Environmental experts have warned that space tourism, which is being spearheaded by various private aerospace firms such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, will have devastating effects on Earth’s atmosphere. Aside from contributing to climate change, the effects could also leave humans exposed to radiation from the Sun.

Earlier in June, NASA announced that it intends to allow private individuals to visit the International Space Station through flight services provided by private companies. In addition, aerospace firms have expressed interest in developing commercial hubs in low-Earth orbit.

For environmental groups, however, the idea of space tourism will be very harmful to Earth since it will cause an increase in shuttle launches. Although studies regarding the environmental implications of rocket launches are not that many, experts are aware of the long-term damage they can cause to Earth’s ozone layer, according to Digital Trends.

For Claudio Magliulo of the environmental action group 350, space tourism is a wasteful concept that will only favor the few.

“Space tourism is a wholly unnecessary use of resources by a very small elite of people and organizations,” Magliulo told Digital Trends. “It’s an elaborate form of escapism for the 1%.”

As a spacecraft flies across the upper atmosphere, it burns up its kerosene-based fuel, which releases various chemicals including chlorine into the air. These chemicals can eat up portions of the ozone layer that blocks out the Sun’s rays. Aside from increasing global warming, these chemicals can also take away the protective layer that shields Earth from space radiation.

Although NASA and other companies have already started looking into using clean fuel for launches, the amount of energy it takes to propel a rocket upwards still produces high levels of carbon.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 spacecraft, for example, releases about 150 metric tons of carbon for each launch. If the company manages to achieve its goal of launching rockets every two weeks as part of its tourism effort, then a total of 4,000 metric tons of carbon will be released annually, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

According to experts including Dr. Martin Ross of the Center for Space Policy and Strategy at the Aerospace Corporation, government-backed guidelines should be enacted now in order to prevent the damaging effect of space tourism in the future.

“If we understand rocket emission now, while their impacts are still smaller than aviation’s impacts, then proper guidelines and metrics could be established that encourage space industry growth,” Ross told Digital Trends.

“If we wait until rocket impacts are large, then such actions might be a burden,” he added. “Research now would be good for the environment and the launch industry.”

falcon9-rocket SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo: Public domain/CC0 1.0