Is Space Exploration Worth Our Time and Resources?

by toddy

The time and resources humanity has spent on space exploration since the beginning of the space age is by no means a small amount. This begs us to question what we really achieved during this time, and just maybe the effort would have been of greater use elsewhere?

My fascination and curiosity for the seemingly infinite void of space have brought me to a sort of crossroads. So, I decided to find out.

Accordingly, have our efforts been spent well on space exploration?

Yes! The pursuit of space exploration has not only allowed us to study our climate system from orbit but the technology developed for space has also been extended to shape our way of life on Earth. The knowledge and opportunities we gain from space exploration are priceless, but most importantly, our pursuit of the stars will continue to give hope and inspire the next generation to chase after their dreams. Because after all, the possibilities are endless.  

Unfortunately, not everything is straightforward like a math problem. The completely “unbiased” answer for this resource allocation problem extends a lot further than you might think.

Let me walk you through it.

What have we accomplished in Space so far?

Monitoring Climate Change

Back in 2018, representatives from 200 countries gathered in Katowice, Poland for the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change. It was deemed the long-term goal of preventing a global average temperature increase of 2°C above pre-industrial levels was not enough, and an international effort must be coordinated to halt warming at 1.5°C.

With that, the meeting focused on a triangular effort of nature, man, and technology to investigate how they can be used to reduce climate change.

While the complexity of nature and the greed of man can be a hard concept to wrap our heads around for an immediate solution, space exploration technology could at least give us a basic understanding of where we stand in our efforts today.

Satellites were already in place to measure the Earth’s changing temperature, sea levels, atmospheric gases, declining ice, forest cover, etc. This gave the scientific community the data needed to understand the Earth and predict its future.

Space Technology used on Earth

The technology developed for space travel by no means was only meant for interstellar space. In fact, their use has for decades been ingrained into our daily lives on earth.

  • Camera Phones – the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1990s worked to create cameras small enough for spacecraft but with a quality high enough for scientific use.
  • Scratch-resistant Lens – the technique for producing scratch-resistant lenses was developed to provide diamond-hard coatings for aerospace systems.
  • Athletic Shoes – the Nike Air Trainers was pitched by a former NASA engineer based on space suit construction technology.
  • Wireless Headsets – these headsets were first developed to allow astronauts to function hand-free in space.

And so many more!

Solution for Global Catastrophes

Asteroid Detection

The countless asteroids wandering in space will have no complaints if they accidentally ended up on Earth. If only the mass extinction of dinosaurs taught us nothing, the only way for humanity to come out of this alive is to remain active in the space sector and be prepared to deflect any incoming hostiles.

The Search for a New Home

Even with global warming under control, it is predicted by 2050 there will be 9 billion people alive on Earth. And many scientists believe the Earth has a maximum capacity of 9-10 billion people based on the limited availability of fresh water and food supplies. As such, it is of utmost importance for humanity to become an interplanetary species.

Space Mining

Food and water are not the only limiting resource; our precious planet also has a limited assortment of metals. To make matters worse, the mining industry is in part responsible for the air and water pollution, as well as the destruction of natural forming landscapes.

With asteroid mining, we could replace the mining industry completely but also gain access to an unlimited supply of metals for the demands on Earth.

Prioritization for the Allocation of Resources

Many will not acknowledge the number of resources we have poured into the space industry. But if we think carefully, such an opinion is based on the fundamental belief that Space Exploration will be of no benefit to the inhabitants of this planet. Which from the accomplishments above can be seen as a fool’s attempt to undermine the value of knowledge.

In a more blunt manner, a society based on instant gratification does not allow us to see past the ‘deficient efforts’ of the present for the reward of the future.

Obviously, I am not insinuating that the growing number of humanitarian crises on Earth is of no importance. But such a relationship is like comparing apples to oranges. Both are important but completely different.

Humanitarian crises such as world hunger and child poverty are seen as problems in need of a solution, while space exploration exists as a solution for problems that have yet to occur.

A solution will always be seen as a fool’s judgement when no problems are identified.

Let me give you an example.

In a perfect world, it is impossible to have a flat tire. But I leave a spare anyway just in case so I don’t become stranded on the side of the road. Will this be accepted as a wise or foolish decision? Obviously, I’m the idiot. It’s a perfect world. Flats don’t happen.

But the matter of fact is that we don’t live in a perfect world. Just because you can’t see a problem does not mean it doesn’t exist. An Earth-sized asteroid could be heading for us as you read this article.

What are others saying?

Matthew S. Williams from Interesting Engineering also spoke regarding three assumptions against the improper allocation of resources for space exploration.

  1. Why do some assume space exploration and solving the problems we have on earth are mutually exclusive rather than complementary?
  2. Will directing funds into space exploration actually deprive efforts to address other problems? (Just taking the statistics from the US alone, the budget set aside for NASA in the 2020 fiscal year is $22.629 billion. This seems like a big number, but in context, this is representative of only 0.48% of all US government spending)
  3. Why single out space exploration if there are other sectors that warrant even more money and resources, like the military?

This is great food for thought!

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