Is space exploration a waste of money?


We need to understand a little bit of how our solar system was formed, and what fate awaits us. The Sun is getting hotter by the day (actually it is getting brighter/hotter at the rate of a 10% increase per 1.1 billion years). If this value is extrapolated, in another billion years the Sun's planetary habitable zone will have moved outward. As of now, Earth is situated towards the inner boundary of the solar system's habitable zone (and Mars just outside the outer boundary). As this shift occurs, the habitable zone will altogether exit Earth. What it means is, the temperature of Earth will have increased tremendously by then! That is, all life on Earth will be gone by then! Ultimately, the Sun will engulf Earth in another 4 billion years (but that does not bother us; we will not even be here much longer than another 400-500 million years).

Now, think about it. We are the only planet that we know of that harbors life. If we are gone, we are gone! People move away from areas prone to quakes, tsunamis; from  lack of development and infrastructure etc. Where shall we go when our savior, our creator Sun fries us dry? That means, we need to find an alternate host planet.

Yes, Earth's life must find a habitable host planet.

But how can we do that? By looking for habitable planets. To do that, we need to know the matter-energy dynamics at cosmic scale within our galaxy, to grasp the stellar dynamics and characteristics, to understand planetary behavior, architecture and dynamics. To do that, we need to do a lot of space explorations–not physically travelling in space; we are not there yet! But we need to expand and explore our knowledge and develop tools. What tools?

Our objectives must be (and they are) (1) to understand our galaxy as part of the universe, (2) to define biohabitability of planets, (3) to identify potentially habitable planets, (4) to explore all options and efforts to move to such planets (this includes such technology development we we can possibly be able to distort/mould gravitation and control it for our benefit; very recently it has been mathematically proposed that humans can potentially "create" and control gravitational fields; see [1504.00333] How current loops and solenoids curve space-time).

This (space exploration) is not as simple as Columbus coming to the Americas or Captain Cook landing in Australia (well, those were not simple tasks; but you get what I mean). In a radius of 1000 light years from us, we have not found any sign of life in many planets that we have analyzed so far. That means, a potentially habitable planet must lie farther (and we cannot say how far). To reach the nearest star about 4 light years away, the Voyager 2, which left Earth in 1976, will take 40000 years! That is our snail-esque space-speed. At this rate, we cannot dream of space-faring; remember that our max life span is about 100 years. That means, we need to travel faster. Much, much faster. We also need to travel big! In size! Just 4-5 crew is not enough; the crew must procreate en route and propagate their knowledge and technology over generations if we are to reach an alternate destiny. How much food to take? I wish Roald Dahl actually developed the stuff that he imagined for Wonka's chocolate factory! Besides, forget the worm-whole stuff as shown in Interstellar! A spacecraft will not survive any such phenomenon–let alone dreaming of travelling through it!

We also need to travel safe. To name just a few: first, stellar and interstellar radiations must be negotiated. Second, human development (birth to death life processes) must be studied in details in gravity-free models, such that multi-generational travel could be contemplated. Third, interstellar dust must be negotiated. A 20 micron particle – which we can never see with naked eyes – could cause havoc to the spacecraft.

The other challenge is the communication. Note that Mars is 20 lightminutes away from us. That is, your saying "hello" to Matt Damon on a Martian colony will take 20 minutes to reach him, and when he says "hello" back, it will take 20 munutes more to reach us! So, 40 minutes for a hello-hello combo! That means, we need some other, advanced way to communicate (I am not sure how).

The above are just a few glimpses of challenges we face in order to relocate to an alternate planet. And we must relocate! We barely have a few million years for us–unless our stupid, war-mongering attitude causes a nuclear war and annihilates us before that!

You may say, the Earth will be charred and all lives burnt after hundreds of million years; why should we bother now?

Well, the time we have may actually not be adequate to accomplish the daunting tasks that I wrote above! We must hurry! We have not made baby steps yet!

Hope the questioner now realizes why space exploration is not a waste!

34 Replies to “Is space exploration a waste of money?”

  1. In 1970, a Zambia-based nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, then-associate director of science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in response to his ongoing research into a piloted mission toMars. Specifically, she asked how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on such a project at a time when so many children were starving on Earth.

    Stuhlinger soon sent the following letter of explanation to Sister Jucunda, along with a copy of "Earthrise," the iconic photograph of Earth taken in 1968 by astronaut William Anders, from the Moon (also embedded in the transcript). His thoughtful reply was later published by NASA, and titled, "Why Explore Space?"

    (Source: Roger Launius, via Gavin Williams; Photo above: The surface of Mars, taken by Curiosity today, August 6th, 2012. Via NASA.)

