The main engines that power the shuttle use a liquid hydrogen fuel combusted with oxygen. The main byproduct is water vapor so this engine is considered relatively harmless to the environment. However, the SRB’s (solid rocket boosters, the tall, pointy white rockets on either side of the shuttle at launch), use a fuel that produces hydrochloric acid as a byproduct. A study of the area surrounding Kennedy Space Center found that the acid may be responsible for reduced ground cover and plant diversity. The study also noted that it may have detrimental effects on the local water systems.
Though claims are occasionally made that shuttle launches damage the ozone layer, the amount of harm done is negligible. In an average year, total ozone is depleted by 0.0065%, less impact than volcanic activity and solar flares. There is, however, cause to be concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide released — 28 tons per launch, as well as 23 tons of particulate matter dispersed around the launch site. Furthermore, the hydrochloric acid released during a launch has been known to cause acid rain, killing plants and animals in the area and polluting water.
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