Rockets destroying ozone layer, say scientists

May 1, 1991

Two Soviet rocket scientists have warned that the solid fuel rocket boosters used on the US space shuttle release 187 tons of ozone-destroying chlorine molecules into the atmosphere with every launch.

Valery Burdakov, co-designer of the Russian "Energiya" rocket engine, pointed out that each shuttle launch produces seven tons of nitrogen (another ozone depleter), 387 tons of carbon dioxide (a major contributor to the greenhouse effect) and 177 tons of aluminium oxide (linked to Alzheimer's disease) before reaching an altitude of 31 miles.

Burdakov also notes that the history of ozone depletion correlates closely with the increase of chlorine discharged by solid fuel rockets since 1981. Soviet rockets employ a fuel combination that is 2000 times less damaging than the shuttle's but which still destroys 1500 tons of ozone per launch.

According to Burdakov and his colleague, Vyacheslav Filin, a single shuttle launch can destroy as much as 10 million tons of ozone. This means that 300 total shuttle flights will completely destroy the Earth's protective ozone shield.

All other solid fuel rockets also contribute to ozone destruction. Near the top of the list are the US Delta rocket (which destroys 8 million tons per launch), the US Titan, and the French Ariane V.

In an article published originally in South, Burdakov warned that, at present rates of increase, rockets will soon be pouring 100,000 tons of chlorine and nitrogen into the atmosphere annually.

Burdakov has called for international controls and a phasing out of solid fuel rocket technology as well as a ban on supersonic aircraft flights into the stratosphere.

The charges by the Soviet scientists were supported by research done by the Military Toxics Network, headquartered in San Francisco. Working with the Soviet figures and data obtained from NASA, the network concluded that significant damage was being done to the ozone layer by the space shuttle launches. — Christic Institute/PEGASUS

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