    May 6, 1970

    Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

    Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

    First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

    You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as "Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!" In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

    Before trying to describe in more detail how our space program is contributing to the solution of our Earthly problems, I would like to relate briefly a supposedly true story, which may help support the argument. About 400 years ago, there lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was one of the benign counts, and he gave a large part of his income to the poor in his town. This was much appreciated, because poverty was abundant during medieval times, and there were epidemics of the plague which ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and little laboratory in his house, and he labored hard during the daytime so that he could afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted the lenses in tubes, and he used these gadgets to look at very small objects. The count was particularly fascinated by the tiny creatures that could be observed with the strong magnification, and which he had never seen before. He invited the man to move with his laboratory to the castle, to become a member of the count's household, and to devote henceforth all his time to the development and perfection of his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

    The townspeople, however, became angry when they realized that the count was wasting his money, as they thought, on a stunt without purpose. "We are suffering from this plague," they said, "while he is paying that man for a useless hobby!" But the count remained firm. "I give you as much as I can afford," he said, "but I will also support this man and his work, because I know that someday something will come out of it!"

    Indeed, something very good came out of this work, and also out of similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. It is well known that the microscope has contributed more than any other invention to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of the plague and many other contagious diseases from most parts of the world is largely a result of studies which the microscope made possible.

    The count, by retaining some of his spending money for research and discovery, contributed far more to the relief of human suffering than he could have contributed by giving all he could possibly spare to his plague-ridden community.

    The situation which we are facing today is similar in many respects. The President of the United States is spending about 200 billion dollars in his yearly budget. This money goes to health, education, welfare, urban renewal, highways, transportation, foreign aid, defense, conservation, science, agriculture and many installations inside and outside the country. About 1.6 percent of this national budget was allocated to space exploration this year. The space program includes Project Apollo, and many other smaller projects in space physics, space astronomy, space biology, planetary projects, Earth resources projects, and space engineering. To make this expenditure for the space program possible, the average American taxpayer with 10,000 dollars income per year is paying about 30 tax dollars for space. The rest of his income, 9,970 dollars, remains for his subsistence, his recreation, his savings, his other taxes, and all his other expenditures.

    You will probably ask now: "Why don't you take 5 or 3 or 1 dollar out of the 30 space dollars which the average American taxpayer is paying, and send these dollars to the hungry children?" To answer this question, I have to explain briefly how the economy of this country works. The situation is very similar in other countries. The government consists of a number of departments (Interior, Justice, Health, Education and Welfare, Transportation, Defense, and others) and the bureaus (National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others). All of them prepare their yearly budgets according to their assigned missions, and each of them must defend its budget against extremely severe screening by congressional committees, and against heavy pressure for economy from the Bureau of the Budget and the President. When the funds are finally appropriated by Congress, they can be spent only for the line items specified and approved in the budget.

    The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, naturally, can contain only items directly related to aeronautics and space. If this budget were not approved by Congress, the funds proposed for it would not be available for something else; they would simply not be levied from the taxpayer, unless one of the other budgets had obtained approval for a specific increase which would then absorb the funds not spent for space. You realize from this brief discourse that support for hungry children, or rather a support in addition to what the United States is already contributing to this very worthy cause in the form of foreign aid, can be obtained only if the appropriate department submits a budget line item for this purpose, and if this line item is then approved by Congress.

    You may ask now whether I personally would be in favor of such a move by our government. My answer is an emphatic yes. Indeed, I would not mind at all if my annual taxes were increased by a number of dollars for the purpose of feeding hungry children, wherever they may live.

    I know that all of my friends feel the same way. However, we could not bring such a program to life merely by desisting from making plans for voyages to Mars. On the contrary, I even believe that by working for the space program I can make some contribution to the relief and eventual solution of such grave problems as poverty and hunger on Earth. Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food. Food production by agriculture, cattle ranching, ocean fishing and other large-scale operations is efficient in some parts of the world, but drastically deficient in many others. For example, large areas of land could be utilized far better if efficient methods of watershed control, fertilizer use, weather forecasting, fertility assessment, plantation programming, field selection, planting habits, timing of cultivation, crop survey and harvest planning were applied.

    The best tool for the improvement of all these functions, undoubtedly, is the artificial Earth satellite. Circling the globe at a high altitude, it can screen wide areas of land within a short time; it can observe and measure a large variety of factors indicating the status and condition of crops, soil, droughts, rainfall, snow cover, etc., and it can radio this information to ground stations for appropriate use. It has been estimated that even a modest system of Earth satellites equipped with Earth resources, sensors, working within a program for worldwide agricultural improvements, will increase the yearly crops by an equivalent of many billions of dollars.

    The distribution of the food to the needy is a completely different problem. The question is not so much one of shipping volume, it is one of international cooperation. The ruler of a small nation may feel very uneasy about the prospect of having large quantities of food shipped into his country by a large nation, simply because he fears that along with the food there may also be an import of influence and foreign power. Efficient relief from hunger, I am afraid, will not come before the boundaries between nations have become less divisive than they are today. I do not believe that space flight will accomplish this miracle over night. However, the space program is certainly among the most promising and powerful agents working in this direction.

    Let me only remind you of the recent near-tragedy of Apollo 13. When the time of the crucial reentry of the astronauts approached, the Soviet Union discontinued all Russian radio transmissions in the frequency bands used by the Apollo Project in order to avoid any possible interference, and Russian ships stationed themselves in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in case an emergency rescue would become necessary. Had the astronaut capsule touched down near a Russian ship, the Russians would undoubtedly have expended as much care and effort in their rescue as if Russian cosmonauts had returned from a space trip. If Russian space travelers should ever be in a similar emergency situation, Americans would do the same without any doubt.

