Beam Me Up, Scotty!

Samantha SinghMarch 7, 2022Time and SpaceFeatures

Artwork by Yongwei Yuan, age 16

Warp drive. Mirror universe. Technobabble. Extraterrestrial humanoid species. These terms are just some of the many beloved sci-fi space tropes in Star Trek, a television series and staple of popular culture around the globe.

Today, people no longer have to imagine a voyage into space. Instead, they can live it. On December 19, 2021, the Falcon 9 rocket, a private vehicle owned by SpaceX, was launched, alleviating sustainability concerns regarding space exploration. The rocket was one-of-a-kind: it possessed a two-stage rocket booster system with reusable engines. This reusability extended past the engines, however, as the combined stage system carried the rocket 100 kilometers before detaching the first stage part. This allowed for the first stage to land back to Earth, and later be refurbished for another space journey. An amalgamation of carbon fiber landing legs, aluminum-lithium walls, and metal contraptions brought to life from the pages of a science fiction novel, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was positioned to break barriers in sustainable space transportation technology. The ultimate goal of SpaceX’s reusable rockets like Falcon 9, and other space ventures, is to ensure permanent resettlement of humankind on Mars if and when the situation on Earth goes awry. However, this goal is rooted in Musk’s own desire to maximize profit, as he is offering capitalist diversions as a placebo, the same diversions that increase his capital at the cost of rampant environmental destruction.

Space exploration is essential to understanding the universe as we know it. Additionally, many life-saving innovations have emerged from space programs, such as insulin pumps and CAT scans. Nonetheless, what is the cost of our pursuit of the universe? The romanticism of space travel and the terraforming of Mars, much like what has been done extensively in popular culture and media, is not only idealistic — it’s incredibly dangerous, as it entails worsening the climate disaster on Earth, as well as increasing the wealth gap. For one, the landscape of Mars is straight out of a horror movie. While the Earth’s ozone layer and atmosphere block out harmful solar radiation, Mars is constantly bathed in harmful ultraviolet radiation. What’s worse is that Mars’ atmosphere is too thin, making it unable to trap heat, like Earth’s, and furthermore unable to hold liquid water on the planet’s surface. According to NASA, increasing Mars’ atmosphere to that of Earth’s would take millions of years, and no practical solutions or modern-day technology can alleviate the issue.

Not only does Mars have a nearly inhospitable environment, but the trip to Mars is also a taxing and perilous one. NASA and the International Space Station have conducted evaluations to identify hazards of human spaceflight to Mars, and the results are far from utopian. They estimate that people could be crammed in small spaces for long periods of time (roughly three years to travel to Mars), isolated, and poisoned by cancer-causing radiation in deep space. Any microorganisms, deadly or otherwise, can more easily be transferred from human to human in the closed-off environment of the spacecraft. Not to mention that the lack of gravity during flight can cause brittle bones (osteoporosis) prematurely, accelerated weakening of organs, and a drop in immune cells fighting against disease. The disregard of these well-known horrors, endorsed by countless scientists and irrefutable research, exemplifies the profit-driven mindset private enterprises have while advancing projects like Falcon 9.

The near inhabitable landscape of Mars, and space at large, doesn’t seem to ward off billionaires looking to grow their capital in what’s known as the “billionaire space race.” In 2019, former CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos told an audience that the Earth will become a “civilization of rationing and stasis,” so we must expand to space where “resources are, for all practical purposes, infinite.” At the International Astronautical Congress in 2016, Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of SpaceX, emphasized his goal of colonial settlement to Mars, explaining that “history suggests that there will be some extinction event. The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and multi-planetary species.” Now, with the launch of the lucrative private space industry — headed by billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson — more and more rockets are being launched to outer space with the intent of making space travel more “accessible to all,” per Richard Branson.

Regardless of how “accessible” space tourism may become, many researchers are worried that the Falcon 9 rocket, along with others like it, will have dire consequences for the environment. According to The Guardian, these rockets require propellants — kerosene in the case of the Falcon 9 Rocket — and other fuels that increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere; these carbon emissions tend to stay in the atmosphere for two to three years, and burning fuels accelerates the destruction of the ozone layer, the layer in the Earth’s atmosphere that blocks harmful ultraviolet radiation. What’s worse is the space tourism industry is expected to boom in popularity, increasing by 17.15% each year in the next decade. As the industry doubles and triples in size, so too will the problem of emissions. It is imperative that we consider the ugly realities of space travel in more ways than one.

Rather than investing in the private space race, billionaires should instead invest in fighting the current climate crisis. Wildfires, record heat waves, increased drought, and other extreme weather conditions are just a few of the many climate disasters endangering all life on Earth. Why move to Mars or search for other planets when we can rectify the situation on Earth? Space exploration and travel may provide an understanding of the beyond, but space colonization, in particular, shifts crucial focus away from global warming on Earth, propagated by industries such as the space tourism industry. Space billionaires seek an escape from the irreversible repercussions of climate change that they largely accelerated. Rather than investing millions of dollars of funding — Blue Origin received 579 million dollars in funding from NASA in 2020 alone — to develop a more habitable Earth, space capitalists are placing bids on Mars and other galactic entities.

Due to the impending climate crisis, billionaire space race, and the slim-to-none chance of ever successfully terraforming Mars, it is vital that we shift global focus and resources from space exploration to saving our planet. Escapist daydreams proposed by billionaires for profit, partly pushed by human manifest destiny ideology, are becoming the cure-all for the guilt we feel for exploiting our 4.5-billion-year-old planet. However, the facts are simple: Mars colonization, similar to Star Trek’s warp drive or techno-babble, is simply a form of utopianism, providing an escape for the bourgeois elite, rather than a safety net for all people. On the other hand, climate change is a very real and devastating threat that requires immediate global attention. Instead of developing technology to look outward at the strange new worlds of space, we should first look inwards at the planet we call home.


Bezos, Jeff. “Going to Space to Benefit Earth.” Filmed May 9, 2019. Video, 51:27.

Gammon, Katharine. "How the Billionaire Space Race Could Be One Giant Leap for Pollution." The Guardian, July 19, 2021.

Kramer, Miriam and Bryan Walsh. "The Push to Define Workers' Rights in Space." Axios, April 13, 2021.

Mayes, Janet. "As Amazon Workers Struggle for a Union, Bezos Sends Exploitation to Outer Space." Workers World, April 16, 2021.

O’Connell, Cathal. "Reusable Rockets Explained." Cosmos, February 6, 2018.

Roulette, Joey. "Blue Origin ‘Gambled’ with Its Moon Lander Pricing, NASA Says in Legal Documents." The Verge, September 29, 2021.

Steigerwald, Bill and Nancy Jones. "Mars Terraforming Not Possible Using Present-Day Technology." NASA, July 30, 2018.

Samantha Singh is an eighth grader who attends Wayzata Central Middle School in Plymouth, Minnesota. She loves to write, read, and design and create STEM-related products to better her community.