Your risk of being injured by falling space debris is less than 1 in 100 billion , according to the European Space Agency . 

That means you have better odds of winning a Powerball jackpot of any amount, at 1 in 292 million. 

Though that's not zero, your chances of being hit by a falling satellite are 65,000 times lower than the risk of being struck by lightning and three times lower than the risk of being struck by a meteorite, ESA says. 

CONTRIBUTING George Petras and Emily DeLetter , USA TODAY, C.A. Bridges and John Tufts/USA TODAY NETWORK

SOURCE NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Our World in Data, The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and European Space Agency

There is a place for all in outer space: ‘It’s not just for the geeks and the nerds’

UN News: Madam Director, technological development makes space exploration an even more promising vista than ever before, but at the same time, outer space is no longer just a matter for individual states or some interstates projects. It's being increasingly commercialized. What is the UN doing to make sure that his competition remains peaceful and fair?

Aarti Holla-Maini:   I wouldn't characterize anything as a competition. I think we must move away from the notion that there is still a race for space that was very much a Cold War situation at the time. We have moved on from there. Now we are really looking at space science and space exploration and looking for the most innovative and pragmatic approaches to that. That's why we see more commercial companies getting involved. If space agencies on their own run large space missions, they risk taking a lot longer and being a lot more expensive. 

The private sector allows a space agency, for example, NASA, to invite companies to make their proposals, and then selecting companies to engage in various missions to the Moon. If NASA was to do that on its own, it would cost a whole lot more money. This way, they spread their risk by funding multiple missions over a given period of time. They increase the chances for success. 

And at the United Nations, we have the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), that's the birthplace of all of the treaties and the resolutions and principles and guidelines which underpin everything that we see happening in the space economy today. And it's our job to make sure that we maintain transparency and an open dialogue. 

Around all the innovations that are happening, even if they involve companies, the industry can contribute to a to better, more informed decisions taken by policymakers. So, we're looking also for new ways to include industry in the dialogue but preserving the decision-making power of the Member States themselves: we don't want to move to a ‘pay-to-play’ model. That's not what the UN is about. 

UN News: Ever since the space age began, the Moon has been seen as a possible launchpad for deep space exploration, where research liboratories could be built or precious minerals excavated, whatnot. What does the UN have to say about the Moon exploration and development? As it's becoming a popular topic, are there any new initiatives in this area when it comes to legal matters or any other body of law for that? 

Aarti Holla-Maini:  We are the Secretariate at the COPUOS, and the Committee also has two subcommittees. One is the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and another is the Legal Subcommittee. We have lunar activities being covered by both and that's two separate strands.

In the legal subcommittee the discussion on space resources takes place, and by resources we mean the whole discussion on what should be done with resources that can be found on other celestial bodies, including the Moon. What can we do with lunar regolith? What should we do if we mine asteroids? Can those resources be brought back to the Earth, commercially appropriated, and so on and so forth. All of these questions are difficult questions because they actually shine a spotlight on some of the fundamental principles in the Outer Space Treaty, which says that space is for all humankind. 

So, the commercial angle is not obvious there, and that's a difficult discussion. And COPUOS is looking at potentially making some guidelines around that. Similarly, in the scientific and Technical Subcommittee, we received a proposal to start a consultative mechanism on sustainable lunar activities, and we hope that it will be signed off eventually in June at the plenary meeting, and that perhaps it might result establishing an action team to look at the more practical aspects of safety and sustainability. 

Even if we have a large space faring country going to the Moon or we have other smaller nations sending their missions to the Moon, neither of them wants to interfere with the other or crash into the other. It's very important that we don't have just bilateral engagements between individual countries, but that there is a global convening dialogue. And that's where we as UNOOSA leverage our unique convening power of the United Nations to keep everybody at the table and make sure that we continue to have these discussions – even if they are difficult – to hopefully advance on them. 

We have taken the initiative to organize a United Nations conference – the first one – on sustainable lunar activities. When we discuss important matters where you are debating on what the right answer should be, what are the critical issues are by specific caused by innovative activities like lunar activities , it’s important that they are discussed in Vienna. Because Vienna is where the decision makers on precisely these matters convene. At that conference, we hope to just explore what can we do to enhance the global dialogue at a multilateral level through the UN. 

UN News: Speaking about the use of the outer space, it's fair to say that there is now a major pollution problem. What is space debris? Why is it dangerous and what is being done to minimize its risks? So what's the UN angle here? 

Aarti Holla-Maini:  When we talk about pollution in space, there's different angles that you can come at it from. One of them is, of course space debris, and there are different issues around space debris. One is, there are so many pieces or objects out there of all different sizes. And we do not necessarily have a comprehensive understanding of where they all are, at what time, and so on.

So, it's very important that we collaborate to pool knowledge and capabilities around this area here to enhance space safety for all actors: whether we think of satellite communications or imagery, which we rely on for climate change and climate monitoring, or whether we think of space science and the complex telescopes and instruments which are being placed into space. Debris is an issue for all of them. 

It's also a very important issue for human spaceflight. So, what are we doing? We have the ongoing discussions on long term sustainability guidelines, the COPUOS Member States are reflecting on what new guidelines could be potentially added to those which there and at UNOOSA level. We will be convening later on this year, a United Nations Space Bridge around space situational awareness, which is created to bring different pockets of actors and different systems and providers who are out there together to see how can we facilitate coordination. How can we potentially imagine a ‘system of systems’ approach? 

