Environmental Impact of Space Exploration

With the advancements in technology in the 21st century, space exploration has become a reality. There are more space trips arranged every year than ever before. One of the key factors that have promoted such enthusiasm regarding space exploration is the recent discovery of other planets in the Solar System. Other advancements that have also attracted attention are the unmanned exploration of planet Mars which was unimagined before because of technical issues and expenses. Despite all the challenges that are associated with the space exploration, it has become evident that human beings will continue exploring the outer space. Although space exploration is a positive phenomenon in general, there have been a number of ethical issues surrounding it. People are questioning the environmental impacts of space exploration, the benefits of the space exploration, and the justification of the use of resources that could be used for other purposes. Therefore, the paper focuses on the environmental concerns regarding space exploration as one of the key ethical issues.


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Human beings should safeguard the parts of the universe that they inhabit. They are expected to protect the environment and ensure that the resources on the Earth are preserved. Regarding space exploration, the key question concerning the environment is that over the years, people have not shown any commitment to protecting the planet Earth. The existing level of pollution is already affecting the planet considerably (Watson, 2011). Humans have failed at protecting the globe, but they are very active in exploring the Solar System in four dimensions. This aggressiveness in space exploration raises doubts about the consequent environmental impacts. If humanity has failed to protect the Earth, it is likely that it will not protect the other planets in the Solar System (Lin, 2006).

On the other hand, the continued activities in the Solar System have not been very beneficial, but they have had significant environmental impacts. It is eminent that human beings are ignoring the ethical practices that require them not change the universe in any way. For instance, the space exploration is impossible without rockets. The rockets produce much smoke that is responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer (Peters, 2016). The rocket engines tend to release also active gasses which react with ozone causing severe impacts to the environment. The microscopic soot as well as aluminum oxide is also another source of environmental pollution. Unfortunately, this type of pollution is never accounted for as part of pollution that occurs to the universe (Peters, 2016). The main problem is that during space exploration, rockets stand to dump some of these pollutants in the upper and middle layers of the stratosphere. It means that the pollutants cause an immediate effect on the environment (Peters, 2016). With the rate of space exploration, there will be serious harm caused to the environment (Lin, 2006).

The planetary protection is another issue that arises in the environmental ethics of space exploration. There is a need to protect the planet Earth from the introduction of alien life which may be particularly harmful (Lin, 2006). The risk of contamination is double, in fact. It is indisputable that the Earth is already contaminated (McLean, 2006). Through the acts of space exploration, it is possible that the explorers will be distributing materials to other planets, thus contaminating them. It is a clear indication that humanity does not consider its role of protecting the environment and space seriously. Space exploration risks introducing dangerous microbes to an area that was previously habitable (Watson, 2011). On the other hand, the likelihood of transporting some harmful materials from other planets to the Solar System and introducing them to the planet Earth is greater (McLean, 2006). Thus, the introduction of the elements that are not compatible with the Earth’s ecosystem is one of the major environmental problems.

Furthermore, human beings have caused considerable harm to the planet Earth. They have destroyed forests by expanding human settlements. They have also disrupted wildlife, and some species have become extinct. Therefore, it is probable that if human beings continue to explore the Solar System, they will have the same outcomes that they have had on the Earth. Human beings ought to realize that space is not far away and that the harm that they are causing today influences the outer space (McLean, 2006). As long as humans are a part of space, they are responsible for the consequences of their activities.

The best approach that human beings can take is stewardship. Human beings are the only creatures which have the responsibility of promoting stewardship. They may be considered the stewards of the whole Solar System. Therefore, people should focus on protecting the external environment and adopt a policy of doing no harm to the Solar System (Lin, 2006). Through stewardship, human beings have to adopt a prudent use of the space resources. Although this argument may support space exploration, it also warns against the exploitation of the resources of other planets. In terms of ethics, human beings are expected to be accountable for the damage they cause to the environment. People should consider the impact of their actions on other human beings and the future generations (Lin, 2006). Therefore, humans should not engage in the exploration activities that would cause negative consequences for the universe and the generations to come only because they want to satisfy the desire of a few individuals at the expense of others (Peters, 2016). When carrying out explorations, it is imperative to remember the obligation to protect the Solar System not because of the potential benefits but because it is a duty to safeguard the environment.

On the whole, people should be guided by the principle that they should leave the other planets better than they found them (Lin, 2006). However, this principle has not been followed. From the time the space exploration started, there has been much debris left in the Solar System. As the exploration continues, it is highly likely that more materials will be left (McLean, 2006). There are launch debris, broken spaceships, and satellites among others contaminating the outer space, which could affect the Solar System severely (Lin, 2006). This issue has resulted in the environmental scientists arguing that space exploration does not follow the general guidelines. As human beings engage in space exploration, they should not ignore ethical principles. People should not only focus on a theoretical perspective but also be ready to act ethically in order to be able to protect the environment and embrace the “no harm” ideology.

To conclude space exploration has increased significantly in the 21st century due to the major advancements in technology. However, as human beings continue to explore the Solar System, several ethical issues arise regarding space exploration. One of the key ethical concerns regarding the journeys to the outer space is the environmental one. Space exploration produces significant environmental impacts. Space ships produce smoke and emit other particles that are known to impact on the ozone layer negatively. On the other hand, human beings are expected to be the stewards of the Solar System, but they have failed in this role. In addition, the further exploration might introduce alien life, which may be destructive to the environment of the Earth. Similarly, space explorers may also introduce microbes from the Earth to other planets, which might disrupt life there as well. Thus, it is integral to assess the impact of space exploration on the environment and find the ways to eliminate the negative consequences.

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