Narcissism, “eco-hypocrites”, and space tourism

Well, someone is not too happy with the concept of personal spaceflight. In a letter to the editor in Saturday’s Washington Post, C. Anthony Altar of Garrett Park, Maryland, uses the WhiteKnightTwo rollout to complain that personal spaceflight is “selfish excess” that should be prohibited. Such travelers, or, rather, “eco-hypocrites”, “burn toluene and other pollutants” on their flights (not sure about the toluene, but no matter). “We cannot accept a narcissism that trumps common sense and pollutes the fragile atmosphere the rest of us must breathe,” he argues. “Public outrage can mobilize our government to outlaw this kind of activity.”

Dr. Altar (yes, he is President and Chief Scientific Officer at Psychiatric Genomics) is more than a little off base here. Yes, suborbital spaceflights will likely release some degree, however small, of pollutants—many human activities do. However, the small size of the vehicles, short burn time, and relatively low flight rate means that such flights will have a miniscule footprint on the environment compared to commercial aviation. Perhaps if he is really concerned about protecting the “fragile atmosphere”, he can try to “mobilize out government to outlaw” commercial aviation.

5 comments to Narcissism, “eco-hypocrites”, and space tourism

  • In response to Mr. Altar I wonder if we (and mankind) should stop dreaming about things that today are beyond our capabilities? In my opinion that is what defines as humans. And about the polution of tolouene I can mention several other industries that uses tremendous amounts of tolouene as solvent, namely the prepress and printing industries. Should we stop the newspaper and magazine industries? Could we cope without all these hot gossip papers?
    -Leif Arndorff

  • red

    Leif: Did you have any specific print publications in mind, like the Washington Post? If he’s really against pollution, maybe he should advocate that the pharmaceutical and chemistry industries be closed down.

    If he’s specifically against pollution for doing things that are merely for enjoyment, maybe he should get the government to outlaw Disneyland, cruise ships, tourism in general, visiting relatives, sporting events, using energy-consuming devices for entertainment, etc.

    I’m not sure why a scientist concerned with the environment would be against environment monitoring science. I have a recent email from an environment monitoring science organization on using the suborbital RLVs for environmental science. Basically it’s about this:

    “This amendment announces a new proposal opportunity in Appendix E.7 entitled “Concept Studies for Human Tended Suborbital Science”. NASA recognizes the advancement of the commercial spaceflight industry and the potential for human-tended suborbital flight experiments enabled by this capability. The imminent emergence of human suborbital flight for commercial purposes offers an opportunity for a new mode of research for the scientific community: human-tended suborbital investigations for cases where having a human in-the-loop would increase the scientific return of flight experiments. …”

    The mind boggles at the array of potential environmental science applications of these vehicles with low cost, frequent, human-tended suborbital space access: environment satellite calibration, testing environment monitoring space instruments before orbital launch, upper atmosphere measurements, frequent Earth remote sensing, cheap launch of environmental smallsats, educational and training opportunities for scientists, etc… None of it will happen without those selfish mean space tourists.

    If it’s space-related pollution that he’s for some reason particularly against, maybe he should call for the Shuttle and Ares rockets to be closed down. Or, maybe the objection really isn’t about pollution? Maybe he just doesn’t like private industry, or just private space industry?

    Maybe he doesn’t like that the initial customers might pay $200,000 for the service. If he doesn’t like wealth, I’m not sure why he’d object to it being separated from wealthy customers and brought into the rest of the economy (aerospace workers, etc). Maybe he just objects to them spending it how they want to, instead of how he wants to. Anyway, if he doesn’t like the price, he might be happy there’s a good chance the price will decrease over time.

  • Ken Davidian

    I got the impression from the op-ed that Tony Altar was mad that eco-tourism would be polluting in any way. I didn’t go back and check the Washington Post article to verify that they referred to the VG/SC venture as “eco-tourism” but if they did, that would have been the first time I’ve ever heard them referred to that way. I don’t think Branson or Rutan have *ever* called their venture “eco-tourism”.

  • Jeff Foust

    Ken: I checked the Post article and it does mention eco-tourism:

    The experience of seeing the Earth, and the fabled visible thinness of its atmosphere, also plays into eco-tourism, a current passion of wealthy travelers, he said.

    [The “he” above is Matthew D. Upchurch, owner of a luxury travel agency in Fort Worth called Virtuoso.]

    I don’t think the Virgin people have used the term “eco-tourism” per se, but have played up the thrill of looking down on the Earth from space, which is what Upchurch was referring to. However, Virgin has also spent a lot of time discussing how environmentally friendly (relatively speaking) this venture would be, from the limited amount of emissions from a typical flight to the efforts being put into the design of Spaceport America (which, if all goes well, will be certified LEED platinum.)

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