“Why Space Exploration Still Matters”

Posted on July 15, 2013


We’re human, and we’ve conquered Earth. That’s our history in a nutshell. In the 200,000 year history of our existence we’ve managed to sprawl across the entire habitable surface of our little blue planet. So what’s next may seem only natural: space. Scientists have been shooting for the stars as long as history has been around to document such things.

But why? Are we hung up on eminent domain? Do we sense the end is nigh, so we need to look for a new home to secure our survival? Or is it just another form of human evolution? Scientists are touting the importance of space exploration in order to find either life or life-sustaining environments in case we wear out our welcome on Earth. Now that the technology for deep space exploration is available, scientists are calling for greater funding of this type of research.

Twenty years ago, 1% of the US federal budget was allocated to NASA. Today, it’s about half of one percent. In the UK, only 3.3 of the 620 billion pound budget is used to fund science research. This .6% of the budget is split between medical research, schools, energy research, arts and humanities, and finally scientific research and development.

In both countries, this is a very small portion of the GDP to allot toward potentially securing the survival of the human race, but it would appear that government leadership does not feel like research in the fields of science and space exploration deserves a bigger slice of the pie. Besides arguments over whether the moon landing really happened, does space exploration and related research actually give us anything tangible?

In the embedded video, professor Brian Cox, PhD, particle physicist at the University of Manchester, and former keyboardist of the bands Dare and D:Ream, suggests that to get more bang for our buck, a greater amount be budgeted for researching deeper regions of space than we’ve already explored. There may be life-sustaining salt water beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, as the entire surface is covered in ice several miles deep. And where there’s water and sun, there’s a recipe for life, as we currently know it.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden echoed this sentiment when he endorsed President Barack Obama’s plans for increasing funding and allowing private space exploration. Bolden’s opinion was if private companies are exploring our orbit, then NASA can focus on spending their budget on deeper space missions, including drilling for water on Europa.

Scientists like Brian Cox and Charles Bolden think it makes a big difference. Also on board with these progressive scientists, President Obama has agreed to the importance of deeper space exploration. The President has increased NASA’s budget by an additional $6 billion, and reorganized their priorities accordingly. Lunar missions are over budget and behind schedule, so Obama put them on hold in favor of propulsion research to take us to Mars and beyond. His belief is that by the 2030s we will have civilian passenger flights orbit Mars and return to Earth. Just like the first time the citizens of Earth saw their planet’s picture from the surface of the Moon, this will restore the sense of awe needed to rekindle interest in space exploration and justify the funding and help get the popular support behind the funding.

Kiped from the archives of the SyFy channel’s IdeaLab Blog for the TV show Eureka. Well kinda kiped, since I wrote it to begin with. Edited by Tiffany Lee Brown, without whom I’d be stuck in the land of curly quotes.

Posted in: science, writing