Are we not amused?
It seems to me that the argument against space exploration centers around the idea that if we didn’t spend money on rockets and such, we could feed the children and help the needy. When put in such terms, the argument against funding NASA & ESA seems reasonable.
To quote Fee.org: “There are a number of ways to spend a $19.3 billion annual budget; we could pay for 1.94 million young adults in the United States to attend a public 4-year university, we could provide 1.87 million people with health care, or we could use the money to fund the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for one year.”
This sounds great, doesn’t it? Except it’s all a steaming pile. A person would need to be oblivious to the point of unconscious to believe that money would go to any good cause. Fox News would go into full meltdown if we provide 1.87 million people with health care. That’s Socialism! Donald Trump just introduced a budget with a trillion dollar deficit at the same time that he got more tax cuts for the one per cent. There is simply no money for children — sorry.
Europe and America are basically living off our laurels. We don’t do great anymore. Not the tallest building, fastest train, biggest, best, or greatest anything. Unless you count the US and its vast sums spent on the military, we no longer dream big or reach higher.
One of the very few areas were we still do cool is space. It doesn’t cost a lot and it separates Western Europe & North America from others. Let’s see Iran lower a Mars Rover down from a rocket powered sky-crane.
We need to dream big and give the next generation something to strive for. We have set lower standards and often fail to achieve even that. Nobody is inspired. We throw
away what our Fathers gave us. Are we not amused?
From Heavens to Earth
The Soviet Union has always been very sensitive about space exploration. In fact, we all knew back then that there were two spheres where we could rival America: the military and space. These areas were considered the most prestigious things to be on par with the United States. The sad reality like food and clothes deficit, low quality of machinery, lack of freedom and so on was OK as long as we could be equal with the US in making nuclear weapons and travel beyond Earth.
So the cosmonauts have always been ambassadors of the best of what Russia could produce for the world to show that it is a developed country (which it wasn’t, actually). In the early 80s, when I was in elementary school, the cosmonaut profession was still an iconic one. Plus, there was an emphasis on ‘peaceful’ space exploration. It was in stark contrast with America’s dark plans regarding ‘Star Wars’ introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Yep, the Strategic Defense Initiative frightened Soviet leaders to death as it could have made nuclear weapons ‘powerless and outdated’ according to Mr. Reagan. This was, in turn, the USSR’s worst nightmare as the SDI seriously affected Soviet strategy, but that is a different story…
Back to the topic. The Soviet Union’s space program was a mix of national prestige and military development in space, though propaganda, of course, talked about peace research only. It was something that we in the Soviet Union knew: it must have been carried out at any price because it is about our national pride and defense. Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space), Alexey Leonov (the first man in open space) were true heroes, no doubt about it.
In the 90s the ideology behind that vanished so what is left, both in Russia and the world?
I believe that space exploration in many ways means military technologies development. It is good for building up a strong defense. I believe a good defense is worth the money when it is well-managed which wasn’t the case in the USSR: you also need to have a strong and balanced economy to conduct any research in space.
But there is much more than that. The ‘moon race’ brought real technological breakthroughs. For example, the velcro fastener was been invented by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, in 1951, but it came to our lives only after NASA decided to use them in space in the early 70s. Space exploration is great because so many things we happily use today, like GPS, have come from space, initially because of military needs.
Some scholars believe we’re standing on the edge of new great technological breakthroughs with the Martian adventure.
And it was not the little green men that brought it to us but our efforts to be first in space, to be the first on the Moon, etc.
Generally speaking, space is just one of the areas where cutting-edge technologies are being born. So yes, space exploration is definitely worth the money. The nice thing about it is what is up in the sky today can be brought down to earth tomorrow.
P.S. There is a gene in our DNA that is responsible for looking for something new and making discoveries as they lead to a new environment and possibly better living conditions for the human species. In the past, we moved out of Africa to find new lands and more resources to live and thrive. In the distant future, we might leave the Earth to do just the same.
No contest – space wins every time.
There’s no doubt that space exploration is extremely expensive. Apparently, it costs nearly £15,000 per kilogram just to launch an object into Earth’s orbit. When all we hear is “austerity”, many folk wonder whether we would be better off worrying about climate change, starvation around the planet, the cost of university education to name but a few pressing issues, rather than “wasting billions” by throwing it into space.
To start with, I don’t believe that money spent on space exploration all evaporates as soon as the rocket engines start. Looking at what is happening in the UK, the space industry just happens to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy.
All the machines and associated technologies are designed and built by people; much of a space budget is actually spent on salaries for not only top scientists and engineers, but cleaners, caterers and thousands of other jobs. If you read up about the European Space Agency, you’ll find that despite the huge costs involved, every euro spent by government is returned ten-fold in job creation, taxation of course, and markets created by the space industry like food, housing, clothes…
So the line used by many that space billions should be spent on ending famine doesn’t wash with me.
There are so many examples of how exploration away from our planet have benefitted the human race, that I will not waste valuable space(!) in itemising each and every one, but things like satellite navigation systems, weather monitoring, and satellite TV are things no one would consider doing without these days.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in our homes were originally developed to detect toxic fumes and fire on board the Skylab space station in the early 1970s. Programmable pacemakers, blood pressure monitors, and many healthcare applications all came about through the space programme , all originally designed to help astronauts stay healthy.
Ear thermometers use infra-red technology originally developed by NASA to measure the temperature of stars.
So while I cannot deny there are countless issues around the world that require huge amounts of money to alleviate what are substantial problems, I give you one possible solution – let all governments do what those nice folk in Costa Rica did just after WW2. They abandoned their defence programme, and spent that fortune on education and health instead. I know, making sure our children are healthy and well informed will never catch on. It’s much better to spend billions on dropping bombs and missiles on our perceived enemies.
But don’t ever consider cancelling space exploration, which will continue to provide huge benefits for mankind in future decades, like it always has done, and indeed will continue to do for centuries to come.