For years, every launch of the space shuttle has left behind a huge amount of poisonous exhaust. It pollutes the air, contaminates the water and kills local plant life. It has also been found to be very hard on human health. Thyroid problems are one known human health problem associated with the toxins left behind by the shuttle. Each launch leaves behind approximately 230 tons of hydro-chloric acid. This is a very corrosive substance and it is also highly soluble in water. Studies have shown conclusively that the launches are reducing the number of plant species around the launch sites.
Since 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been critical of the amount of environmental damage caused by each and every launch. Thus, for some years now, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Air Force (its original parent organization) have been looking for alternative fuels in hopes of finding cleaner options with equal or superior technical performance.
One very promising solution is Alice rockets. Alice rockets are fueled by an environmentally-friendly rocket fuel made of aluminum and ice. The name is derived by combining the shorthand or chemical notation for aluminum (AL) with the word "ice". Research has been done on alternative fuels of this sort for several decades, starting in the 1960's.
More recently, after two years of intensive research, a press release indicated that on August 7, 2009 NASA had successfully launched its first functional Alice rocket. It rose to 1300 feet in the air and achieved a flight speed of 2005 m.p.h. It has a high burn rate and during the research flights it achieved a maximum thrust of 650 pounds.
The industry is getting excited about the possibility of using this as a replacement fuel. It shows potential promise to be a higher performance fuel than our current conventional rocket fuels. It is also theorized that Alice propellant can be manufactured off world in places like the moon or Mars. This is potentially a great deal more efficient and cost effective than manufacturing fuel on earth and transporting it long distances to such locations. That opens up exciting possibilities for future space exploration missions.
So, just how tall was this break-through Alice rocket? It was nine feet tall. Of course, if this fuel is going to replace space shuttle fuel, it will need to be proven to work on a much larger scale.