The Trench Is Not For Trash

By Kailin LaRosa

The Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean has long been synonymous with the deepest pits of the unknown. Extending down as far as 11,000 meters off the coasts of the South Pacific islands, the content of the deepest known part of the ocean has been a mystery to humans for centuries. As technology has developed, however, scientists have been diving deeper and deeper in order to explore this region of water that has commonly been referred to as the Earth’s last true frontier. One of the most recent deep dives suggests that the Mariana Trench contains more than just the Loch Ness monsters of our childhood imaginations, and that we humans have touched more of the ‘last frontier’ than we may think.

Rebecca Morelle of BBC News reports that Victor Vescovo, an American explorer, recently embarked on the deepest dive into the Mariana Trench since 1960. What was intended to be a celebration of the advancements of modern technology and science ended up displaying the negative impact human development has had on the Earth’s health. Alongside the discovery of new species, Vescovo and his team also discovered synthetic debris such as plastic bags and candy wrappers mingling with the ocean’s deepest inhabitants. This discovery confirms the frightening reality that even the deepest depths of the sea- the world’s ‘last frontier’- are not free from the consequences of human activity.

Not everyone is a scientist or an oceanologist, so how does this discovery impact the average person? What can we, as individuals, do about it?

First, it is important to understand the larger threat indicated by this discovery. The environmental danger of plastic is that it is not biodegradable. That means that when you’re done with your plastic water bottles or plastic shopping bags, those pieces of plastic will take 450 to 1,000 years to completely decompose depending on what type of plastic products they are. When that already environmentally-harmful piece of garbage is then carelessly dumped into our oceans, all of the creatures that live there are put in danger, just like the planet. The stomachs of beloved sea creatures like dolphins, turtles, and seahorses are not naturally capable of digesting plastic, and when these creatures eventually eat the pieces of plastic that they mistake for prey, the results are often fatal.

In our everyday lives, the dominating presence that plastic has in the packaging of food and drinks has made it seem like an unavoidable evil. However, this is not the case. There are several steps a person could take to live a more sustainable and environmentally friendly life. Investing in a reusable water bottle or coffee cup, switching to metal straws, or bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store are just small changes that a person can make that can have a big impact on the environment in the long run. Additionally, while it might be a more extreme change to implement, the zero waste lifestyle provides sustainable alternatives to all products that produce any waste at all, not just plastic.

So while it is a devastating discovery to realize the depth of the negative impact human activity is having on the Earth, this discovery can be used as a wake-up call for every person to become a more mindful consumer and to be conscientious of the waste he or she produces.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48230157

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033


The Next “Small Step”  in Aerospace Technology: Reusable Rockets

By Geneva Ng

Elon Musk is famous for being the mind behind a handful of companies, one of them being SpaceX, which began in 2002. This private company’s goal is to take humans to Mars. One may think that Musk wants to single-handedly save the human race by whisking us all away to this red planet to dodge the polluted future Earth inevitably faces, but that’s not quite correct. While he does consider this a possible future, Musk simply thinks that a reality in which humans aren’t contained to one planet but are sprinkled all over the galaxy is simply, as he stated in a World Government Summit interview, “exciting.” He’s spending millions of his own money to embark on an “exciting” adventure of design, testing, failure, more failure, and eventually incredible success.  Musk believes that the purpose of his life isn’t to solve problems, but to work on something fun, something that interests him and inspires others. He wants to show people that going to Mars is possible, and that more daunting voyages await those who are ready. He wants his success to spark awe and interest into the minds of everyone watching, whether they support or abhor him.

Space travel is expensive. NASA used to drop $500 million on a single launch. Musk is rich, but not that rich, so SpaceX designed reusable rockets to save a couple bucks each time they wanted to attempt another launch. There are three small rocket boosters attached to the back end of a capsule. This big chunk of American engineering flies off into the sky as a single piece with all the individual rockets pushing it off the ground. After a few hundred miles in the air, two of the boosters break off and fall gracefully back down to earth. A short while later, the last of the three does the same, and the capsule, now alone in space, is on its way to wherever it was designed to go. Some previous destinations include the Sun’s orbit. Launches of days past also used a similar procedure in which components would break off after they pushed the payload off the ground, but this left literal tons of space junk floating in Earth’s orbit. SpaceX’s boosters actually do return to Earth’s surface and touch down on their own little landing pads. By little, I mean 700 feet in diameter. This may not sound like much at first, but when you consider the enormous amount of factors that complicate the process of trying to successfully control a massive chunk of steel hurtling towards the earth, hitting a bullseye only a tenth of a mile wide isn’t exactly simple.

What this new aerospace technology means for the company is that all of SpaceX’s planned launches won’t leave nearly as much trash in Earth’s orbit, and more importantly, these rockets can be fueled up and used again to launch something else into space. The amount of money this saves is stupendous. It cost only $90 million to launch this vessel, named the Falcon Heavy. Also, budget aside, this is an unprecedented move in the field of space travel. The concept of a 650-ton metal tube whizzing through the air at unimaginable speeds, then reorienting itself to touchdown on earth was an unfathomable notion until now. The moment when the last of the three boosters landed perfectly upright on its landing pad was almost overwhelming for those who worked tirelessly on this project for years. It was a moment when everyone watching saw unlimited potential in the future of space travel; a moment when kids, teens, and adults all felt a youthful spark of inspiration. Musk achieved both his goals that day: successfully launching and landing his rockets, and capturing the minds of the ambitious. Hopefully, this groundbreaking achievement will inspire others to take their next small steps, or giant leaps, towards their seemingly impossible goals.