Space Exploration: Wonderful or Wasteful?

Personal Article

Can we really get something out of space exploration, or is there a better way to spend the money dedicated to it?

by Pranav Arun

Space exploration and the fantasies of it have grown in popularity over the last few weeks due to Jeff Bezos’s and Richard Branson’s missions to space. The possibilities of what we may find and discover in space probably intrigue many people, but is it logical? Almost all space exploration so far has been through satellites and rovers, with the few human expeditions to space being only to the moon. This is probably what the future will hold as well due to the sheer size of space, and how long it takes to get to different places. According to NASA, the longest reaching spacecraft as of today is the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is the only spacecraft to reach interstellar space. This spacecraft has been going for 50 years, and they will not come relatively close to another star for another 40,000 years. These raw statistics make it seem like exploring space is close to impossible, but fast-developing technology and zero-carbon spacecrafts would possibly make feats like these quick and sustainable. But would space exploration be realistic when looking at the benefits outside of knowledge, or should we focus on correcting social and environmental problems in our country? This is where the Trilemma becomes important:

Should we keep funding space exploration at funds possibly more than now, should we stop funding space exploration to focus on problems in our planet, or is there a neutral perspective?

The Supporting Side: Space Exploration is Necessary and Beneficial

Many people argue that space exploration is very important to the advancement of human civilization and to conquer “the last frontier”. Although global warming, ocean problems, and climate change pose problems currently, it is very important to note that the survival of succeeding generations is important too. As the human population grows and the Earth dies, global warming may not have a solution, which means we need a knowledge of space if we turn to that as a last resort. If this does not happen in our generation, a succeeding generation would be grateful for a strong space exploration and research program to turn to if our planet becomes inhospitable for humans. In addition, it should be made valid that threats from space should be something we should be worried about. Things such as asteroids and meteors could possibly cause chaos and problems on Earth, but these could potentially be stopped if we had prior knowledge and adequate technology for them. It should also be noted that countries work well together in space exploration and in the International Space Station, ISS, so this could set grounds for good international relations. It also should be noted that space exploration can easily teach us more about planets. In the article “How Studying Space Connects with Life on Earth”, writers from Florida Tech state that many branches of science have stemmed from space exploration, such as cosmology, astrophysics, planetary science, and astrobiology. The researchers also put it into this perspective: “This “big picture” thinking has led to many important discoveries and a greater understanding of how the universe works, including our tiny corner of it”.

The Opposing Side: Focus on Our Planet Before You Focus on Everything Else

On the negating side of this article, people are focusing on the issues we are already experiencing on our planet. This could include climate change, global warming, plastic consumption, and deforestation. It is true that the Earth is warming up, and it is of utmost importance that global warming is acted upon. The increase in temperature is causing ice caps to shrink, wildfires to rage, and droughts to happen. With all of these disasters taking place, it is very crucial to use power, money, and influence to help the environment. This side believes that the money being spent on exploration could be better suited to help us deal with problems occurring on our own home planet. Overall, I agree and side with this side more, because I believe that climate change will be irreversible in a very short time, and all of our efforts should be focused on what can be done now. I personally believe that space exploration is unnecessary and wasteful at the moment, and it would be better if we focused on getting climate change under control before we moved on to space. As NASA’s Global Climate Change segment shows, “The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities”. This data clearly shows that climate change is happening fast enough to have a drastic impact on our lives, which causes many people, including me, to prioritize climate change rather than matters relating to space.

The Possible Neutral Side

In this trilemma, we have had two sides that presented good reasons and evidence. But is there a neutral side that encompasses both? The answer is yes. A possible neutral side for this trilemma is that we could keep funding for space expeditions that are going on right now, but we can cut funding for space expeditions in the future. We should still send astronauts to the ISS and fix existing satellites, but we should not spend money on new exploration to keep a neutral side. This way, space exploration is still happening, but it is not happening at a higher level with future funding dedicated toward it. With the funding that is left over, we could use it to help combat climate change to a level where it is controlled. I personally support the opposing side, because I find this side to be more reasonable based on my understanding. However any side in this Trilemma has significant reasoning behind it, and it is valid to believe in either perspective. In the end of the day the decision comes down to what is the best for us and our future.