Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cape Canaveral, Au Naturel

An American Bald Eagle nest along Kennedy Parkway south of the Vehicle Assembly. Photo source: NASA.

Florida Today published two articles today looking at the damage caused to the environment at Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island by decades of space launches.

"Shuttle, Rocket Liftoffs Leave Legacy of Costly Cleanups at KSC" is the main article:

Plumes of carcinogenic chemicals used in the launching of the space shuttles, Apollo moon shots and other rockets seeped deep into sandy soils beneath launch pads and other structures at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

They form viscous toxic goo that will take $1 billion in cleanup costs agencywide over many decades, and could bog down funding for next-generation spacecraft.

The article notes, "No one drinks water drawn at the space center, nor the air station, but federal law still mandates the cleanup, at taxpayer expense. Other potential harm to humans and wildlife is uncertain."

Click here for a map showing the locations of contamination at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the map.

The other article is "Turns Out, Kennedy Space Center Critters are Pretty Healthy" suggests that little harm has been inflicted overall to the wildlife despite the contamination and other consequences of launching rockets:

Short-term effects of launches are well studied and understood. Loitering rabbits, scrub jays and armadillos get instantly cremated. Liftoffs send hydrochloric acid into the nearby Indian River Lagoon, killing small fish.

KSC's sandy, alkaline soils are thought to neutralize most contaminants before they can magnify up the food chain.

The article quotes a fisheries ecologist as saying, "I've never seen such a healthy ecosystem."

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