The Importance Of A Strong Space Industry And How It Benefits The Society
I officially got my initial introduction to space related phenomena when I took my first physics class in high school. More specifically, what really sparked my interest, is when I learned about Newton’s Laws of Motion and Gravity. When I found out that any two bodies with mass are attracted to each other, it absolutely blew me away. Till then, I assumed gravity was specially reserved for the planets and they somehow just knew to orbit other things bigger than them. But learning that any object, regardless of whether it is as minuscule as an atom or as massive as our big old sun, exerts a gravitational force/pull on every other object around it was pretty amazing. And the fact that the force can be expressed by such a simple equation, was all the more impressive. Ever since then, my curiosity for space and astronomy has only been getting deeper, so I just wanted to write a quick little blog as to why space exploration should be a huge priority.
One of the more common criticisms that the space sector gets, is that we should focus more on the problems that are down here, and not so much on what is out there. And that we could reallocate the money into more pressing issues that need to be addressed. To a certain degree it makes sense; those criticisms are not completely invalid or unjustified. However, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. People tend to overestimate how much money is granted to our space administration, but the actual numbers are far from peoples’ prediction. The current NASA budget for 2016 stands at ~.5% of the total federal budget at approximately $19.3 billion. Yes, you read that correctly; that is half of one percent that is allocated for all of NASA, and it has been hanging in the .5–1% range for the last 4 decades. In fact, that percentage has been gradually declining.
This is paying for all the exploration missions (eg. New Horizons, Juno, Mars rovers), the International Space Station, the scientific experiments on the ground, the funding for privatized space companies (eg. SpaceX), the Hubble Space Telescope, and other NASA related endeavors. To put this into perspective, and not trying to get super political here, the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier which is yet to be completed cost $13 billion itself, the bank bailout of the 2008 was $700 billion, and Medicare received 15% of the federal budget at ~$630 billion in 2015. So shaving off from the the already fractional percentage of NASA to redistribute to other sectors is not exactly going to create a huge impact.
The argument for a better space industry becomes even more clear when you realize that funding NASA is essentially an investment, one that has an ROI (Return on Investment) of $7–8 for every $1 put into that administration. NASA is constantly engaged in very active research in various scientific, engineering, and agriculture fields, that although the benefits may not be immediately available, these newfound discoveries are going to change and shape the future for us and the younger generations. And it’s not just NASA, but ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organisation) budget is only $1.2 billion but it was the only country to orbit mars on its first try with its Mangalyaan Orbiter. The multiple remote sensing satellites by ISRO allow government officials to predict cyclones and other natural disasters well in advance, thus warning the people and preventing a increasing number of death/tragedy. They also play a role in monitoring fertile land and sea level patterns, which can make farming/agriculture more efficient and help lower poverty. JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) is researching the effects of micro-gravity and how it leads to muscular atrophy. The discoveries of this research has much broader applications as the agency can apply this information to help the bedridden or disabled from muscle-wasting diseases such as muscular dystrophy. The list of positive benefits the space administrations have brought forth goes on and on, but I think you can see the point here.
So far, I have mentioned the monetary and scientific gain to the society. But something I believe that is unparalleled and even more beneficial, is the culture that a strong space foundation promotes and the power it wields to inspire all generations across the board. Humans by nature tend to be curious, creative, and adventurous. From the cavemen age, mankind has sought out explore what they do not know or understand. That is why Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic, why Lewis and Clark made the journey across America, and why we still touch the wall even when there is a ‘Wet Paint’ sign in clear view. It is because we are curious creatures and we need to find out for ourselves if the damn wall is dry yet! A strong and successful space administration evokes the young explorers in us and can make us a more scientifically literate and empowered society. The topic of space is one of the very few issues that enable people with very polarizing ideologies to abandon their differences and come together for a common good. We know the US and Russia are not the best of friends, yet they are in a joint venture of operating the International Space Station together. In fact, 5 space agencies (NASA, Roscosmos, CSA, JAXA, ESA) that envelope 16 countries, have put aside many international disputes in order to co-operate and build the largest space station ever. This is proof enough that we do not need some alien invasion for countries to get together against a common enemy, but we can absolutely be diplomatic and connect the world more than ever through a very positive and mutual goal.
There is much more I can go on about, but I think I have encompassed my opinions. Some of my heros, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Robert Zubrin, do a much better job of delivering the viewpoints. Robert Zubrin explains in this very short 4 min video, why we should go to Mars. The energy he presents with is extremely captivating and really rubs off on you, and I highly recommend checking out his other videos on Mars. Sometimes it can be hard to see the direct cause and effect of the space research and discoveries, because there is usually a significant offset in the time it takes for the discoveries to take place and when it is applied to society, but they are crucial nonetheless. In the end, space research and exploration is not about some adrenaline junkies trying to go to Mars, although I’m sure there exists those types of people, but it is so that mankind from hundreds or thousands of years from now will be better off because of present discoveries.