EDUC 452 Teaching Writing
The Space Debate
Each year our government spends billions of dollars on space exploration. One of the familiar complaints that NASA receives when its budget comes up for approval is “Why waste the money on space when we can use it down here on Earth?” (Jessa, 2009). Leaving aside the fact that NASA's employees all live here on Earth, and thus the money is spent here, NASA's fifty years of research and development have resulted in a wide range of inventions and processes, ranging from complex advances in medicine for treatments of brain cancer through the simplicity of fire-resistant kid's pajamas (Jessa, 2009).
NASA credits many modern innovations, in whole or in part, to research conducted in space. Some of these innovations include the artificial heart, Jaws of Life, improved insulation, and many vehicle safety features (Jessa, 2009). Space endeavors have also been credited with other indirect benefits to human life including the microchip, the modern computer, fuel cells, the development of cleaner cars, and increased knowledge of the human body and the aging process through research conducted zero gravity space environments (International Debate Education Association, 2011). Despite these glowing accomplishments, even the legendary space advocate Carl Sagan once stated, “You don’t need to go to Mars to cure cancer (Cowling, 2008). In other words, there may be more cost effective ways to achieve NASA’s technological space spin-offs without having to leave Earth.
While reading the article,“Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost? A Freakonomics Quorum”, I was surprised to learn that while space programs in the United States may cost $7 billion a year, that amount actually translates into pennies per person per day (Cowling, 2008). Furthermore, this amount is put into an even clearer perspective upon learning that in the past, America has spent $10 billion dollars a month on the war in Iraq and up to $154 billion a year on alcohol (Cowling, 2008).
Yes, it is true. Billions of tax dollars are spent on space projects, but it is also true that a large proportion of the money spent results in high paying, high tech positions. In turn, this money also often extends outward, indirectly supporting private corporations, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, that are contracted out to perform specialized jobs for NASA (Jessa, 2008).
Another strong point to consider in analyzing this argument is that there are some current space endeavors, separate from spin-off technologies, that continue to improve the quality of our lives on a daily basis. These particular advances could arguably not be achieved without a financial investment in space. For instance, certain space satellites allow us communicate instantaneously around the world via cell phones, Internet, and televised broadcasts. The Global Positioning System (GPS) allows us to carefully determine locations anywhere in the world. Weather satellites that are in orbit around our planet not only assist in routine forecasts, but they also help to save lives with advanced warnings of serious weather events and possible asteroid impacts. As we saw in the news in 2013, asteroid impacts with Earth could pose a significant threat to human life. Further, research into climate change would be significantly less advanced without data obtained from satellites (International Debate Education Association, 2011). Such statements give support to my belief that the United States government should support continued research in space.
However, let’s continue to look at both sides of the coin by returning to the counterclaim. As Manali Oak states in his article Pros and Cons of Space Exploration, “When many people cannot even meet their basic needs in life, is it right to spend money on space exploration?” It’s a fair question. Should we continue to risk human lives in space and devote large sums of money to research when such a large percentage of our world population is living in poverty? Oak (2008) also warns, “We may also find something in space that is lethal to life on Earth. Space exploration may invite some dangerous microorganism that may exist in space.”
Yet, as The International Debate Education Association (2011) claims, “China and India, nations with far greater social welfare issues to address with their limited budgets, are speeding up their space exploration programs.” This is important because it serves as an alternative reference point. It also reinforces the argument that value of space exploration cannot be gauged by money alone.
While there may be unknown risks associated with space exploration, and there are certainly numerous unfortunate and tragic scenarios on our home planet, it is also worth asking the question: Can we really afford NOT to explore space? Undoubtedly, there are some serious future challenges that stand in the way of humankind if we are to continue our current way of life on Earth. With the threat of human overpopulation, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources, space exploration offers the potential for finding solutions to perhaps even more pressing problems than poverty. Is it too far fetched to wonder if we could mine resources on other planets or asteroids, deflect a collision course asteroid, or even possibly establish a colony beyond our home planet that could extend the viability of our species? Space is one of the final frontiers. If we close the door on space, could we conceivably be closing the door on our own species?
Cowing, Keith. "Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost? A Freakonomics Quorum." Freakonomics
RSS. NASAWatch.com, 11 Jan. 2008. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.
International Debate Education Association. "Space Exploration." The Debatabase Book: A
Must-have Guide for Successful Debate. 5th ed. New York: International Debate Education Association, 2011. 195-96. Print.
Jessa, Tega. "Benefits of Space Exploration." Universe Today RSS. Universe Today, 24 Aug.
2009. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.
Oak, Manali. "Pros and Cons of Space Exploration." Buzzle.com. Buzzle.com, 27 Aug. 2008.
Web. 09 Dec. 2013.