The toxic space race

Posted by Daniel Pendick
on Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Now that humans have broken the green barrier — launching fabulously wealthy people into orbit — the Russian aerospace firm RKK Energia has proposed the next advance in commercial spaceflight: exporting toxic waste and other harmful processes off-world.

The bearer of this bad news will be Energia's proposed Kliper/Parom launch system, envisioned as a replacement for the aging Soyuz system. It consists of two parts: a reusable glider (Kliper) and a jumbo "space tug" (Parom). Kliper and Parom would be launched separately using existing boosters. Joined in orbit, astronauts in Kliper could pilot the space tug to the International Space Station, the Moon, or Mars. Once back in Earth orbit, the cosmonauts would break free of the tug and glide to Earth.

Sounds good to me. Here's the scary part.

Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of Energia, reportedly told a reporter with the newspaper Vedomosti that Kliper/Parom would open the possibility of "outsourcing harmful industries into space."  I can just hear space lawyers — yes, there are actually lawyers who specialize in space law — shining their shoes in anticipation of the lawsuits. "It is time to think about industrial development of the Moon," says Sevastyanov.

The industrialization of space is not a bad idea in itself, as long as we are doing it to take advantage of zero-G, or plentiful solar energy, or some other otherworldly resource.

But willfully exporting known toxins to the Moon or into orbit? Sounds like a non-starter to me. Perhaps Energia could stick with transporting the wealthy for a while — perhaps a one-way trip to the Moon for Paris Hilton and 100 of her very closest friends?

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