Space Race Increasing Pollution Concerns

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A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket begins its demonstration flight with liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, 2018.
Source: Kennedy Space Center/NASA

The 21st century space race continues to send rockets through the outer limits of Earth’s atmosphere, leaving toxic metals in the stratosphere, punching holes in the ozone layer, and potentially creating a disastrous pollution problem for space and Earth.

Astronomer Aaron Boley says we don’t understand what rockets do to the environment yet, which is the beginning of the problem: “We are changing the system faster than we can understand those changes. We never really appreciate our ability to affect the environment. And we do this time and time again.”

Experts worry that the pollution could go unregulated because space launches do not currently fall under any regulatory power, meaning private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic would have to research and self-regulate. 

1. Should the government regulate pollution from space launches? Why or why not?

2. If space exploration increases pollution on Earth, should the exploration continue? Why or why not?

3. What regulations would you put in place for space exploration? Consider pollution and other concerns. Explain your answer(s).

Shannon Hall, “The New Space Race Is Causing New Pollution Problems,”, Jan. 22, 2024