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Branson’s Virgin spaceships to gather climate data

OK, while the nerdy sci-fi fan in Greenbang loves the idea of a Jetson’s style future where we all get round by jetpack or hop into our personal space vehicles for a short inter-galactic holiday, it seems completely environmentally irresponsible to be encouraging more space travel by developing the concept of space tourism in these times of climate change.

The aviation industry is already one of the world’s biggest CO2 emitters and the idea of spending billions on commercial spaceships appears just bonkers.

One of the pioneers of commercial space travel is Richard Branson with his Virgin Galactic vehicles that will take passengers on sub-orbital flights 68 miles above the earth – just outside earth’s ‘boundary’ with space. Of course Virgin claims that, because of a range of innovations, Virgin Galactic will be operating an “environmentally-benign” space launch system.

But something genuinely good for the environment may now come out of all this following a deal with the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) to use Virgin Galactic vehicles to fly science instruments onboard the manned space vehicles to provide data on atmospheric composition that will help increase understanding of climate change science.

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C Lautenbacher Jr, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said:

“We need data and observations to understand how our climate changes. This affords us a new and unique opportunity to gather samples and measurements at much higher altitudes that we can usually achieve.”

If you are interested in booking a flight on Virgin Galactic, btw, it’ll set you back $200,000, and a minimum deposit of $20,000.

More from Virgin Galactic here.


  • Refunk
    Posted October 3, 2008 at 10:32 am

    GaS: Virgin Galactic already has a waiting list of passengers.

    Yes, Andy, aerospace travel pollutes and – like everything else – has been for the last 75 years or so and will continue to be the domain of well-heeled folks who want to compress time for their own needs with nary a consideration of their environs. Space travel, however, is more about the furtherance of human knowledge than mere recreation, more about science than immediate financial profit, and Branson knows that. Commercialization of space is the process of bootstrapping humanity into the wider heritage of Nature. Unfortunately like every other human endeavor, it will be filled with mistakes, misdirection, and greed, but it can also lead to the knowledge and resources to care for ourselves and our world(s).

    It’s not a case of “Earth First, We’ll Use Up The Other Planets Later,” so much as the fact that space travel will evolve hand-in-hand with access to additional space-found material resources and technologies from which humankind will benefit in future generations. Terrestrial aviation has iterated from the curiosity of balloon flights to military observation to weapons platforms to air ambulances, medical cargo flights, SAR and space-borne environmental surveillance assets. This (particularly space exploration) represents the same kind of human initiative and species progress which took hominids out of primitive (as in, “something out there wants to eat me”) wilderness into communities, out of hunger to the understanding & production of reliable foodstuffs and cultural development, and finally across oceans in search of trade and material to perpetuate societies.

    The technology to get off Earth and its impact thereon will be moderated by concomitant limits on available resources. We’re already running so low on oil that the USAF is well into a program to wean its fleets from petroleum (I cite them since you mention environmental responsibility in connection with aviation, and they’re kinda bigger than VG in every way).

    The fact of Virgin Galactic’s hooking up with NOAA is right in line with Branson’s attitude about his enterprise, much in the same vein as Google’s recent investments in green technologies. The expansion of our common understanding and experiences upon and above the Earth invariably results from bold, controversial beginnings which devolve to the commonplace (albeit important) — stuff like printing, or maybe the revolutionary access to information made possible by these here Inter-webs on this computer thing.

    With any luck, in less time than from here back to when our antecedents were clumsily exploring North America, our descendants will be using clean power generation and responsible farming and manufacturing tech in a more just world. Progress requires pressure. Ain’t nothin’ brings on more pressure and is less forgiving than space travel. Every detail has to be refined to [near] perfection – I think it was Michelangelo who said, “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” The manifold benefit of humanity in space, in terms of spin-offs, has long been established. Virgin Galactic is an early step to where we’re going, a stroke in the artwork of human experience.

    Somebody’s got to do it, Andy. And, somebody’s got to keep reminding them to do it right, which is the great value of sites like this.

  • 800HighTech
    Posted October 3, 2008 at 5:32 am

    At least Branson does some useful things with his cash!

  • bob smith
    Posted October 3, 2008 at 4:09 am

    Actually, I think he is pre-booked for a nice chunk of time already. Plenty of millionaires around the world these days with 200k to blow, at 6-8 people per flight, it will take a while to get through them all.

  • Geeks are Sexy
    Posted October 2, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    At $200,000 per flight, I don’t think the Virgin Galactic will be blasting into sub-orbital space too often. 🙂

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