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The planet is warming, the oceans are acidifying, the Amazon is burning down, and plastic is snowing on the Arctic. Humanity’s environmental devastation is so severe, experts say, that a global-scale ecological catastrophe is already underway. Even those holding sunnier views would be hard-pressed to deny that our global footprint is presently less a light touch and more a boot stamping on Earth’s face. Against this dark background, one might ask if spending lavish sums to send humans to other worlds is a foolhardy distraction—or a cynical hedge against life’s downward spiral on this one.

 

Spaceflight, however, has the potential to be more than just a planetary escape hatch for eccentric billionaires. Whether in today’s Earth-orbiting spacecraft or the outposts that may someday be built on the moon and Mars, to exist beyond Earth, we must somehow replicate all of our planet’s life-giving essentials off-world. Technologies that recycle practically everything—that make water, air and food as renewable and self-sustaining as possible—are essential for current and future human spaceflight.

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Category: Science