We don't know what format it will ultimately take. And UNOOSA is not on a mission to turn the UN into some kind of a global space agency or have an operational activity here. Our job is to convene, to lead by convening, and we hope that we can facilitate progress through the dialogues that we that we help create. 

And if I can also just bring your attention to something else which is more of an emerging problem. It is around the topic of atmospheric ablation, a relatively new science. You know that there are many more launches happening into space than there were ten years ago. The question is what impact do the launch fumes have on the atmosphere? But also we have a lot more debris and old satellites which are being burned up in the atmosphere on re-entry. A lot, significantly more than there were some years ago. And so that also has an impact. 

We were approached by UNEP , the United Nations environmental program. And so, we are looking into that together and informing and educating ourselves around this emerging science. It may well be that we find that we're already in an urgent situation. We don't know, we don't know at this point. 

UN News: This brings me to the question about the Space4Climate Action initiative. What is it and why is it important? 

Aarti Holla-Maini:  We run a program called UN-SPIDER that is space-based information for disaster and emergency response. We all know that the number of severe weather events, natural disasters and everything which is happening as. Result of climate change and global warming are increasing year on year. Multiple national disaster management centres. They are working with spider in order to do early warning, monitoring, mitigation and so on. Whether it's for floods, drought on the one hand, all the way to forest fires, mosquito borne diseases, locusts devouring a crop and causing famine in particular country, right, all the way across. 

No one apart from UNOOSA has as mission and priority to facilitate the access of satellite data, and to make sure how to use it. So, whereas for other entities and agencies, space is an enabler for their diverse missions, for us it is our mission. It is our priority in itself. We want to make sure that every Member State who needs it is empowered and equipped with the tools: the data and the know-how, the capacity that they need to be resilient in the face of all the global shocks that are coming, and particularly those which are linked to climate. That's the work we do there and that's going to grow. 

UN News: Speaking of being properly equipped, it comes with the human factor. Do you see enough enthusiasm on behalf of the young generation in space science? 

Aarti Holla-Maini:  Yes, there is a Space Generation Advisory Council which convenes youths from all over the world, and they are very active. They are very concerned with the issues that are confronting us. Whether it's enabling space to deliver on the sustainable development goals like global healthcare, education for all, climate change and so on, or whether it's to do with space sustainability, we do see a lot of engagement with them. One of the programs that we run is Space for Women and we try to motivate the younger generation – girls and women – to get into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). 

We do have examples of great women who are breaking the glass ceiling: they're in leadership position across different parts of the space ecosystem. But there's not enough to pick from in the engineering schools and so on. So, it starts with the youth, and I think we probably need to do a lot more to encourage young women to look into getting into the STEM fields, but also simply to think that it doesn't matter whether you are technical and mathematical and scientific in terms of your skill set. I'm not. I'm certainly not. My skills are softer skills, it's languages, it's interpersonal communication skills. You know, I did a degree in law with German law and then I did an MBA. 

There is room for a very diverse skill set from the youth and we just need to raise awareness of all the different avenues and possibilities that exist within the space sector to show that this is not just for the geeks and the nerds who like engineering. It's really not about that. There's room for musicians, lawyers, artists – anything you can think of – to be part of this very dynamic and innovative sector, which is so exciting today. 

Technological advances have transformed space exploration, making it more accessible but also more commercially driven, a senior official with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has been telling UN News, ahead of the international day that marks the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961. 

Thanks to private capital, missions to study the Moon have surged, accompanied by a significant rise in space launches over the past decade. 

But these developments raise questions about the regulations governing space, increasing space pollution and diversity within space agencies, UNOOSA Director Aarti Holla-Maini , tells Anton Uspensky.

What is the Environmental Impact of Billionaires Flying to Space?

why is space travel unnecessary

Space travel has helped us to learn so much about our planet, solar system, and the galaxy – but now we have reached a new era of space exploration: space tourism.

Whilst many people around the globe work hard to cut back on flights in a bid to reduce emissions and fend off climate change, the likes of Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeffery Bezos launch commercial tourism rockets.

As the two billionaires battle their way to the top of this new industry, we can’t help but wonder how space travel will impact our planet, what the future of space tourism looks like, and who will benefit from this the most.

Rocket launching into space

What’s on this page?

  • 01 Why is space travel bad for the environment?
  • 02 The environmental impact of Branson’s Virgin Galactic
  • 03 The environmental impact of Bezos’s Blue Origin
  • 04 The future of space tourism

Why is space travel bad for the environment?

Before we jump into the space projects themselves, let’s get one thing straight: why is space travel so bad for the planet?

The primary reason behind space exploration’s hefty carbon footprint is the burning of rocket fuels. Rocket engines release harmful gases and soot particles (also known as black carbon) into the upper atmosphere, which contribute to ozone depletion.

Plus, the sheer amount of black carbon released with each rocket launch is huge compared to the likes of a modern jet engine. In 2018, for example, black-carbon-producing rockets (pretty much all engines that don’t run on hydrogen fuel) emitted roughly 225 tonnes of black carbon particles into the stratosphere – roughly the same amount as the global aviation industry’s annual black carbon emissions.

On top of all this, when it comes to emissions in the troposphere and stratosphere, the altitude really makes a difference. There are certain spots between the two atmospheric layers where condensation can form, which means greenhouse gases can have a much larger impact.

Thankfully, rocket launches are pretty rare, meaning their overall impact on our climate is much smaller than aviation’s – until now, that is. The global launch rate has already more than doubled in the past decade – and space tourism will only increase this.

