To the Editors:

In the March 5 op-ed, "Space travel will only help accelerate global warming," Cameron Weller's argument that space travel will accelerate global warming is an irrational and ill-conceived criticism of the privatized space industry. Yes, technically space travel does accelerate global warming, but so does just about everything else we do on a daily basis, including walking to class or picking up a copy of the Orient. So the question of carbon emissions is not one of absolutes, but rather one of degrees.

It is when the relative impact of spaceflight is considered that Weller's argument falls apart entirely. In 2009 there were around 80 space launches worldwide. Each space shuttle launch consumed around 3.5 million pounds of gasoline, which seems like a lot until one realizes that the United States alone consumes around 2.5 billion pounds of gasoline per day.

Additionally, most of the 80 launches involved something smaller than a shuttle and thus 3.5 million pounds provides an erroneously high estimate of average fuel consumption. An entire year's worth of shuttle launches worldwide constitutes at most around .03 percent of the United States' yearly gasoline consumption. Clearly, space flight is not a major contributor to carbon emissions worldwide.

Additionally, Weller seems skeptical of the fact that the private space flight company she references "is not a NASA-funded operation." However, as of February 2009 NASA announced that, as a cost cutting measure, it would rely exclusively on private firms to provide space shuttles. NASA made this decision presumably because the private sector can shuttle astronauts around more efficiently (read: more greenly).

Finally, the space flight industry has proved to be invaluable when it comes to collecting data on and averting the consequences of global climate change. Although it crashed in the beginning of 2009, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory was intended to send back data on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, thus providing information unobtainable via terrestrial observation. The advances of the private space flight industry could allow scientists to send up a similar satellite in the near future.

The idea that space travel significantly impacts global climate change is a spurious criticism of the private spaceflight industry. If anything, private spaceflight might help us realize the consequences of our carbon emissions and help us to avert the problem.

By focusing her attack on space travel, Weller diverts attention from the real causes of global climate change, thereby exacerbating the problem.


Mike Eldridge '10