Environment

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Richard Branson on board Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity in July 2021. The billionaire believes the environmental costs of space travel are set to “come down even further.”
Virgin Galactic | via Reuters

British billionaire Richard Branson believes space travel can be beneficial for the planet, arguing that trips like the one he undertook in 2021 open doors and cut red tape.

Speaking to the BBC in an interview to be broadcast on TV Thursday, it was put to the entrepreneur that figures like Prince William and Bill Gates had expressed some degree of skepticism about space travel given that there were still many challenges on Earth.

Branson was also pushed for a response to those saying why, if climate change was one of his top priorities — he’s previously tweeted that it “threatens our future” — he was sending rockets up into space.

“I 100% agree with them that we’ve got to concentrate on dealing with a whole lot of issues in this world and most of my life is now spent on, you know, tackling a whole raft of different issues in the world,” he replied.

“And I think some of those issues are made easier to deal with by the fact that I have been to space, so I can now pick up the phone to pretty well anybody in the world, get through, cut through the red tape and hopefully get things sorted.”

The Virgin Group founder is one of several wealthy individuals to have taken part in space tourism flights. Others include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos via his Blue Origin firm. Another billionaire involved in the sector is Tesla chief Elon Musk, through SpaceX

During his interview with the BBC, Branson described space travel as being “incredibly important” for the Earth and made the case for it to continue.

“Communication between people is being transformed because of space travel and satellites up there,” he said.

“Monitoring things like the depredation of the rainforests or illegal fishing … has been transformed by satellites up there,” he added, going on to state that there were “all these … kinds of benefits that come from space travel.”

In recent years space tourism and other plans for future space exploration have generated a significant amount of discussion and debate regarding their environmental effects.

In June 2022, for instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres.

The research, the NOAA said, suggested “that a significant boost in spaceflight activity may damage the protective ozone layer on the one planet where we live.”

For his part, Branson told the BBC that the picture was improving.

“What Virgin and our principal competitors have managed to do is bring the environmental costs of space travel down dramatically, in terms of carbon cost,” he said, later adding that this would “come down even further.”

“You can’t and shouldn’t stop progress,” he said. “Through progress you get the breakthroughs — you can never be quite sure what breakthrough you’re going to get, but you get these breakthroughs, and that will benefit the Earth.”

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