Thankfully, space flights by both Virgin Galactic (Branson’s company) and Blue Origin (Bezos’s company) require less power than regular space launches, because they’re not travelling as far.

Is there a cleaner way to power rockets?

As a greener alternative, some rockets are propelled by liquid hydrogen fuel , which produces ‘clean’ water vapour exhaust. Although this is thought of as a better alternative, the production of hydrogen itself can cause significant carbon emissions.

The environmental impact of Branson’s Virgin Galactic

On the Virgin Galactic website, the company claims to have a keen focus on “environmental sustainability” – and yet, there is no sustainability report or outline of its environmental impact. So, we’ve decided to work it out for them.

In an attempt to dismiss the waves of climate criticism, Virgin Galactic told the BBC that its high-altitude aeroplane has the equivalent carbon footprint as a business-class return flight from London to New York. Or, in other words, roughly 1,237kg of CO2 . The company also claimed to be offsetting the emissions but didn’t explain how it plans on doing this.

The carbon equivalent of a flight from London to New York – that’s not so bad, right? Well, Virgin were quick to overlook the differences in journey lengths, which means the emissions are actually far higher, per passenger, on the Virgin Galactic trip.

A return flight from London to New York covers about 6,900 miles , whereas Virgin Galactic’s trip is only about 100 miles . So, if we divide 1,237kg of CO2 by these distances, that means the CO2 emissions for Virgin Galactic’s trip is 12.37kg per person , whereas a commercial airline flight from London to New York is only 0.17kg of CO2.

The environmental impact of Bezos’s Blue Origin

Similar to Virgin Galactic, there is currently no data on Blue Origin’s emissions. Fortunately for Bezos, the public has been less inclined to interrogate him on emissions, since the company’s approach is more environmentally friendly than Virgin Galactic’s.

Bezos’s reusable New Shepard rocket uses a liquid hydrogen-fuelled engine to travel 62 miles above Earth. Unlike most other rocket fuels, hydrogen does not emit carbon – when you burn it, you literally just get water vapour.

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it’s not completely good for the planet, since hydrogen production often causes carbon emissions.

Hydrogen doesn’t come in a raw form, so we have to produce it. This can be done in two main ways: obtaining it from natural gas or from electrolysis.

  • Natural gas method – Natural gas is added to steam at a temperature of 500 – 1,100°C. Under these conditions, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide are released. By adding additional steam at a reduced temperature, the amount of hydrogen produced increases, and the CO is converted to CO2. This produces roughly 7.05kg of CO2 per 1kg of hydrogen
  • Electrolysis method – Taking place at room temperature, electrolysis causes water molecules to be split into oxygen and hydrogen. To produce 1kg of hydrogen this way, about 9kg of water and 60kWh of electricity are consumed. By taking into account the amount of CO2 produced to create the electricity, the production of 1kg of hydrogen will yield 27.6kg of CO2

Unfortunately, there’s currently no information on how much fuel the New Shepard consumes per kilometre, so it’s difficult to work out its exact carbon footprint. But, as Blue Origin was keen to point out on Twitter, it seems to be a greener way of travelling through space compared to Virgin Galactic.

From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line. — Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021

The future of space tourism

Currently, this opportunity is only available to the world’s richest, whilst the world’s poorest watch from the sidelines and suffer the brunt of climate change.

Despite Branson suggesting he’s “here to make space more accessible to all,” a ticket for a one-hour trip on Virgin Galactic’s space plane costs $250,000 (£181,343) .

Whilst space tourism might not be accessible to everyone any time soon, it is predicted to boom over the next decade. In fact, the ever-growing market is expected to be worth at least £3 billion by 2030 .

Over this period of time, cleaner rocket fuels will be developed – with the introduction of hydrogen and methane already taking the industry by storm. There is, however, the concern that the more people jump onto this new craze, the more unnecessary emissions will be pumped into our atmosphere.

In a time where we’re fighting to save the planet, space tourism shouldn’t be on our to-do list.

As it stands, one flight with Virgin Galactic or Blue Orbit only releases a few kilogrammes of CO2 – though, we are in the early days of space tourism, and as interest begins to snowball, so will emissions.

Written by:

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The future of luxury in space: sustainability and space tourism


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why is space travel unnecessary

  • Space tourism is growing in demand, driving the development of sustainable luxury experiences in space. Companies are working on cleaner technologies, rocket reusability, mitigation of space debris, and ecological habitats. International collaboration and regulation are crucial to ensuring sustainability and equity in space access, while addressing economic implications and promoting public education and awareness.

why is space travel unnecessary

Managing Director at LUXONOMY™ Group Middle East

Space exploration has long been a territory reserved for astronauts and scientists. However, in recent decades, space tourism has become an increasingly closer reality for the general public. With companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic leading the race, the demand for luxury experiences in space is only growing. In this context, it is essential to ensure that the development of space tourism is carried out sustainably and responsibly. In this article, we will analyze how space tourism companies are working to minimize the environmental impact of their operations and offer sustainable luxury experiences, with advances in rocket and spacecraft technology and measures to mitigate space debris production.

Rocket and spacecraft technology

Cleaner and more sustainable propellants.

