Everyone older than eighteen who follows actuality, knows the great Dirk Frimout, the first Belgian astronaut in space. Lots of missions have been accomplished, but the Atlas Mission is one for the history books. An interview done by Amber Myngheer.

Do you think space traveling can help us protect the environment? And how?

Space traveling plays a major role in protecting the environment. That's how we can make different global observations. We can achieve several measurements with meteorological satellites for example, but we can also see natural disasters from space like oil slicks or smog. Sometimes we even notice them easier from space than from the earth. So yes, space traveling plays here a major role, for sure.

What event surprised you the most at your journeys?

What actually impressed me the most is the fact that you can completely go around the earth in just one hour and a half. That relativizes distances and it's very interesting, because everytime you take a look at the earth, you see an other part passing by.

At some point you also see the thin atmosphere and then you realize how fragile the earth is in that dark and cold space.

Are there any consequences of human pollution noticeable in space?

Absolutely, but it's not that easy to see. You fly at a height of three hundred kilometers, so you rather see the continents and rivers. Only big natural disaster like oil slicks and smog above big cities stand out. However, it stays hard to see it with naked eye. We mostly depend on measurements.

The first impression is the beauty of the earth!

What are the results of your research at the Atlas Mission about the impact to the climate caused by the sun and humans?

Well, scientists at earth researched especially the composition of the atmosphere. We performed measurements about the composition, but we researched particularly minority constituents like ozone, nitrogen, etc. With our measurements and researches they verify the models of the scientists. This result has also been used for the Kyoto protocol.

Who appears to be the biggest malefactor? The sun or human beings?

That’s very difficult to say. The sun absolutely has an influence, but now the influence of humans is noticeable for the first time in the history of our planet. At this point, it’s not that bad, but we need to impose conditions like Kyoto. It’s true that the sun is responsable for the warming-up of the earth, something that’s happened before, but now humans also have an influence and that can turn out being dangerous.

What is your opinion concerning the Kyoto protocol? Is this important to you?

Of course this matters to me. On the other hand, people do not need to dramatize this, the environment recovers itself partially. This is a good example of what we call a dynamic balance: nature recovers itself up to a certain limit. Once this limit is reached, the problems will have such an impact that they can't be auto-resolved. And to that point we need to pay attention!
In theory this isn't an issue right now, but everything takes its time, both the damage and the recovery. If one doesn't pay attention right now, this will only be a problem within twenty years. Therefore it is wise to consider the Kyoto protocol as way of precaution.

Will this protocol lead to any results according to you?

There are already a few results, but like I said before: this will take time. We will only be able to evaluate the results in the long term.

Are measurements carried out in space that examine the evolution of the environment on earth?

Actually, lots of measurements are carried out.
Pictures of different flights are compared and that can sometimes lead to spectacular results. These pictures give, for example, a clear image of the evolution of the Caspian Sea suffering from drying as well as the expansion of cities and deserts.
Astronomy contributed a fair part to this all.

Does a journey into space cause a lot of damage to the environment like waste and exhaust gas? And what happens to it?

The Space Shuttle, the spacecraft in which I traveled myself, has engines that use oxygen and hydrogen. The only residue is water and that is not harmful.
However, the launch of the Shuttle is damaging to the environment: a great amount of exhaust gas is spread and up to today there is no other solution to make this less harmful.
Also, the waste that is left behind into space by astronauts can be a problem. In the past it was allowed to dump old satellites and waste of a space station into space, but nowadays that is forbidden.

Is there any evolution in the way that space flights consider the environment?

Of course, space flights have been organized for more than fifty years now and since then, a lot has changed. The experiments are a lot more sophisticated and in the field of environment there is an evolution: the standards are more rigid, which is a good thing.

In the future, space tourism could have a large impact on the environment. Is this a threat?

In my opinion not. The same standards will remain valid and environmentally-friendly spacecrafts will be developed. Space tourism will be expensive, but it is the future!

It seems that the environment isn't in such a bad condition, but we definitely need to be watchful and forward-looking. Standards like Kyoto are important but won't leave an immediate result. Space traveling is absolutely important to understand the environment even better.

"We, human beings, are responsible to keep our spaceship Earth liveable!”


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