    Higher food production through survey and assessment from orbit, and better food distribution through improved international relations, are only two examples of how profoundly the space program will impact life on Earth. I would like to quote two other examples: stimulation of technological development, and generation of scientific knowledge.

    The requirements for high precision and for extreme reliability which must be imposed upon the components of a moon-travelling spacecraft are entirely unprecedented in the history of engineering. The development of systems which meet these severe requirements has provided us a unique opportunity to find new material and methods, to invent better technical systems, to manufacturing procedures, to lengthen the lifetimes of instruments, and even to discover new laws of nature.

    All this newly acquired technical knowledge is also available for application to Earth-bound technologies. Every year, about a thousand technical innovations generated in the space program find their ways into our Earthly technology where they lead to better kitchen appliances and farm equipment, better sewing machines and radios, better ships and airplanes, better weather forecasting and storm warning, better communications, better medical instruments, better utensils and tools for everyday life. Presumably, you will ask now why we must develop first a life support system for our moon-travelling astronauts, before we can build a remote-reading sensor system for heart patients. The answer is simple: significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work, which fires the imagination and spurs men to expend their best efforts, and which acts as a catalyst by including chains of other reactions.

    Spaceflight without any doubt is playing exactly this role. The voyage to Mars will certainly not be a direct source of food for the hungry. However, it will lead to so many new technologies and capabilities that the spin-offs from this project alone will be worth many times the cost of its implementation.

    Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth. We need more knowledge in physics and chemistry, in biology and physiology, and very particularly in medicine to cope with all these problems which threaten man's life: hunger, disease, contamination of food and water, pollution of the environment.

    We need more young men and women who choose science as a career and we need better support for those scientists who have the talent and the determination to engage in fruitful research work. Challenging research objectives must be available, and sufficient support for research projects must be provided. Again, the space program with its wonderful opportunities to engage in truly magnificent research studies of moons and planets, of physics and astronomy, of biology and medicine is an almost ideal catalyst which induces the reaction between the motivation for scientific work, opportunities to observe exciting phenomena of nature, and material support needed to carry out the research effort.

    Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

    How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-travelling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

    Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

    The photograph which I enclose with this letter shows a view of our Earth as seen from Apollo 8 when it orbited the moon at Christmas, 1968. Of all the many wonderful results of the space program so far, this picture may be the most important one. It opened our eyes to the fact that our Earth is a beautiful and most precious island in an unlimited void, and that there is no other place for us to live but the thin surface layer of our planet, bordered by the bleak nothingness of space. Never before did so many people recognize how limited our Earth really is, and how perilous it would be to tamper with its ecological balance. Ever since this picture was first published, voices have become louder and louder warning of the grave problems that confront man in our times: pollution, hunger, poverty, urban living, food production, water control, overpopulation. It is certainly not by accident that we begin to see the tremendous tasks waiting for us at a time when the young space age has provided us the first good look at our own planet.

    Very fortunately though, the space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence. What we learn in our space program, I believe, is fully supporting what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said: "I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope."

    My very best wishes will always be with you, and with your children.

    Very sincerely yours,

    Ernst Stuhlinger

    Associate Director for Science

  2. This is similar (but not identical enough to merge) to a question I just answered.  I'll repeat an excerpt from that answer:

    Physicist Robert Andrews Millikan, when he received the Edison medal, gave a speech on the practical value of pure science. In that speech he said:

    “For, in the final analysis, the thing in this world which is of most supreme importance, indeed the thing which is of most practical value to the race, is not, after all, useful discovery or invention, but that which lies far back of them, namely, “the way men think” – the kind of conceptions which they have about the world in which they live and their own relations to it. It is their expanding of the mind of man, this clarifying of his conceptions through the discovery of truth which is the immediate object of all studies in the field of pure science. Behind that object, however, is the conviction that human life will ultimately be enriched by every increase in man’s knowledge of the way in which nature works, since obviously the first step in the beneficent control of nature is a thorough understanding of her.”

    At the beginning of those remarks, Millikan notes on his surprise at receiving the award, saying:

    “For when I look over my thirty years of scientific effort I can find no industry which has grown out of my researches, nor evan any which have been very immediately benefited by them.”

    Millikan’s work was instrumental in our understanding of the photoelectric effect. I wonder how he would feel, if he were alive today, to see a picture of the International Space Station (ISS) and be told that the solar arrays that power it are only possible because of our understanding of the photoelectric effect.  Or, how would he feel to know that renewable energies from solar power helps the suffering in places without infrastructure.

    What if Aristotle had listened to those that saw no practical value when he devoted his time to developing his geocentric model of the universe? Would Ptolemy have not been inspired by that work to make his own observations that led to his idea of epicycles? What if Ptolemy had listened to those that saw no practical value in his work? Would Copernicus have not been inspired to develop his own heliocentric model that incorporated epicycles? What if Copernicus had listened to those that saw no practical value in his work? Would Tyco Brahe have still spent thousands of hours collecting observational data to try to reconcile Copernicus with Ptolemy? What if Brahe had listened to those that told him to come inside and stop wasting his time looking at the sky? Would Kepler have then not had the data he needed to arrive at his three laws of orbital motion? What if Kepler had listened to those that saw no practical value in his work? Would Newton have been able to take Kepler’s observational “curve fits” conclusions and establish the Universal Gravitational Law? What if Newton had listened to those that said there was no practical value to understanding the motions of the celestial bodies?