One of the main challenges in the development of sustainable space tourism is rocket and spacecraft technology. Traditionally, rockets have been powered by liquid fuels, such as kerosene, which emit large amounts of greenhouse gases and generate space debris. However, in recent years, significant advances have been made in cleaner and more sustainable technologies. One of these advances is the use of cleaner and more sustainable propellants . SpaceX, for example, uses methane in its Starship rocket, which is less polluting than kerosene and can be produced on Mars, facilitating round-trip missions. In addition, some companies are investing in the development of hybrid rockets, which combine solid and liquid propellants to reduce emissions.

Reuse of rockets and spacecraft

Also essential is the reuse of rockets and spacecraft . SpaceX has pioneered this area, developing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets that can be recovered and reused multiple times. This not only reduces the cost of launches but also decreases the environmental impact by reducing the amount of space debris and the resources needed to manufacture new vehicles.

Initiatives to mitigate space debris production

The growing amount of space debris is another environmental issue affecting space tourism. The accumulation of satellites and other objects in Earth orbit increases the risk of collisions and can hinder future space missions. Therefore, it is crucial that space tourism companies adopt measures to reduce and manage the debris they generate.

Designing satellites and spacecraft with a longer lifespan

One of these measures is designing satellites and spacecraft with a longer lifespan and propulsion systems that allow them to perform maneuvers to avoid collisions. In addition, it is important to develop technologies for tracking and monitoring objects in orbit and for the controlled disposal of satellites at the end of their lifespan.

Development of space debris capture and removal systems

Another promising initiative is the development of space debris capture and removal systems . Several companies and space agencies are working on technologies such as nets, robotic arms, and tow vehicles to capture and deorbit objects in space. These systems could play a crucial role in cleaning up Earth's orbit and ensuring a safe environment for space tourism and other activities.

Sustainable luxury experiences in space

The future of luxury in space not only involves cleaner and more sustainable technologies but also the development of unique and memorable experiences for space tourists. To achieve this, companies in the sector are investing in cutting-edge facilities and services while ensuring that their operations are environmentally friendly.

Axiom Space Station

One of the most notable examples is the project of the Axiom Space Station , a commercial station in orbit that will offer luxury accommodations and unique experiences to its guests. Axiom Space is working in collaboration with NASA and other space agencies. For a long time, space exploration has been a territory reserved for astronauts and scientists. However, in recent decades, space tourism has become an increasingly close reality for the general public. With companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic leading the race, the demand for luxury experiences in space is only growing. In this context, it is crucial to ensure that the development of space tourism is carried out sustainably and responsibly. In this article, we will examine how space tourism companies are working to minimize the environmental impact of their operations and offer sustainable luxury experiences, with advances in rocket and spacecraft technology and measures to mitigate space debris production.

One of the main challenges in developing sustainable space tourism is rocket and spacecraft technology. Traditionally, rockets have been powered by liquid fuels, such as kerosene, which emit large amounts of greenhouse gases and generate space debris. However, in recent years, significant advances have been made in cleaner and more sustainable technologies. One of these advances is the use of cleaner and more sustainable propellants . SpaceX, for example, uses methane in its Starship rocket, which is less polluting than kerosene and can be produced on Mars, facilitating round-trip missions. Additionally, some companies are investing in the development of hybrid rockets, which combine solid and liquid propellants to reduce emissions.

The reuse of rockets and spacecraft is also essential. SpaceX has been a pioneer in this area, developing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets that can be recovered and reused multiple times. This not only reduces the cost of launches but also decreases the environmental impact by reducing the amount of space debris and the resources needed to manufacture new vehicles.

The growing amount of space debris is another environmental issue affecting space tourism. The accumulation of satellites and other objects in Earth orbit increases the risk of collisions and may hinder future space missions. Therefore, it is crucial for space tourism companies to adopt measures to reduce and manage the debris they generate.

One of these measures is designing satellites and spacecraft with a longer lifespan and propulsion systems that allow them to perform maneuvers to avoid collisions. Additionally, it is essential to develop technologies for tracking and monitoring objects in orbit and for the controlled removal of satellites at the end of their lifespan.

The future of luxury in space involves not only cleaner and more sustainable technologies but also the development of unique and memorable experiences for space tourists. To achieve this, companies in the sector are investing in cutting-edge facilities and services while ensuring that their operations are environmentally friendly.

One of the most notable examples is the Axiom Space Station project, a commercial orbiting station that will offer luxury accommodation and unique experiences to its guests. Axiom Space is working in collaboration with NASA and other space agencies to develop habit able modules that will be environmentally friendly and sustainable. These modules will incorporate advanced life support systems to recycle water and air, as well as solar panels to generate clean energy.

Orbital hotels and zero-gravity experiences

In addition to the Axiom Space Station, several other companies are exploring the development of orbital hotels to cater to the demands of luxury space tourism. These facilities will need to be designed with sustainability in mind, making use of efficient systems for waste management and energy generation. Moreover, space tourists will have the opportunity to participate in unique zero-gravity experiences, such as floating in microgravity environments, which will be an essential part of their stay in space.

Suborbital flights and space tourism training

For those who may not be ready for extended stays in space, suborbital flights offer a more accessible option. Companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are working on vehicles that will take passengers to the edge of space, providing a brief but unforgettable experience of weightlessness and a view of the Earth from above. To ensure that these flights are as sustainable as possible, these companies are investing in reusable spacecraft and innovative propulsion systems to minimize their environmental impact.

Additionally, space tourism companies are working on developing training programs for future space tourists. These programs will likely include simulations, physical training, and education on the environmental challenges of space travel, helping to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable space exploration.

