“It’s the climate, stupid.”
That’s the overall impression I was left with, after disagreeing with someone about the importance of space exploration. I had an unfortunate round with this person on social media a short time ago, over whether or not humans should continue with space exploration since climate change was the greater concern for our species. So great, or so this person thought, that endeavors such as space exploration were a waste of time and resources. Resources that could be better ‘spent’ elsewhere.
What a short-sighted, ignorant, pessimistic stance.
I disagreed with this person’s sentiment on so many levels, that I felt the need to write this essay. To have such a conversation in the 21st century seems ludicrous, as such criticism ignores one of the key tools that has allowed us to detect and monitor climate change: satellites in orbit, placed there by space agencies. Satellites that exist because of space exploration, and all the many periphery disciplines that make it possible. Yet there are others out there who feel the same way; any time a space agency launches a mission, there’s usually criticism directed at it on social media. If that mission isn’t a success, then that criticism is multiplied many times over.
It’s easy to look at the price tag of planetary probes, planned missions to the Moon, or even distant Mars, and compare the cost of these things to the problems we face here on Earth. The climate crisis, COVID-19, the growing economic divide between rich and poor, social issues such as racism, crumbling infrastructure, fascist terrorism, and gun violence — and that’s just in my home country, the United States. I care about these issues, too, and I am in firm agreement that we need to focus on them like never before.
But that doesn’t mean you stop learning. It doesn’t mean you stop exploring, and reaching for new heights of human achievement. Space exploration is the tip of that proverbial spear, and thus its prime mover. Dispensing with it would be folly.
Item # 1: The Cost
The financial cost of space exploration is a main point of contention from its critics, and the easiest to refute. The New Horizons probe that flew past Pluto in 2015 cost $780.6 million (source: The Planetary Society)…