    I could continue forwards in time, but for brevity we’ll skip to the conclusion – without Newton’s work there would be no orbital mechanics and without orbital mechanics there would be no satellites. Without satellites, we would not have near instantaneous communication around the world. We would not have devices in our phones and cars that can tell us how to get to a destination.

    We would not have warnings of hurricanes and typhoons that allow us to evacuate and save lives.  We would not have agricultural imagery that tells us where to plant, increasing yield and feeding the starving, reducing suffering.

  3. Absolutely NOT, for many reasons, aptly covered here so I will not repeat them again.

    Instead, let me focus on the key premise in the question, which is based on a modern fallacy, that money is a scarce and limited resource and the absolutely worst thing to do is to 'waste' it. 

    That may have been the case in the past, but clearly not in the world we have been living in recently.

    Consider for example just the AIG bailout of $85 billion by the Federal Reserve in September of 2008, and compare it to NASA budgets which have been less than $20 billion for years. Where was  'scarce and limited' money found  for that bailout?

    The answer was  that it was not 'found' as an already existing resource  but instead simply created by the Fed and other banks, basically in form of a guarantee. In 2012 the government said they made a $23 billion profit from AIG bailout. And indeed they did as the markets rose again and reflated many boats, for the time being.

    It is getting more and more difficult in the modern world to keep the pretense of scarcity of money when it is being created  constantly in many trillions of dollars, euros, yuans, yens, swiss francs etc. by central and other banks around the world engaged in quantitative easing (QE) and assorted other stimulative policies.

    We can argue the merits of these policies, and that is indeed a very important discussion, but not for here. Instead, let us simply point out that there is no such thing nowadays as 'waste of scarce money' – instead it is simply a decision what endeavors should activist central banks and government stimulate.

    Clearly, money should never be 'wasted', but what waste is is a completely different concept in the contemporary world of seemingly endless liquidity supply.

    From that perspective, I think it is rather obvious that things such as NASA budgets should take precedence over many of the countless 'stimulative finance activities'.

  4. The answer depends on who you ask and what you mean by 'impending ecological disaster'.

    I would assume that you are referring to some kind of adverse effects from global warming, and correct me if I'm wrong about that, but the fact is both space exploration and solving 'impending ecological disasters' are one in the same.

    Both aim to understand the mechanics of our natural world, studying and experimenting phenomena in order to predict – with the highest degrees of certainty – the effectiveness of future designs. Whether that's new ways to deal with the predicted flooding in cities like Miami, harnessing green sources of energy to slow global warming, or the best way to put a rocket into space; the point is that both fields are not mutually exclusive.

    Space exploration has been one of the underrated drivers in technological progress. NASA has a nice list of things the space program can be thanked for, but what a lot of people forget is that solving ecological disasters is really hard to do on the ground. They can be so supermassive that a human struggles to comprehend the extent of it let alone how to go about solving it. That's why we need dedicated satellites to study our Earth; that's why space exploration is so key to the future of humanity. The argument that money is better spent here on Earth is both short-sighted and ignorant, and it causes a lot of money to be wasted in the process.

    Besides, how can anyone say without a doubt that we have nothing to learn about ourselves way up there? If I can find the budget breakdown I'm thinking of, I'll add it here. In the big picture, the USA budget for space exploration is not something Americans should have any issue with.

    EDIT: I would highly suggest anyone with the mind to say space exploration is unimportant to read this.

  5. Nope, it isn't. Space exploration has helped significantly.

    1. A number of things that we use in our day to day life from shoe insoles to computer chips to cancer detection may not have evolved as fast good as they did if not for the moon missions. Apollo 11 moon landing: top 15 Nasa inventions.
    2. Space travel is demanding, so we would constantly move to improve technology to make space travel more safe as well as efficient. And most of that technology would also help improve things down here in earth.
    3. Mining : One of the big reasons we still have enough oil and gas is that our extraction techniques have improved leaps and bounds. We are beginning to plan mining near earth objects so that we can either transport them back to earth, or use them insitu in space. This could help us mine earth too efficiently since space and deep water are both terribly demanding in terms of how precise we ought to be.
    4. We could likely run out of some items. Run out of means that whatever is left is too costly to mine. This means we're going to look for synthetic substitutes first. If we can't, we might look outside earth for these things.
    5. Untold millions of jobs have been created all over the world, employing the best and brightest as well as regular and menial jobs to sustain this effort. The economic activity around space exploration is big and has been a significant contributor.

    Innovation in computing started first in colleges. War (WW2) found a big use, after which government funded research in computing technology. When things got cheaper due to innovation, people started investing in it. The knowledge era was created. Once a market was created, things took off and we have this big internet, cell phones, etc. Everything evolves.