Space tourism is no longer a distant dream but a growing reality. As the demand for luxury experiences in space increases, it is crucial that the industry focuses on sustainable development and environmentally friendly practices. By investing in cleaner rocket and spacecraft technology, mitigating space debris production, and offering sustainable luxury experiences, space tourism companies can ensure that this exciting new frontier can be enjoyed by future generations while minimizing its impact on the Earth and the space environment.

Promoting International Cooperation

As space tourism continues to expand, it is essential to promote international cooperation among governments, private companies, and regulatory bodies. By working together, these stakeholders can develop policies, guidelines, and best practices to ensure that space tourism activities remain safe, sustainable, and accessible to a diverse range of participants.

Establishing space law and regulations

As space tourism becomes more commonplace, there is an increasing need for clear, comprehensive, and enforceable space laws and regulations to govern activities in this emerging industry. This includes establishing guidelines for space debris mitigation, defining liability and insurance requirements for space tourism operators, and creating a legal framework to address potential disputes and conflicts among nations and companies.

Sharing knowledge and technology

By fostering international collaboration and knowledge sharing , countries and companies can leverage each other's expertise and resources to accelerate sustainable space tourism development. This may include sharing research findings, collaborating on joint projects, and exchanging best practices in areas such as spacecraft design, propulsion systems, and environmental management.

Developing global standards and certifications

To ensure the highest levels of safety and sustainability in the space tourism industry, the development of global standards and certifications will be crucial. These standards could cover areas such as spacecraft design, launch procedures, and crew training, as well as environmental impact assessments and sustainability reporting. By establishing and enforcing these standards, space tourism operators can demonstrate their commitment to responsible practices and build trust with consumers and regulators alike.

Encouraging public-private partnerships

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can play a key role in driving sustainable space tourism by pooling resources, expertise, and financing from both the public and private sectors. These partnerships can help to reduce the financial risk associated with space tourism ventures, promote research and development in sustainable technologies, and ensure that the benefits of space tourism are more widely distributed among participating countries and their citizens.

As space tourism becomes an increasingly viable and popular pursuit, it is essential that the industry focuses on promoting sustainability and international cooperation. By developing and enforcing space laws and regulations, sharing knowledge and technology, establishing global standards, and encouraging public-private partnerships, stakeholders can work together to ensure that space tourism remains a safe, responsible, and environmentally friendly endeavor for generations to come.

why is space travel unnecessary

LVMH in ChangeNOW summit

Fostering education and public outreach.

To ensure that the growth of the space tourism industry is sustainable and benefits as many people as possible, education and public outreach efforts are crucial. These efforts can help to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable practices in space tourism, inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, and create a well-informed public that can participate in the decision-making process related to the industry.

STEM education and career development

Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is key to developing a skilled workforce capable of supporting the growing space tourism industry. By providing students with access to quality STEM education and opportunities to engage with space-related projects and activities, we can inspire and prepare them for careers in space tourism, aerospace engineering, and other related fields.

Public awareness campaigns

Raising public awareness about the importance of sustainable space tourism and its potential benefits is essential for fostering support and encouraging responsible behavior. Public awareness campaigns can highlight the steps being taken to minimize the environmental impact of space tourism, showcase the scientific advancements and technological innovations made possible by the industry, and emphasize the importance of international cooperation in ensuring a sustainable future for space travel.

Participatory decision-making

As the space tourism industry continues to evolve, it is important to involve the public in the decision-making process. By encouraging participatory decision-making through public consultations, forums, and debates, we can ensure that the voices of diverse stakeholders are taken into account when developing policies, regulations, and guidelines related to space tourism.

Space tourism as a tool for inspiration

Space tourism has the potential to inspire people around the world by providing a unique perspective on our planet and our place in the universe. This inspiration can drive interest in STEM education, encourage public engagement with space-related topics, and foster a greater appreciation for the need to protect our environment and work together to address global challenges.

The sustainable development of the space tourism industry requires a multifaceted approach that includes technological innovation, regulatory frameworks, international cooperation, and public engagement. By focusing on these key areas, we can ensure that space tourism remains an exciting, safe, and responsible pursuit that contributes to scientific discovery, technological advancement, and global collaboration for generations to come.

Future Prospects and Challenges

As the space tourism industry continues to grow and evolve, there are several key challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Addressing these challenges and capitalizing on these opportunities will be critical to ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of the industry.

Technological advancements

Ongoing technological advancements will play a significant role in shaping the future of space tourism. Innovations in areas such as reusable rocket technology, propulsion systems, spacecraft design, and life support systems will help to drive down costs, improve safety, and enhance the overall space tourism experience.

Space debris mitigation

One of the major challenges facing the space tourism industry is the growing issue of space debris. As more satellites and spacecraft are launched into Earth's orbit, the risk of collisions and potential damage to space infrastructure increases. Developing effective space debris mitigation strategies and technologies, such as improved tracking systems, debris removal techniques, and design standards for new spacecraft, will be crucial for maintaining a safe operating environment in space.

Space law and policy

The development of a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework for space tourism is another important challenge. This will involve addressing questions related to liability, insurance, safety standards, and the rights and responsibilities of space tourists, among other issues. International cooperation and the development of consistent, enforceable regulations will be essential to creating a stable and predictable environment for the industry to thrive.

Affordability and accessibility

As the space tourism industry matures, one of the primary goals will be to make space travel more affordable and accessible to a wider audience. By reducing costs and developing more efficient technologies, it may become possible for more people to experience the unique thrill of space travel, inspiring a new generation of space enthusiasts and fostering greater global interest in space exploration.

