Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn told Reuters yesterday that he is convinced space tourism is both viable and environmentally sound. The company has already received $40 million in deposits from potential tourist-astronauts, including Stephen Hawking and ex-race car driver Niki Lauda. In addition to launching celebrities into space, Whitehorn thinks that Virgin Galactic could one day work on projects like computer servers in space and even replacing long-haul flights–a space flight from Britain to Australia, for example, could be achieved in two and a half hours.
Despite the cost and limited availability of rocket fuel, Whitehorn claims that Virgin Galactic’s flights are actually eco-friendly. Instead of using ground-launching rocket technology, Virgin minimizes fuel use by releasing spaceships into sub-orbit using jet carrier aircraft. The company also uses non-metallic materials in its spacecraft that use less power than NASA space shuttles. And in any case, Whitehorn contends, “Polluting space is extremely difficult. ” A valid point, but depleting earth of non-renewable fuels for everyday trips into space is a real possibility.
Whitehorn does make one convincing argument: viewing our planet from space could be enough to transform even the most hard-hearted among us into environmentalists.