Space Exploration (Advantages vs. Disadvantages)
" . . . The United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward, and so will space."—President John F. Kennedy, 1962
"In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people, who would shut up the human race upon this globe, as within some magic circle which it must never outstep, we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars, with the same facility, rapidity, and certainty as we now make the voyage from Liverpool to New York."—Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon, 1865
Space Travel in American History
Space exploration is a huge part of American history, from July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon and won the “space race," all the way up to the Mars Rover programs. Yet, there are many opinions about whether space exploration is worthwhile. Some people feel that the disadvantages of a national space program far outweigh the benefits. Many others believe that space exploration should be continued at all costs, that it has proven to be beneficial in the past, and that it will continue to do so.
My opinion probably falls somewhere in the middle. I can understand all of the disadvantages, but I also believe that it has helped our country and our world in countless, irreplaceable ways. While there are many disadvantages to funding a space program, nearly all of them could be solved (or at least partially resolved) with a better understanding of space, better methods, and improved technology. How do we achieve these things? Experience. The more we explore space and experiment, the faster our technology and methods will evolve and the better we will understand our universe and planet.
It is a complex issue. I summarize the arguments for and against space exploration in the table below and go into more detail.
Some Pros and Cons of a Space Program at a Glance
Pollution of outer space
Inventions resulting from space research
Cost of funding space program
Jobs created by space program
Dangers to astronauts
Understanding of natural world
Disadvantages: Space Exploration and Pollution
One of the biggest concerns about space travel and exploration is the possibility of polluting space. There are people who argue that we are destroying space with all of the the old satellites, pieces of equipment, and rocket launch boosters that float aimlessly around the universe. This is indeed a huge problem. We are already polluting earth, and that has caused many problems. We cannot let the same thing happen to outer space.
Two recent events drastically increased the amount of space junk floating through the universe. The first took place in 2007 when the Chinese government tested a missile by smashing an old weather satellite, breaking the it into 150,000 pieces of debris. The next dramatic increase happened two years later, when two satellites crashed into one another.
A 2011 study by the National Research Council suggests all sorts of unusual techniques for cleaning up the space trash. While there are plenty of logistical and diplomatic hurdles before any of them can be tried, methods such as harpoons, nets, tethers, magnets, and even a giant umbrella could be used to essentially sweep up pieces of debris. One idea proposes that a satellite be fitted with nets that could be sprung on pieces of junk. Then an electromagnetic tether could either pull the junk down to a point where it would burn up harmlessly or boost it to safer orbit.
The High Cost of a National Space Program
Another argument against funding a national space program is the very high cost. Some argue that our missions to space are not very cost effective, especially considering the current state of our economy. In 2011 NASA celebrated the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program. At that time, that program was estimated to have cost $196.5 billion by the end of 2011.
The Dangers of Space Exploration
One of the most tragic accidents associated with the American space program is the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle exploded just 73 seconds into its flight, killing the crew of seven on board. The shuttle program was put on hiatus for 32 months after the explosion.
With more experience, however, comes greater understanding, and with a greater understanding comes better, safer technology. So, once again, continuing to explore space could help mitigate the dangers.
Advantages: Innovations Developed Through Space Exploration
Even with the disadvantages to space travel, research conducted by NASA to develop the American space program has benefited society in a number of ways. Discoveries related to space have helped advance medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods production, environmental and agricultural resource management, computer technology, and industrial productivity.
A few specific innovations developed as a result of space program research:
• GPS technology
• breast cancer test imaging
• an artificial heart pump based on the design of NASA’s space shuttle main engine fuel pumps that supplements the heart’s pumping capacity in the left ventricle
• a mechanical arm that allows surgeons to operate three instruments, while simultaneously performing laparoscopic surgery
• a lightweight breathing system for firefighters, credited with significant reductions in inhalation injuries
• Teflon-coated fiberglass developed in the 1970s as a new fabric for astronaut spacesuits has been used as a permanent roofing material for buildings and stadiums
Economic Benefits of Space Exploration
It is true that we could spend less money on our missions and make them more cost effective, but space exploration, research, and travel provides hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S.and even more worldwide.
If you think unemployment is bad now, imagine how it would be without space exploration!
Greater Scientific Understanding
One of the components of NASA's research involves satellite missions to observe the earth from a distance. This research helps scientists around the world understand the earth's atmosphere in order to improve weather and natural disaster predictions.
So far, earth is the only planet that we know is capable of sustaining life. Information generated by NASA's earth science satellites helps answer questions about whether earth can continue to sustain its growing population and about changes in our climate.
Space exploration plays a big part in our day-to-day life whether we know it or not. Yes, there are dangers and disadvantages, but if we continue to explore space, test technologies, and take some risks, I am sure that most of the problems can and will be fixed.
Of course, nothing about space exploration will ever be perfect, but nothing is ever completely risk free. In the past, space exploration has proven itself to be extremely beneficial and will continue to do so in the future just so long as we continue to work hard to make it better.