    The space era is next. Right now, for space exploration, the first pioneers from private enterprises are taking baby steps towards exploration. Eventually there will be a market for space travel. Eventually just like we moved from ships to airplanes, we will move to more advanced modes of travel.

    Bigger than everything else is the fact that eventually we would want to start moving out (at least some of us) and colonize other planets. Just like we did with continents.

    Far into the future we will look at the last 2 centuries and the current and the next and think of them as being the “beginning” of a few significant things – Industrial Era (early manufacturing), Knowledge Era (wary computing) and space era (first interplanetary travel).

    There will come a day when we will say “down at home” and refer to earth while doing so. People alive today may get a chance to do this as well, though extensive colonization is unlikely. But there's hope given that there are people like Elon Musk who behave like they are in a hurry to get home to Mars as fast as possible.

  6. I don’t think so.

    Like it or not, at some point, we are going to have to get off this rock if we really want to maximize the amount of time we can survive.

    While right now our priority should be fixing the problems of our own making that are most likely to kill us, when the timespans run to the thousands, millions, and billions of years, the only and best solutions lie beyond our planet. Asteroids, geological instability, and ultimately, the death of the Sun itself which will first cook the Earth and then incinerate it entirely.

    Devoting at least some small portion of our vast wealth to space exploration right now is a great way to have a head start on that. Considering how pathetically little we spend on it today, spending a little more would not be too much to ask.

    There are also more immediate economic benefits as well. Getting access to space resources would provide much new wealth, just as unlocking new resource deposits here on Earth has in the past. That, in turn, could fund further exploration, colonization and development, among many other things.

    Plus, it’s COOL.

  7. So I was asked the same exact question when I worked for President Obama.

    I was tasked with writing and coordinating Obama's national space policy.

    I convened a senior-level meeting in the Situation Room – a meeting known as a "Deputies Committee" Meeting or a "DC".  In a DC all the deputy secretaries of the members of the National Security Council, and other invited agencies, meet to discuss whatever the topic/issue is- in this case it was national space policy.

    One of the deputies asked the same exact question- why go do all this? Further, the question was- go find the answer and make it succinct enough to fit in a Presidential policy.

    Well, I've never made claims to being a smart person so the first thing I did is enlist a colleague of mine, who's a great space historian, and we started looking through the history books written on the space age to find an succinct answer.  We could make all the arguments that Dr. Tyson and others make- but could we come up with an answer that was Presidential in tone and be clear and to the point?

    So we looked and looked and finally we found that one of my predecessors at the NSC had been asked the same exact question by President Eisenhower.  What my predecessor wrote was clear, to the point, and definitely Presidential in tone.

    We liked that quote so much that I included it as the very first line in President Obama's space policy.  I put that quote in the second draft of the President's policy (out of 4 total drafts) and in the end President Obama signed the policy and it was released as the administration's position. 

    So if you haven't googled the Obama Space Policy yet I'll quote you the line from the opening of that policy (which is incorrectly cited as coming from President Eisenhower- I fought to have it cited as coming from the NSC but the bigger powers in the West Wing wanted the quote ascribed to Eisenhower even though it's factually inaccurate):

    "More than by any other imaginative concept, the mind of man is aroused by the thought of exploring the mysteries of outer space.  Through such exploration, man hopes to broaden his horizons,  add to his knowledge, improve his way of living on earth."

    And with that I couldn't find any reason for us not to explore space.  It was an answer that convinced the Deputies, the Secretaries and ultimately the President.  I think it's as true now as it was in 1958.

  8. Why should we spend our money and energy going into space, when there are so many problems down here, on earth?

    I know that this is the question many people ask when it comes to space exploration.

    Well, exploration, of any kind, returns the investment on the medium and long term. Not today, not tomorrow, but maybe in a decade or two at least. But, when it does, it pays big time.

    Think at Christopher Columbus and all the explorers who chose to venture on the oceans and the seas. In the 15th century there were problems and dangers we can’t even imagine. Yet, huge amounts of time, money and resources (for those times) were invested in every single expedition, knowing it might never return. If those people focused solely on their local problems, the world would have been totally different today: there would be no British Empire, no United States of America, no Canada, no Mexico, no Australia, no Brazil, no Argentina and so much more.


  9. This question really fits for a so-called poor nation like India (mind that I’m Indian myself) when the western media cribs about its viability, justification and many more in the face of poverty in the nation.

    When India launched its Mars mission for $75 million, the media went crazy – Is India’s spending on space exploration justified? Should space exploration programs be banned in poverty-stricken nations like India? And it went on and on, including the so-called seasoned NY Times, LA Times, WSJ and many more. The UK government thought about its reparation schemes to be stopped for India since India is ‘wasting money’ on space exploration.

    Pity on such media and people who think like it. It is so simple for them to think as they have the right wisdom and seemingly uncommon ‘common sense’. Driven by wild intuition, they present nothing but a bunch of crap.

    Now, leaving aside the bashing, let’s talk about how ISRO’s space programmes have helped India – these programmes have saved hundreds of thousands of lives! Yes, you heard that correct.