Space tourism's impact on society

The future growth of the space tourism industry will have wide-ranging implications for society. By inspiring people around the world and generating interest in space exploration, it has the potential to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge, the development of new technologies, and the creation of new economic opportunities. At the same time, it is important to carefully consider the potential environmental impacts, as well as the ethical and social issues that may arise as the industry continues to grow and evolve.

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Why is space travel not necessary?

User Avatar

Space Travel is very expensive and it also has a very negative effect on the environment, but it helps mankind understand much more about everything in the universe which satisfies our curiosity. In the aspect of understanding our universe space travel is very necessary.

But how does it really help us? If a major comet the size of a mountain comes along (which happens every 100,000,000 years) and we, because of space travel, can stop it, well then space travel has been a very necessary thing indeed. If that doesn't happen, I'm not sure if you can class space travel as a necessity. Why should people starve in the world when so much money is spent on space travel? You can't eat rockets...

It's a matter of opinion if space travel is a necessity or not. I for one think our understanding of the universe is important in several aspects, such as understanding how unique we are and how unique life is and I hope we can come to appreciate it more then we do today.

In addition I believe that the moon landings cost about five percent of the tax money during those years (if you know the correct numbers please tell me) Ask yourself if you think that money was well spent and if that was necessary.

I'm sorry to say this, but not very. Especially using chemical rockets ... they're very inefficient. They do add to our knowledge base and they're a grand adventure.

Add your answer:


What factors are necessary for a sound wave to travel through a medium?

well sound actually always needs a medium so it can travel, in space there's is no sound because there isn't a medium it can travel through. but just about anything is a medium for sound. air is also a great medium, that's why were able to hear one another

What is a cosmonault?

Same as an astronaut. A person trained by a space program to travel into space as a crew member of the space program.

Does light waves travel fastest through empty space?

Light waves, like all electromagnetic waves, travel without a medium, so they can travel through empty space. Sound waves, on the other hand, do require a medium to travel or propagate; therefore, they can not travel through empty space.

What can never travel around a corner but can travel through space?

electro-magnetic radiations Light.

Can a solid be compressed?

No. Because the solids have no space to travel into.

What kind of technology is necessary for space travel?

I'll say that ALL technologies are involved in space travel, and I'll challenge other contributors to name some branch of technology that's NOT used in any way to design, construct, launch, control, and monitor space vehicles.

How do you travel to space?

We travel by a space rocket!

Who does space travel benefit?

space travel denefits me =)

How do they travel to space?

Space travel is done by means of rockets.

Do we have the technology to travel to space?

Yes, we do have technology to travel to space.

How has space shuttle travel revolutionised space travel?

Well for starters we are actually able to get into space with a space shuttle...

Why are the Gemini missions called the bridge to the moon?

They developed techniques for advanced space travel. These were necessary for Apollo, whose objective was to land humans on the Moon.

How has the space shuttle changed space travel?

it has changed the space travel as it was a reusable which saved money of the particular space agency

Why can heat travel through space by radiation but not by conduction and convection?

For conduction and convection we need a material medium. But for radiation such a meaterial medium is not necessary. So in free space radiation can pass through easily.

Where does a cosmonaut travel?

Cosmonauts typically travel to the International Space Station but in general travel to outer space.

When was We Travel the Space Ways created?

We Travel the Space Ways was created in 1956.

Which layer of the atmosphere does the space shuttle travel in?

the space shuttle travel in the trophosphere.


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Home » Home » Discovering San Antonio: An RV Travel Guide

Discovering San Antonio: An RV Travel Guide

By Space Coast Daily  //  April 24, 2024

why is space travel unnecessary

Getting an RV is a pretty big step for many. While it can primarily function as a living space, it’s also an excellent way to travel to your favorite places.

San Antonio is a great next destination. With its rich heritage and stunning natural sights, an RV trip to this city presents an opportunity to unwind, meet new people, and get memorable experiences.

Buckle up, pack your travel bags, and get ready for your RV trip to San Antonio.

Why San Antonio?

San Antonio is most popularly known for the Alamo, a former Spanish mission church pivotal to the story of Texas independence. Its ancient churches and museums are a testament to its religious colonial past. The city is rich in historical context, making it perfect for the history buffs.

However, if history doesn’t interest you, there’s much more to see in San Antonio. Its tourism has significantly thrived since the end of the pandemic lockdowns, attracting 34.8 million visitors in 2022 .

It has stunning nature trails and lots of outdoor activities to enjoy the sunshine and take in the region’s breathtaking landscapes. From hiking and biking to kayaking or paddleboarding, you’ll likely find something relaxing or exciting to occupy your time.

As one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States, San Antonio offers visitors a melting pot of experiences. Since Texas closely borders Mexico, you’re sure to find Tex-Mex fusion restaurants, lively music venues, festivals, and many interesting people.

Where To Camp

RV travelers have a wealth of options. If you want to camp but don’t have a vehicle yet, you’ll likely find an affordable RV rental in San Antonio .

Here are four highly recommended RV parks you could treat as your home base while exploring the city:

Tejas Valley RV Park

Nestled in a tranquil setting just a few minutes from downtown San Antonio, Tejas Valley RV Park offers a peaceful retreat with easy access to the city’s attractions. The area is filled with trees and greenery, allowing you to relax in nature while giving easy access to the nearby city.

