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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pigs In Space: You Really Must

Space Hotel 2012
Image found at MY MODERN MET
[Updated at the bottom, after the break, with a link to John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report's more mature thoughts on the subject of space travel. And some more sober thoughts from me, as well.]

Ah, prosperity. The human race really is doing so well, it's time for our masters to take a breather. And survey the conquered land.
USA Today reports:
Talk about room with a view... Reuters reports that a Russian company wants to launch a hotel in orbit - 217 miles above Earth.

A company called Orbital Technologies hopes to build an orbiting hotel with room for seven rich, adventurous and space loving guests, Reuters says.
Ah, "space loving!" Our rich and adventurous overlords' hearts are so huge that the love of merely the Earth simply will not do.

If they can afford it, why not, right? Well, maybe because we can't afford it. How do you price in the externalities of that carbon footprint? Of course, the Walt Disney of space travel, Virgin Galactic (whom I'm sure will be bidding for the taxi contract), addresses this:
These features add up to a system which can be described as environmentally benign compared to any form of space launch technology, manned or unmanned that has ever existed. In terms of carbon footprint, current calculations suggest that emissions per passenger, per trip, will be approximately 0.8 tonnes - less than a one-way flight from London to New York.
Mind you, this is the self-serving figure ("current calculations suggest") and, really, do you think that comparing yourself to a jet flight across the Atlantic Ocean does the trick? Anyway, that's a pie-in-the-sky calculation, from a pie-in-the-sky corporation. The reality will be much worse, and since we peasants are going to need to shed the idea of even automobile usage (which releases far less carbon per passenger than air travel) if we want to preserve life on Earth, then I don't have much tolerance for gratuitous luxury air-travel, let alone rocket boosters for pigs in space.

This is not much of a threat, realistically. Their numbers are too few, and it is a rather dodgy proposition - in space, they can't hear you scream, but I'm sure the first accident will be catastrophic and well-reported. (And, after the novelty wears, will "space lovers" really be all that enamored with the cabin space?)

But, no matter. I still will sneer, and excuse my brethren for egging the limos as they go slinking by.

Update: The Archdruid has a post on the bittersweet twilight of space travel, and I would like to acknowledge that melancholy here. Also, this bit from that essay piece (my emphasis):
...The only viable way ahead for now, and for lifetimes to come, involves learning to live well within our ecological limits; it might also help if we were to get it through our heads that the Earth is not humanity’s cradle, or even its home, but rather the whole of which each of us, and our species, is an inextricable part.
This passage evokes another objection to space travel or, more specifically, colonization, that has developed within me over the years. It is an intensely personal - actually, quite religious - notion, as such I will mention it here only as a means of describing myself, and not as something that I necessarily hold as true: I do wonder if the human race could survive at all if separated from Mother Earth, regardless of the technical wizardry and support that we might muster. Would this separation, in fact, fatally deprive the would-be colony of something... ineffable?

Finally - to offset the snark of the main post here - I was a very avid space travel fan throughout my early formative years. Greer mentions The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, setting off gyres of nostalgia in my head - and I remember reading You Will Go To The Moon aloud to my first-grade classmates (it was considered freaky then to be able to read at such a young age, is it still? Anyway, thanks mom.) Even though I didn't know how to pronounce "space stat-ee-on" ("station"). Plus I was an avid Star Trek fan... I liked politics even then. (Go to his essay to understand these asides.)

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