Destination Moon movie posterMaybe if there weren’t so many movies shot in space, we wouldn’t have this problem.Photo: Mark Bult

If you “just want to get away” from Earth for a while by indulging your new hobby of space exploration, you may find the planet pretty steamed when you get back. According to researchers, the budding space tourism industry may be mooning efforts to slow climate change by blasting extra soot, or black carbon, from rocket engines high into the atmosphere. Ten years of soot from commercial space flight might do as much harm as soot from all current commercial air travel. (Soot particles are “dark and light-absorbing and therefore warm the climate.” They come from burning stuff, like coal and wood.)

More out-of-this-world soot is astronaut the kind of action on climate we’ve been hoping for.

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It’s particularly bad news because these tourist spaceships thrust up, up, and away from the part of the atmosphere where weather occurs — plus, new hybrid rocket engines are expected to be even sootier than a dance sequence from Mary Poppins. Without rain clouds to wash the sky clean, particles of soot won’t get flushed out of the stratosphere, instead likely hanging around to heat up the planet for a while.

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“We have to come together to take care of the space commons,” said one of the researchers, Martin Ross, an atmospheric scientist at the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California. We’ve been doing so well with the commons around here, after all.

Now if we could only send future cosmonauts into orbit on bicycles … Hey, E.T. got pretty close, right?


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