    Let’s for instance distribute this so-hyped $75 million among the top 75 million poor Indians. Each of them gets $1. They would eventually afford a meal for the day, and later shit the waste out by next morning. What’s left? Did we achieve poverty reduction? Did we achieve anything at all? An absolute no.

    Advanced technological development leads a country to developing and innovating solutions for the welfare of the country’s citizens. A number of innovations are born as by-products of technological evolution.

    1. How is that we now have our own navigation framework (NAVIC) similar to GPS? The NAVIC will significantly help the military and common people. Do I have explain this how? I assume the critics have the ‘common sense’ to understand the importance, or alternatively simply get lost in the middle of nowhere.
    2. For a mere $1.2 billion space programme (compared to NASA’s $20 billion annual programme), India has already achieved an ROI for $13 billion. So clearly, it’s a not a monetary wastage. It’s like you educate a person well enough, who in turns create jobs for 100 people. Did we waste money on that guy’s education? No.
    3. While NASA and US’s GPS failed to provide an accurate estimation of the cyclone that hit the state of Orissa last year which may have left hundreds of thousands of people dead, ISRO did a brilliant job in accurately estimating the cyclone’s movement and time of land fall. Interestingly, no life was lost! Did we waste money by spending on ISRO’s programmes? Duh!
    4. The INSAT-2 satellites also provide telephone links to remote areas; data transmission for organisations such as the NSE; mobile satellite service communications for private operators, railways, and road transport; and broadcast satellite services, used by India's state-owned television agency as well as commercial television channels. India's (Educational Satellite), launched aboard the GSLV in 2004, was intended for adult literacy and distance learning applications in rural areas. It augmented and would eventually replace such capabilities already provided by INSAT-3B.
    5. Tele-education in remote areas and villages. Thanks to ISRO and Govt. of India. How would a poverty-stricken nation like India educate its vast population living in the rural areas and remote areas? I am sure NY Times, WSJ and LA Times are honorable and intelligent enough to have ‘sidelined’ this to bring the traditionally known picture of India to the world as the land of snake charmers.
    6. Satellite News and Dissemination to common people. Do I need to explain this?
    7. DTH Channels which have been helping the poor farmers to increase their crop productivity and daily pricing. Are we wasting money on that? Perhaps I think the media is wasting in their money in reporting absolutely baseless news (oh wait, that’s not even news!).

    And these are the most simple things that affect us everyday as a common citizen – ISRO’s programmes protect us from our enemies, help us gain food security, disaster management and spearhead the advanced technological development.

    Imagine India without ISRO – we would hav lost millions of lives every year. We could not have possibly progressed in our ambitious plan to spread education to even remote areas. For me, the lives of my fellow countrymen are more important than the media cribbing about ‘wastage of money’ on space programmes.

    Jai Hind!

  10. There are very few absolute needs, except food and shelter. However there are strong desires to understand the world we live in and improve our lives. One way to do this is through outer space. We already use the space near Earth for a multitude of things that make our lives better: communications, navigation, weather, etc. There are about 1400 satellites currently in space providing these services.

    The space around the Earth is only a tiny fraction of the Solar System, and an even tinier fraction of the observable Universe. But you can’t make use of anything if you don’t know what’s there. Exploration finds out what’s there, and makes the first attempts to use what you find. On Earth, exploration is split between government and private efforts. Governments do things like sending expeditions, mapping, and geological research. They do this when the risks and costs are high, and returns are uncertain. Private efforts come in when something is already known, and there are prospects for near-term returns.

    For space, we have mostly depended on governments so far for anything beyond Earth orbit. In the early days, this was also true of Earth orbit, but we understand that region well enough that private industry now does much of the work in that region. Private contributions to large telescopes, and a start at asteroid mining are starting to change the situation beyond Earth orbit. The large telescopes, like the LSST, will search for asteroids, and then spacecraft will be sent on prospecting missions. Beyond that, it is still the province of governments to go further.

  11. Where does the money go when spent on space exploration? People mistakenly believe that it is effectively just burned up building rockets that disappear into space.

    In reality, every dollar is an investment in our future. When it is spent on space, it is paid back to us ten fold. This is because of the development of new technologies that are then used throughout multiple industries and because of the inspiration it gives to our young people to pursue country-strengthening science and tech careers.

    The money is spent here at home on people who work here and hardware that is built here – this creates jobs.

    If that isn’t enough, you can always consider what might happen if we allow rival countries to leapfrog the U.S. in technology and establish a threatening presence in low Earth orbit or the Moon or Mars.

    There are dozens of NASA spin-off technologies – Wikipedia:

    Well-known products that NASA claims as spin-offs include memory foam (originally named temper foam), freeze-dried food, firefighting equipment, emergency "space blankets", Dustbusters, cochlear implants, LZR Racer swimsuits, and CMOS image sensor. As of 2016, NASA claims that there are nearly 2,000 other spin-offs in the fields of computer technology, environment and agriculture, health and medicine, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial productivity.

