Is Space Exploration a Blast Best in the Past?

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By Francesca Speke

(As seen in Pegasus Pages, December 2013)

Ever since the Babylonians’ identification of the planets in our solar system, man has been both enthralled and perplexed by the seemingly never-ending expanse that surrounds us. We have made it our mission to familiarise ourselves with the massive space that envelopes us, to assert the human race onto every possible place we see fit. However, with billions of dollars being spent on space research annually, there comes a point when one must ask the question: what is it all for?

As far as we know, man is the only creature in the universe with such in depth knowledge of the galaxy, and yet we actually know so very little about the way in which our galaxy operates. Of course, it is undeniable that we are aware of the various planets in our solar system and their respective moons, and know of thousands of stars that litter our milky way, but it is nearly impossible for one not to wonder what really is out there, beyond what we can see through telescopes. Can we ever really acquaint ourselves with the vast expanse around us? It is regularly said that man’s quest for complete control and knowledge is natural, and thus it is our duty to assert ourselves onto the rest of the universe. But if we can never truly understand something, is it not better to simply respect it and allow it to co-exist with us in harmony, rather than trying to conquer it?

Furthermore, if NASA were to shut down tomorrow, atmospheric telescopes were retracted, and all space missions were halted, there is no doubt that the people of the world, in particular Americans, would feel that they were missing out on something. But what? Billions of dollars are poured into astronomic research every year, and yet there is no guarantee that we will ever find anything of use to us as humans. Take the man on the moon as an example. Yes, it was ‘a giant leap for mankind’ in terms of scientific research and asserting our status as a superior race, but what did we as ordinary people actually gain from it? The Apollo mission of 1969 cost around $135 billion in today’s money, money which could have been spent sorting out our own planet, rather than exploring others which we have no use for. To put this into perspective, $135 billion could: provide clean water to every person in the world, fund enough infrastructure to covert 50% of the USA’s energy supply to renewable energy sources or free the world of malaria. Surely these are far more beneficial to human kind than the unfulfillable pursuit of galactic understanding?

Should space exploration be halted? Referring back to my initial question, it is fair to say that the sole reason for astronomical research is to quench man’s inexhaustible hunger for complete control, a hunger that can never be fulfilled and one that will probably never provide us with any physical benefits. Therefore, despite the obvious interest in space exploration, it is fundamental to humankind that we acknowledge the benefits that could reaped from diverting even just a small sum of the funds spent on space research to human causes instead, and hence allow astronomical research to take a less major stance in our world, at least for a few years until we have solved the major issues we face on Earth. Consider our planet as a project; it would be foolish to take on another until one is finished, or else we forfeit the quality of them both.

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Image: Crab Nebula taken by the Hubble

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