The spacious park has 117 RV sites with full hookups. It also has several amenities for the campers’ convenience, such as laundry facilities, Wi-Fi, a fitness center, and a pool. 

Stone Creek RV Park

Stone Creek RV Park leans into a western theme, perfect for tourists visiting Texas. Conveniently located near Interstate 35, it is an ideal choice for RV travelers seeking a blend of convenience and serenity. 

The park offers well-appointed RV sites with full hookups and amenities like Wi-Fi, laundry centers, a dog park, and a kids’ play area.

Mission City RV Park

Situated just minutes from downtown San Antonio, Mission City RV Park offers a prime location for exploring the city’s cultural attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities.

It’s less than a ten-minute drive from iconic sites like the Alamo, Splashtown, the River Walk, and Old World Missions. The pet-friendly park features spacious RV sites with full hookups and amenities such as a heated swimming pool and barbecue area.

Alamo River RV Park and Campground

Located along the Medina River, Alamo River RV Park and Campground offers a picturesque setting with easy access to downtown San Antonio. You’d easily find restaurants, attractions, and activities surrounding the campground.

The park features 107 spacious RV sites with full hookups, including amenities like a pickleball court, laundry facilities, a playground, and high-speed Wi-Fi.

Sights To See

Once in San Antonio, you won’t be out of places to see and activities to try. Here’s a roundup of places and attractions you could explore alone or with your loved ones on your RV trip.

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No trip to San Antonio is complete without a visit to the legendary Alamo. This iconic symbol of Texas history is a testament to the state’s resilience and independence. 

The church features an exhibit of the weapons, cannonballs, rifles, and uniforms used during the battle. The Living History Encampment also provides guided tours and demonstrations of life during the Texas Revolution.

The Alamo isn’t just a church to admire and watch. It also offers engaging educational experiences that keep its history alive, even for modern generations.

The River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk is another iconic site to visit. Nestled amidst the city’s bustling streets, it offers a space for charm and tranquility with its winding pathways and lush greenery.

This place is perfect for a stroll or a scenic boat ride along the river. If you want a bit of a break, you can take your pick of some of San Antonio’s best waterside cafes and restaurants.

San Antonio Missions

The Alamo might be the most famous church in the city, but it is only one of the five missions in San Antonio. The San Antonio Missions is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising five Spanish colonial missions, where you can explore through centuries of San Antonio’s history. 

Built in the 18th century, these churches are a few miles apart. You can explore the entire heritage site by car, or if you want a more scenic route, by foot or bicycle. The Hike and Bike Trail connects all five missions with water, restrooms, and viewpoints for tourists’ convenience.

Natural Bridge Caverns

If you’re a bit more adventurous, the Natural Bridge Caverns might be the destination for you. Take your trip underground into the largest commercial caverns in Texas, with different tour packages catered to audience preferences.

Aside from exploring the caves, the Natural Bridge Caverns also offer surface attractions like zip rails, a maze, and activities made for the kids in your group.

McNay Art Museum

For a touch of culture, schedule a visit to the McNay Art Museum. This cultural institution is home to a renowned collection of European and American masterpieces dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries.

It’s mainly known for displaying pieces from famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Georgia O’Keeffe. If classical pieces don’t interest you, it hosts exhibits for modern-day artists exploring creative and relevant themes through various artistic mediums.

Plan Your Next RV Adventure

San Antonio is an excellent destination for RV travelers who want to explore unique and iconic sites and experience fun activities. Aside from its attractions, the city also promises a rich history and diverse culture that bring substance and enrichment to your trip.

Whether you’re drawn to its rich history, natural beauty, or vibrant cultural scene, this dynamic city promises an unforgettable experience at every turn.

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New challenge unlocked: hiking with a newborn. How to keep your baby safe on the trails

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Last week, my wife and I embarked on a special outdoor adventure. By the numbers, it wasn’t that impressive — a 2.3-mile, 300-foot “hike” up to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook . It took an hour from start to finish. Much of the route was paved. But it was a major milestone for one very important reason: It was our first hike with our newborn daughter, Emma.

In the days before this short but important trip, some pressing questions bounced around my head. Would Emma put up a fight as I wrestled her into the BabyBjörn carrier? Would she wail the whole way up the hill? Would she spit up all over me? (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

A man hikes a trail carrying his newborn in a BabyBjörn

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I was also skeptical about how enriching a hike could be for a 2-week-old infant. Emma can barely see. After nine months in the womb, just lying in her crib must feel like visiting another planet — would she even notice the difference between indoors and outdoors?

To calm my nerves, I spoke with Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz, a pediatrician with UCLA Health. I was relieved to learn that babies, even those as young as Emma, appreciate time outside just as much as adults do.

“It’s a great way to stimulate their development with new senses and sounds, smells, things to look at,” said Dudovitz.

A man in a baseball cap and sunglasses carries his newborn in a BabyBjörn while hiking

Outdoor time offers a host of benefits for babies. In addition to sensory stimulation, it exposes them to common allergens, which reduces their risk of developing allergies later in life, and it’s actually safer than spending time in crowded indoor places — they’re less likely to catch a virus from another person. Perhaps most importantly, going outside can calm a fussy newborn (and their exhausted parents).

“It can be a useful strategy, especially at the end of the day when everybody’s tired and cranky,” said Dudovitz.