    See…, especially

  12. The amount of money that countries spend on space exploration is actually not that much in relative terms. I will use the U.S. as an example because they spend the most. NASA receives about 0.5% of the whole federal budget. Another way to think about this, is that you pay less than a penny for every tax dollar you pay. In comparison, the U.S. military received about 20 cents of every dollar.

    Perhaps you still think that .5% is too much, but consider what it's used for. It's not like we put the money on a rocket and launch it into space. The vast majority is used to pay a lot of very smart and talented people's salaries. They spend their time developing new technologies and answering fundamental science questions.

    The technology finds its way into consumer products (think Velcro and cell phones), and jump starts our economy. I've heard estimates that the money spent by the government on research is returned by a factor of 9 in new tax revenue from these technologies. The science expands our understanding of the universe and generally improves the quality of our lives.

    In summary, I think we're getting a lot from spending money on space exploration. In fact, I would gladly pay a lot more.

  13. There is an anime called Space Brothers on Astronauts. In one episode, someone from media personal asks an astronaut Soichi Noguchi(he is a real Astronaut and what he said in the anime was taken from the actual response he gave) a question which was “Why should we waste money on these Space Explorations when we haven’t solved the problems on earth ?

    The reply was:-

    Soichi Noguchi lecture from Uchuu Kyoudai episode 13


    Please picture yourself as an ant. I am going to draw a line “_________________”. You are an ant who can go either in forward direction or backward direction. Next I place a stone like this “____O”. Now you won’t be able to move forward as you can only move forward and backward. So, that’s the end of the 1-Dimensional ant world. But then 2D ant came,they can move forward, backward, left and right. So, 2D ant on encountering the stone went around it and continued to move forward. After a while, they ran into a Stone wall “

  14. ||” . Now, the ants are in trouble as they can move left and right but they cannot go over the stone wall. So, that was the end of the 2-Dimensional world. The ants doesn’t know what to do. And that’s when, the 3-D ants came, they can go forward, backward, left, right,up and down. The 3-D ant said, why don’t we climb the wall. So, the ants climb over the wall to discover the new world. The point I am trying to make is when you see the world from a new perspective such as from above, you may discover a new solution. We aren’t sending humans to space solely to travel to distant planets. We are giving ourselves a new view of our problems on earth, and an opportunity to find a new solution. I believe that’s the real reason we venture into space.”

    The reason I mentioned this analogy is cause analogies are a way of explaining things and becoming more understood is to use an object/ situation that is very common and tangible or something from every day life and draw parallels to it. Knowledge is built on previous experiences like in this case the ants who built on to their previous knowledge and found ways to expand their “world”. Analogies, if used correctly, can be a great tool. They create ‘connections’ and ‘bridges’ to notions that are already established and organized well in our brain and thus leave greater impact than ‘pretty’ words that refer to things out of the listener’s /reader’s experience. They can be charming and emotional and thus make a long lasting impression on listener’s mind.

  15. If we go into space, we will…

    1. Cure cancer
    1. Space has a lot of radiation and radiation causes cancer. Therefore, by traveling into space, then there will be a lot more interest in cancer research and treatment.
  16. Cure heart disease
    1. Hearts have weird problems in space that stem from the lack of gravity: they get weaker. This happens in people that don’t exercise, too. Curing this in space will also help people that have heart problems
  17. Discover a planet that we can relocate to “just in case”.
    1. With people threatening us with nukes, I think it’s time we have a contingency plan.
  18. Get natural resources
    1. Ever hear of “asteroid mining”? Well, if you haven’t, asteroids have tons of metals inside of them, and thus we don’t have to drill huge mines to get out one kilogram of gold
  19. Help solve global warming
    1. By studying micro-biospheres in space, we learn more about the big one we live in.

    Now, who says space exploration is a waste of money?

  20. No, because the returns in the case of NASA have been many times the taxpayer investment.

    No One Should Think That Money Spent on NASA is a Waste

    For every dollar invested by the government the American economy and other countries economies have seen $7 to $14 in new revenue, all from spinoffs and licensing arrangements. That amounts to in $17.6 billion current NASA dollars spent to an economic boost worth as much as $246.4 billion annually.

    From the Black & Decker cordless vacuum, the Dustbuster, to ear thermometers and memory foam, we clean, check our temperature and get a good night sleep, here on Earth, on NASA-licensed spinoff technologies.

    The winglet found on the wingtips of commercial aircraft today, an invention to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency, came from NASA. Orthodontists use a translucent material called TPA for invisible braces – invented at NASA for an entirely different purpose. Farmers are using field sensors that tell them when their crops need watering – invented at NASA.

    Here is another report: ECONOMICS

    Again a huge return on investment.

    If anything, a case could be made that more money should be spent on NASA – actually if the US government really spent 20% of its budget on NASA, I suspect that we would be well on our way to sending a manned mission to Mars.

    It is likely that there would be many technologies that would have to be specifically invented for this purpose and that there would be many spin-offs in the civilian world.

  21. I see a lot of answers describing how advancements in science and technology have been made through research in space technology.

    I will end up telling you the same thing but let me add something that happed recently –

    October 29 ,1999 was a dark day for us Indians… A category 5 cyclone hit the eastern coast of instance mainland.

