I’ve heard some people talk about the money we spend on space exploration being a waste. Some claim it’s all a hoax to begin with, others say we aren’t making any worthwhile discoveries or that exploring other planets is a stupid waste. I couldn’t disagree more. I strongly believe that space exploration is one of the most worthwhile causes we should be funding. Not to say there aren’t others that I support, but since the Russians first launched Sputnik 1 into orbit in 1957 our technology has moved forward at an incredible rate.
The thing I find funny about these people who want funding to space programs cut is that they all seem to be perfectly fine using the technology only made possible by those same space programs. One of the most common things in our every day lives are our cell phones. Virtually everyone has one. They connect us to each other, to games, and to an endless supply of information at our whim. Yet if it wasn’t for the research into satellite technology started by the Russians and fueled by the space race, cell phones would be nothing more than radios. It’s only thanks to the network of satellites orbiting the Earth that we can use these amazing devices.
But these are very obvious and direct examples. It’s amazing how much of the technology all around every one of us right now, which we take for granted has come to us through space programs. When you work on that DIY bench for your yard you’re probably using a cordless drill, something invented by NASA for the purpose of collecting samples from the moon. All of us who love video games have the Appollo Lunar Rover to thank for the invention of the joy stick. Space blankets, water filters, LEDs and more are all products which we would be without if not for pace programs.
Most of those things are kind of superficial though. They’re nice, but we could live without them. The really amazing advancements space exploration has made for us are seen in the medical field. CAT scanners were first used to look inside complex equipment and diagnose problems. Gone are the days of having to sit with an uncomfortable thermometer in our mouth (or somewhere else) thanks to infrared thermometers. Patients waiting for heart transplants are able to keep blood pumping with a device based on the design of the shuttle’s fuel pump. And lets not forget that nearly all these things only function in the first place thanks to NASA’s development of the microchip.
Our missions to other worlds in our solar system have not only helped to advance technology, but also given us a better understanding of our own planet. Venus gives us a very real look at what a runaway greenhouse effect can do. Mars provides clues to what Earth may have been like billions of years ago as well as the possibility of understanding how life started. When New Horizons started sending back data about Pluto we were inspired and humbled by this new insight into a planet we thought we already had a good understanding of. Juno’s upcoming mission could reveal to us secrets of the solar system when it was young. Space exploration isn’t jut about trying to colonize another planet, but it’s about better understanding our own as well.
As grand as all these inventions and discoveries are, I think that space programs give us something even more valuable than any of them. Inspiration. On Spetember 12, 1962 President John F. Kennedy gave one of the most historic and powerful speeches in recent history. Even today the words “We choose to go to the Moon!” stir powerful emotions in not just Americans, but people around the world. He inspired a generation of young minds to dedicate them selves to the idea of space exploration and more importantly to science. Everywhere we look we see our world striving to be like Star Trek, or the Jetsons. The world of tomorrow, the vision promised in the World Exhibitions. Countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and more have all seen increases in scientific literacy and education since the start of their space programs. Nothing is more important to our future than science.
Though the conspiracy theorists who think all this space stuff is a hoax are a whole different matter, to those who think space programs are a waste of time, I ask you to reconsider. Our world would not be what it is today if not for the space race and the continued space exploration since then. The technologies spawned from that funding have transformed our environment and social structure as well as saved countless lives. Other planets could hold the keys to saving our environment or knowing where we came from. But most importantly it continues to inspire young minds to learn and reach for the stars in an effort to ensure the best future possible. That is something I don’t think you can put a price on.
If you support space exploration or want more information, please check out The Planetary Society. Bill Nye and the others there do an amazing job advocating for space as well as educating and informing the public. They have some great videos and articles for anyone interested in space.