Who Owns the Moon? Forum on Risks of Increased Rocket Launches in Florida

Rockets Away! Risk and Rewards of Increased Rocket Launches on the Space Coast

A meeting held by the League of Women Voters

We anticipated that the aerospace industry representatives would have a candid discussion regarding the effects of launch increases on Brevard County residents and how this impacts our environment. An open discussion on legacy contamination and how that is being addressed, preventing future exposures, how rockets are affecting the ozone layer, and how they contributed to the nutrient overload in the Indian River Lagoon during a time when it was customary to dump sewage waste into the waterways and more in-depth conversation on how we can move forward as a community and partners in these challenges. That's not exactly how this meeting went.

The meeting began with a representative from the City of Cape Canaveral describing the new recreational building and how many technological advances they had added to the building. Including energy-saving lights and how they developed a way never to let treated reclaimed water reach the lagoon and instead be held in recreation tanks to percolate in the soil. 

Long-time resident and respected environmental advocate Laurilee Thompson of Titusville, Florida, was the first speaker. She covered in great detail how the space industry transformed the space coast and the challenges that came with that. Generations lived and worked on the Cape doing commercial fishing, in the citrus industry, hunting, and as fishing guides. She talks about when she remembered living in an area where they had to relocate so that the space industry could move in. There was a loss of land for homes, but promises were made, and the National Wildlife Refuge was created.

Thompson spoke about the environmental changes to the banana creek in the mid-1950s and how there were dead zones and no regard for environmental or economic impacts 60+ years ago. The Banana river was dredged and dumped on top of waterways and marshes. They later would take this dredge fill back to the water and make islands as they learned that this was a way to protect the area from rising water issues. 

She also went over how pesticides were sprayed on top of the water to combat the mosquitoes and how dykes were formed from Brevard County to St. Lucie to help control the blood-sucking insects. Another overview was how rock piles trapped dead seagrass allowing algae to pile into the cracks and rot, attributing to more nutrients. Thomspon then finished her presentation with how the Space Center developed partnerships, and "Engineering with Nature" was born. 

So far, the meeting was informative, and an excellent overview of our ecosystem's challenges as the aerospace industry began launching rockets in a refuge on their journey to space exploration. The Next speaker was Dr. Al Koller, who started a career in aerospace in 1959 and would spend the next few decades earning degrees and passionately working for the industry. Koller spoke of the challenges of launching rockets and how they involved nature, physics, and chemistry. He quoted, "We came in peace for all mankind."

The first few slides covered how rockets work, the lighthouse on the Cape, and a brief mention of flame deflectors, but the topic of his presentation didn't address much environmentally. He spoke about how we are in competition globally and with ourselves and how space operation is expected to change. Koller said we would likely see more paid passengers go to outer space.

Who owns the moon?

One slide in his presentation asked in big letters, "Who owns the moon?" Koller explained that there are valuable minerals on the moon that can be mined and used as resources.

"A thriving lunar economy will make off-world activity profitable and it will greatly expand the number of mission taking place. There are some extremely valuable resources on the moon that could support such a lunar economy." - herox.com

This discussion felt out of the ordinary when we thought the forum was focused on the risks of increased rocket launches here on earth. As environmentalists, the thought of mining another planet is outlandish, knowing the detrimental effects that it has had on our world. 

The next presenter, Dale Ketcham, Space Florida's Vice President of Government, and External Relations, had another engagement he had to attend. He needed to cut his presentation short and didn't go through all his PowerPoint slides. Ketcham emphasized that if they didn't create the National Wildlife Refuge, there would be shopping, condos, and heavy development instead. It seems like a way of saying that communities should be thankful and content as the federal government provided an area to enjoy nature. 

As an added note, the National Wildlife Refuge is closed during specific launches for safety reasons and that land filters contamination. Also, it's our tax money that goes to the federal government. 

Then there was talk about how the Chinese are doing things we haven't done, like landing on the far side of the moon and successfully putting a robot on Mars on their first try. He talked about how the commercial industry is doing it cheaper and faster than the government and how they fear losing out to China. 

Ketcham then went into how we "do exploration for glory, fear, or greed" and that we are doing it to make money. He expressed how important it is to make Brevard County clean and livable so that young skilled people in technology want to bring their families here to live. Again, he reiterated the economic desire for wealth. 

Travel & Give Birth on the Edge of Space

Beyond money, people will live and work in space pods, even giving birth to babies in outer space. There is a demand to bring talent to the space coast as this is the desired port area where a transportation system will take people to space. Ketcham left after his talk.

All in all, the meeting confused us, and we clearly had a different idea of what this meeting meant to cover. 

Questions and Answers 

Q: Elizabeth Baker wrote down a question regarding whether the space industry has ever notified the public of contamination exposures in the past and if they felt obligated to do so. 

A: This card was skipped. 

Q: I asked how many sewage treatment plants the Kennedy Space Center have on its property.

A. They never gave a number and didn't discuss the impacts of those plants or septic tanks on the Indian River Lagoon. Brevard County municipalities released sewage directly to the lagoon for decades until a law was made in the 90s that restricted sewer discharge into the waterway. 

It would be naive to believe that the space center wasn't doing the same at that time. This is one of many reasons why it's essential to bring them to the table to help us save this national estuary of significance. They have a responsibility to do so as they contributed to the Indian River Lagoon's decline. 

Lew Kontnik of the Indian River Lagoon Round Table explained that there is consideration for the comprehensive planning and implementation of advanced water treatment to correct that. Still, it wasn't clear if that's what the space center was doing or if he meant the county.

Below is a 1986 document that discusses sewage treatment plants and septic tanks at the Kennedy Space Center:

Q: How is the fuel from rockets impacting our environment?

A. Koller says that kerosene oil and water don't mix. Solids produced particulates from the shuttle and were left in the environment. It lowered the pH around the pads and made the water very acidic. The chemicals in solid rocket boosters are not suitable for water. However, nature is powerful and has the recovery capability. It would kill minnows, but the soil's calcium would neutralize water acidity over time. 

He also mentioned that there are challenges with population growth, sewage flow from municipalities, stormwater flow, and traffic with new companies coming in. 

"Nothing is more expensive than waste in a manufacturing process." They've done it quick and dirty; in the earlier days, they didn't know much about rocket fuel. They used a cleaning compound perchloric. For years the pipes were dumped in the ground and contaminated the aquifer, and they would go in and pump or clean it. It's an expensive process. Liquid methane is cleaner than solids. 

Q: Will the wetlands continue to be impacted? 

A. Yes, the wetlands will be impacted. The Kennedy Space Center is full of water. 

Other comments made by presenters and attendees: 

Additional comments that Koller made were that the industry isn't taking in data like they were and needed to get back to that to understand their impacts. He also talked about how there used to be air monitoring stations around the Cape to see how far the effects were. 

One attendee mentioned that if we want to bring bright minds to the space coast, we can't encourage young people to come when we have so many education issues. 

Another commenter said that the space center contributed to the lagoon condition, and in the north, it's terrible. If they continue to develop the cape, the damages will increase significantly, and we need to get serious about low-impact development and a strict environmental assessment process. 

Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey, a cancer cluster survivor and environmental health advocate, is a researcher and journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience, having been published globally.

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