    This cyclone left behind a trail of destruction which leaving 1.6 million people homeless and about 20,000 dead. India didn't have sofisticated instruments to study and predict weather events. India relied mostly on help from other countries like US but due to strained ties, we were often denied or handed over limited data which made timely evacuation impossible. The government then started taking space seriously and improved the funding of space agencies.

    Fast forward to 2016, A severe cyclone struck the eastern coast again…

    But only this time we were prepared and the loss of lives and infrastructure was minimal. This was possible because India this time had advance knowledge thanks to our earth monitoring satellites which made it possible for government to evacuate thousands of people.

    And there is more to it !

    Exploring storage gives us a chance to find our place in this vast mysterious universe !

    I believe that we homo sapiens were never the species that just dug in stayed where it was comfortable. It's in our nature to be explorers ! I think we should embrace this feature rather than run away from it .

  22. A conversation between a space exploration supporter and opposer

    S : "It gave us the GPS"
    O: "Yeah, who needs the GPS. We can just follow the roads while flying in an aeroplane or follow a magnetic compass, who needs space exploration !"

    S:"It gave the ability to monitor our weather from space"
    O: "Yeah right ! Who needs an advance information on Hurricanes and tornadoes, we might as well take them head on. Let people die. At least they will die "educated" from the money we saved from space exploration

    S: "It gave us the ability to monitor global warming (and other phenomena) and its causes"
    O: "What a waste. Global warming is such a hoax. There is no warming. My hometown gets more winter nowadays. Where is the warming? (BTW Extended winters are a side-effect of global warming)"

    S:"It gave us long distance communication which is the backbone of all modern technology"
    O: "Why not? ……………. We could have had wired communication all across the oceans"

    S:"Education budget has always been many times larger than space, still there is no drastic change in education system over the decades"
    O: "Is it??"

    S:"Space exploration may ultimately equip us to protect the Earth from any incoming danger like asteroids which can annihilate all life on Earth"
    O: "(no arguments) …………………. at least they will die educated from the money we saved ………. ??"

    S: "There are several things in outer space (Gamma ray bursts, comets, asteroids, black holes, solar flares) that can cause devastation on Earth on scale of extinction. Exploring space we may colonize other planets and save the species from getting extinct OR at least know the nature of the event to be best prepared"
    O: "Hmm….. what's a gamma ray burst"

    S: "It gives us the ability to detect any air-borne or even ground attack on us by other nations"
    O: :-O "Who needs education. Let's get some satellites ready. Go Go Go !! "

    And of course there are spin-offs as mentioned by William.

    I completely support the notion of global space exploration, where we need not go to Moon or Mars again and again, by every nation separately. This will save a lot of money and time and will push the space exploration much further. But in the current political scenario, where states within a country are not willing to share river waters, this kind of sharing seems more difficult than landing on Mars.

  23. Absolutely. An extremely large number of inventions are a direct result of our space program. Just some of the spin off technologies are; Infrared ear thermometers, Ventricular assist devices, Artificial limbs, Light-emitting diodes, Invisible braces, Scratch-resistant lenses, Space blanket, Aircraft anti-icing systems, Improved radial tires, Chemical detection, Video enhancing and analysis systems, Fire-resistant reinforcement, Firefighting equipment, Temper foam, Enriched baby food, Portable cordless vacuums, Freeze drying, Digital image sensor, Water purification, Solar Cells, Pollution remediation, Correcting for GPS signal errors, Structural analysis software, Remotely controlled ovens, Powdered lubricants, Improved mine safety, Food safety, just to name a few. Miniaturization of computers enabling the manufacture of smartphones is another benefit. Medical breakthroughs are still being made with experiments on the ISS. When you consider how little of every tax dollar (currently around 3/4 of a cent) is spent on space exploration, and how many jobs were created by these new industries, we have had a substantial return on investment. There have also been at least 10 other Quora questions similar to yours with even more information. Check it out.

  24. Is space exploration a waste of money?

    There are some dark jokes in economics:

    • Living pensionists are a waste of money
    • Children are a risk investment
    • Taking care of the ill or raising children is worthless because there’s no profit

    We all understand that having children is important – otherwise our species would go extinct.

    Taking care of them is also important even if we can’t bill them for all the time and money we spend on them, for them.

    Pensionists have definitely earned their place. But after they stop working they’re not producing, so are they “dead weight”? No. We love them and want to keep them around and grant them some freedom for their final years.

    Space exploration and colonizing other worlds will cost a lot of money.

    It will also help ensure the survival of our species. It will spread sentient life and allow dead worlds to be brought to life.

    Packaging loans into investment packages and selling them produces money on the paper.

    It makes economic sense. But it doesn’t produce anything for anyone. It’s literally a glitch in the capitalist economic system.

    Capitalist economic system is inherently flawed.

    Let’s just say how it is:

    Capitalism is a shitty system.

    It is just one way we can organize economic activity, resource allocation, who gets what resources, who makes the decisions and so.

    It is a crappy way of doing these things. But it’s the one we have.

    We must recognize the flaws of this system.

    Otherwise we might be so economic that we kill ourselves and our species.

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