“Why Space Matters”

December 15, 2011

Political Theory


I’ve always had a great fascination with the universe and everything that we’ve been able to discover outside of Earth. I love learning about things that are so much larger than us, dealing with issues such as the creation of space and time and how everything came to be, and trying to comprehend the mind-boggling wonders and anomalies that are found in deep space. After taking an introductory astrophysics course here at Michigan, my curiosity in this area only peaked. Yet, at times I questioned the practicality of space research. I mean, with government space programs such as NASA having trouble with over-budget projects and all the problems going on in our country at the moment, is it really feasible to allocate government funds to continue exploring outer space? What is the point of tinkering around in space when there are still so many issues at hand that need to be fixed on earth (e.g. faltering economies, wars, protests, famine, etc.)? I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to try to better living conditions on Earth before pursing the, what some might consider, expensive, frivolous hobby that is space exploration and research? I believe that the value of space research is an asset in and of itself to human knowledge, but many would disagree with its overall importance and wouldn’t label it a priority. While contemplating this, I recently watched a program on FORA.tv on the importance of space research done by NASA as well as several small private companies. I was amazed to find out that our projects in space don’t serve merely to increase our knowledge of the universe but can also have practical implications here on Earth.

Advancement in space technology can benefit our day to day lives in all sorts of fashions. For example, ultrasound technologies developed by NASA for space exploration are being used now in hospitals for early detection of conditions such as atherosclerosis. Satellites are being used to map out water sources as to improve water management around the world, especially in places where fresh water is an extremely scarce resource. Even small and unassuming things, such as the nutrition plans developed by NASA for astronauts, have been adapted to become nutritional supplements in baby foods, now benefiting the health of millions of babies each year. The list of examples is extensive and can go on for quite some time as many people don’t realize the “creative uses of space technology” or its applications. In the conference our current state of space research and technology was compared to the birth of the internet – the possibilities are endless as much of these technologies are fairly new and there are many new opportunities to explore and test out.

NASA's Mars Rover, Curiosity, was launched last month and was nearly a billion dollars over budget

NASA’s budget is expected to keep getting cut in the following years. It is estimated that in 2012-2013 their budget will be cut by almost 8%, and NASA is currently having problems with over-budget projects. So my question is, do you think it’s worth it? Should NASA’s strive to further human understanding about the universe while at the same time creating new technologies to benefit the general poulation continue to be supported by the government? Or are these tax cuts a justified means to get our economy back on track by cutting back on unnecessary spending? I believe that NASA and its affiliates are doing their best to keep pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas to further advance and better our lives. However, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville and his idea of enlightened self-interest when I watched the program on FORA.tv. Essentially, Tocqueville observed and stated that people do good for others to ultimately benefit their own self-interest. Lastly, do you think this scheme of self-interest drives agencies like NASA, and does this effect your overall viewpoint on the matter?

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2 Comments on ““Why Space Matters””

  1. ryanjcarney Says:

    Now I’m a fan of NASA and a huge supporter of their research but the cuts really don’t bother me. Honestly, space exploration is a valuable luxury for a solid economy which the United States doesn’t necessarily have at the moment. Federal funding to programs like NASA or defense (probably not gonna happen) should be cut to ease the burdens of the population on Earth. Maybe if the space program had better lobbyists and more cash to throw around like the defense industry it wouldn’t be weathering so many cuts as of late…

    I don’t necessarily see the connections between Tocqueville’s scheme of self interest drives NASA to do what it does. Maybe if you said NASA’s engineers and scientists did their work to help the United States and the world’s population’s understanding of our universe so further their own desire to research and work on the subject they loves (space, science, etc).

  2. lmaren Says:

    As much as I love NASA and it’s thrilling discoveries, I believe that much of it’s research can be done privately or more economically. Travelling into space is incredible, but since we have a limited distance that we can travel, there is only so much that we can discover up there. And I think that after 50 years of extensive study, we have, for the time being, learned as much as we can by physically travelling into space. By monitoring things on the ground, it is much cheaper and they will be able to afford to do more research projects because their funding won’t all be going to building billion dollar rockets. I don’t fully understand your connection with Tocqueville because it was probably not in the self-interest of the scientist, astronauts and researchers to have their funding truncated and their personal space research cut off.

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