Dudovitz also gave me a few tips to ensure our hike was a success. Rule No. 1 is to keep babies out of the sun, as a newborn’s skin is sensitive and sunscreen isn’t approved for use until they’re 6 months old. (Long sleeves and a sun hat are required equipment.) She recommends staying away from places with mosquitoes; if you can’t avoid bugs, you can pre-treat baby clothes with Permethrin to ward them off. Finally, pay close attention to heat and cold as babies can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults can (feel your child’s torso to gauge their temperature).

A woman poses for a photo as she is hiking a trail

Armed with that info, my wife, Emma and I headed out for our first hike. It was a perfect Southern California day, the kind that makes you wonder why anyone would choose to live elsewhere. Warm sunshine spilled down from a deep blue sky, and a fresh breeze rolled in from the ocean as we trekked up the hill from the parking lot.

All around us, the chaparral was lush and alive with blossoms. Mounds of bush sunflowers glowed in the afternoon light, and here and there I noticed patches of coast morning glories, their delicate white cups streaked with purple. Amid the blooms, sagebrush branches stood out with their wispy pale green leaves. I touched them as we passed and savored their sweet, earthy scent. When we reached the top of the overlook, we could see for miles in all directions — the Santa Monica Mountains rising in the distance, the broad blue plane of the Pacific Ocean, and the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. poking up to the east. It was beautiful.

What did Emma think of it? Hard to say. She slept the entire time, stirring only when I took off her hat to snap photos. I think she opened her eyes for 30 seconds total. Even so, my wife and I enjoyed the excursion, and I’m calling this inaugural family hike a success. Next time, maybe Emma will be awake to hear, smell, see and feel all of it too.

3 things to do

A person holds and points at a plant with a yellow bloom. Folks in the background observe.

1. ID plants and potluck in Topanga Canyon

Go for an all-levels plant identification stroll in the mountains of Topanga with Herb Club LA . The 2.5-mile walk will last about an hour and is open to everyone (even leashed dogs). Afterward, the group will be holding a “late Earth Day celebration” at the dreamy local Topanga shop the Well Refill for a tea meditation and potluck featuring herbal sodas and vegan chocolate. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable clothes and appropriate shoes for the hike, and — if they plan to take part in the potluck — to bring vegan dishes and reusable plates, cups and utensils to minimize waste. The event is free (with donations accepted) and kicks off Sunday at 11 a.m. For more information visit .

2. Bike, walk, skate or scoot in SGV

Ditch the car on Sunday and experience what it’s like to roam freely on five miles of streets in Alhambra, San Gabriel and South Pasadena. Active Streets: Mission-to-Mission , presented by Metro Los Angeles and hosted by San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), is a car-free celebration packed with live music performances, pop-up booths from local businesses and community organizations, and free games and activities. Walk, bike, skate or scoot through any part of the route — or conquer the whole thing, if you choose. The free event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you’re a San Gabriel Valley resident, you can borrow a classic GoSGV electric bike for $50 by filling out this form . Active Streets was formerly known as 626 Golden Streets — with the Metro “Gold” line becoming the “L” and then the “A,” the name changed.

3. The Earth Day celebrations continue

Though Earth Day happened on Monday, the L.A. celebrations are still going strong. On Saturday, you’ll find guided nature hikes and storytelling at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve , a seed swap at Barnes Park in Monterey Park and the Teen Climate Fest at Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific . You can also get your gloves dirty on Saturday at the Madrona Marsh in Torrance, which is hosting a habitat restoration event . Pre-registration is required and participants should wear closed-toe shoes and bring sunscreen and water.

The must-read

La Loma bridge.

Here’s a fun idea for getting outside and exploring Los Angeles: Go on a walking tour of the city’s bridges. For The Times, writer Adam Markovitz highlights nine spans all around L.A. that are worth checking out, including quaint walkways over the Venice Canals, the historic Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz and the new 6th Street Viaduct over the L.A. River. Whether you’re in it for the architecture or looking for some new views of the city, these bridges won’t disappoint.

Happy adventuring,

Signature for Michael Charboneau

A recently published book, “ Places We Swim California ,” will get you excited to jump in the water this summer. It highlights over 60 swimming spots all around the state (including several in SoCal) and features road trip itineraries for discovering unique California beaches, rivers and hot springs.

For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild . And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here .

Sign up for The Wild

We’ll help you find the best places to hike, bike and run, as well as the perfect silent spots for meditation and yoga.

why is space travel unnecessary

Michael Charboneau is a freelance writer covering gear and the outdoors, and he’s writing The Wild newsletter for a few months. He has written for a variety of publications, including Men’s Journal, Runner’s World and InsideHook, and he lives in West L.A. When he’s not writing, he can be found running, hiking and biking around Los Angeles and its mountains.

More From the Los Angeles Times

Stewards check tourists QR code access outside the main train station in Venice, Italy, Thursday, April 25, 2024. The fragile lagoon city of Venice begins a pilot program Thursday to charge daytrippers a 5 euro entry fee that authorities hope will discourage tourists from arriving on peak days. The daytripper tax is being tested on 29 days through July, mostly weekends and holidays starting with Italy's Liberation Day holiday Thursday. Officials expect some 10,000 people will pay the fee to access the city on the first day, downloading a QR code to prove their payment, while another 70,000 will receive exceptions, for example, because they work in Venice or live in the Veneto region. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

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Venice tests 5-euro entry fee for day-trippers as the city grapples with over-tourism

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Travel & Experiences

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MODESTO, CA - September 21, 2021: The confluence of the San Joaquin River, left, and Tuolumne River, right, along the Dos Rios Ranch Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 in Modesto, CA. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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