Yes But... Is Space Exploration Worth It?
I get asked this question all the time. Here's a recent e-mail inquiry
which is characteristic of most, along with my answer.
From: "Lin Choi Foo"
Subject: Save the earth.
Date: Wed, 4 Aug 1999 19:56:46 +0800
I'm a student in a local college in Malaysia. I'm assigned to do a
research on whether the funds used to support space exploration programs
are efficiently used. If not, the fund would might as well used to save
the earth. Save the present and forgets the future? How true is that?
Do you know of any website which can provide information of the above
nature? Any help is very much appreciated.
To: "Lin Choi Foo"
From: Randy Culp <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, 4 Aug 1999 20:55
Hi, Lin Choi Foo -
When the money used for space exploration is totalled up and
presented as a single sum, it looks like a lot of money that
one is then tempted to apply to other purposes. That is a
deception. In the United States, the federal government each
year spends less than 1% of its budget on space exploration,
and more than 30% of the budget helping the poor in this country.
That means that if the space program were completely eliminated,
a poor person instead of getting $1.00 would then get $1.03.
That does not seem like the extra help they really need to save
What would we lose for giving the extra 3 cents to the poor (or
some other program)? Well for one thing without the space program
you and I could not be having this e-mail conversation because
there would be no communications satellites. There would be no
weather satellites so there would be little or no warning of
hurricanes or typhoons. I'm not sure about Malaysia, but in the
United States it is now unusual for a lot of lives to be lost in
a hurricane, whereas in the past we could lose thousands of lives
to these storms. The difference is satellite surveillance of
weather systems. We would certainly know and understand less about
our solar system and universe without the space probes and orbiting
telescopes provided by space exploration. We would also understand
less about the earth, about ecological systems, about efficient
ways of growing crops and controlling pollution.
The reality is that the space program has done a lot to save the
earth, save lives, feed people, and bring us together through closer
communication. The space program has shown us an example of how to
solve seemingly impossible problems. We should use this example to
help us solve other difficult problems, like world hunger. It is a
mistake to say that since we have problems that we haven't solved,
we should stop solving other problems as well.
It is also ironic to claim that we want to save the present and forget
the future. What do you do tomorrow, when the neglected future has
become the present?
You can get details of the US space program budget at
http://www.nasa.gov/hqpao/fy98_summary.txt or at the
Material page; and you can get info on the US Federal Budget
Hope this helps.
Reasons for Space Exploration
Space Exploration Home Page
Your questions and comments regarding this page are welcome.
You can e-mail Randy Culp for inquiries,
suggestions, new ideas or just to chat.
Updated 8 September 2008