Friday, February 21, 2014

Is Space Exploration Worth It?

The United States is currently a nation deeply in debt. Because of this, the way that the United States government allocates its funds is an ongoing debate. One such area of debate is the continual funding by the U.S. government of arguably ‘impractical’ programs such as NASA, as well as the funding of programs aimed at environmental conservation. I argue that, in the current state of environmental degradation that our world is facing, the U.S. government should be allocating more funds to environmental conservation efforts, and less to relatively impractical NASA astronomical observation and exploration projects.

In the 2014 fiscal year budget provided by President Obama, NASA’s budget is a whopping $17.7 billion. This budget will provide full funding for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which is essentially a $3.9 billion project to expand the boundaries of human space exploration. Also, the budget will continue to fund the James Webb Space Telescope, which is a space-based telescope that is meant to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The JWST’s cost has been $8.8 billion over the past sixteen years, and is rising every year. In stark contrast to NASA’s giant budget, the EPA has a budget of only $8.2 billion. In addition to the EPA’s programs of environmental restoration and conservation, the Department of Energy has programs aimed at developing environmentally friendly technologies such as wind, solar, and geothermal as well decreasing our dependency on environmentally harmful fossil fuels. These DOE programs, however, are currently being funded in millions of dollars, a mere fraction of the funding provided to NASA.

I believe that the funds allocated to NASA’s pure astronomical observation and exploration programs need to be reallocated to DOE and EPA programs aimed at environmental conservation and smart energy use. The current state of our Earth makes the funding of these programs a necessity. Our habits of poisoning our land and polluting our atmosphere has put us in the greatest predicament in our history; if we continue on our current path of destruction, our world will be made completely inhospitable and our species will crash and burn. Given this situation, the obvious answer is to do everything in our power to save the Earth. This can begin by reallocating funds in order to restore and preserve our land. Although I do believe in programs based on the expansion of human knowledge such as NASA’s astronomical programs, now is not the time for those programs. Now is the time to reverse our habits of destroying our earth, and once that has occurred, then we can begin to expand our knowledge and frontiers as a species. The hard truth may be that if we don’t act now to save our planet, it will be impossible to have the intriguing space exploration and observation programs that we all love.

It should be noted that this argument is only being made in consideration of the current state of publicly funded space exploration and renewable energy development. Ideally, both spheres will become sufficiently privately funded in the future as to erase the need for public funding. This will allow both spheres to grow and succeed in the private market, and will also decrease the insurmountable debt that our government has. However, as I don’t see these two spheres becoming completely privately funded in the near future, there presently needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that the US government allocates its funds.
Tristan Lockwood