Space Shuttle Exploding On Take-Off

There’s No Space For It!

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Space travel is a hot topic of conversation, whether it’s capturing the world’s audience by putting a man on the moon, or Mr Musk trying to colonise Mars. But what value does society see from this significant financial investment? You only have to look to mainstream media to witness famine and war, so why spend fortunes trying to explore new worlds whilst ours continues to suffer?

The funding for space exploration is drawn from taxation, therefore every citizen of the space-exploring nations effectively holds a stake. However, the most influential stakeholders are the national governments themselves, and they are arguably the biggest beneficiaries.

This article will explore the pros and cons of space explorations and as the funding from space exploration, is it all worth it?

There’s no space for it!

Every year the UK contributes €322.3 million (2015) to the European Space Agency (ESA), yet we still experience poverty on our streets. This contribution has very little impact on day to day human life besides being a figure of the 6 o’clock news. 4 million children live in poverty in the UK and the total ESA budget could be used to provide 85,000 school meals per day, to the children who need them most. This would have a much wider impact on the UK’s population. The National students survey showed that 80% of students worried about their money whilst a slightly lesser amount said their exams and diets suffered as a result. The ESA budget could be better used to support the 1 in 10 students who may have to drop out of university due to financial constraints and allow them to stay in education and go on to have successful careers.

The risk to human life linked to space exploration was made evident to the entire world when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight in January 1986. But despite no fresh major disasters associated to space exploration in recent years, the risk it places on human life has certainly not been averted.

Assessing the risk to life of exploring space is a difficult task. How can one determine the probability of an event occurring if the event itself is unknown? As a result, is the risk infinite? Thinking about these questions can lead us to dwell on the consequences of sending a human being to previously unexplored planets or solar systems. Inevitably, one of the outcomes that springs to mind is the loss of life. So, if the risk is infinite and the consequence is death, sending humans into space must be ethically and morally wrong.

It is not categorically proven that alien life does not exist, so why should the human race aim to populate new planets? History has shown that invasion always results in war and ultimately death, so why would this be any different in space? We have strict rules on earth about the boundaries between colonies but seem to believe these do not apply in space, meaning that we are breaching peoples/aliens human rights.

Space exploration comes at huge financial cost and also poses a risk to human life. To continue to engineer projects that have this burden on society means that by a consequentialism approach these activities should not happen. Furthermore, by virtue ethics it is wrong to continue with space exploration as extreme financial cost could be used benefit those less fortunate in society.

Right time, Right Space

The Tesla Roadster on its way to the Asteroid BeltSpace exploration advances a nation’s prestige, and it also builds alliances between nations; NASA alone have agreements with two-thirds of the world’s nations. The most famous example of geopolitical motivations is the ‘Space Race’ between the USSR and the USA. The rivalry spurred humanity to the moon and, although initially hostile, in 1975 the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was one of the first bridges built between the former Cold War rivals. The founding of the ESA is another example of international co-operation and has allowed 22 smaller nations to partake in scientific research which would otherwise be beyond their means.

It can be argued that space exploration returns enough value to justify the spending of tax money. Space exploration has been the catalyst for many scientific breakthroughs. GPS, for example, which was established by using launching technology to place an array of satellites in orbit, has transformed the ease of travel for many citizens. NASA received $18b in taxes in 2015, but this is compensated alone by the use of GPS, which was estimated in 2013 to add $68.7b of value to the US alone.

Evaluating the entirety of space exploration benefits is almost an impossible a task as the value added is so large. It gives people a deeper insight about the universe and provides them with more information about the world they live in, and helps scientists learn more about the earth’s atmosphere so they can better predict weather and natural disasters, potentially saving lives. Who is to say more discoveries and benefits to society are not out there as exploration continues? As the earth’s resources continue to deplete, perhaps we should be striving for interplanetary colonisation while we still have the means to do so. If this is within our grasp and we don’t push for it, are we fulfilling our duty to future generations that could benefit?

If the issue is the funding for space exploration coming from taxation a solution may be to encourage private investment in the sector through contracts to companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin. Eventually, this option could lead to a reduction in governmental investment as the private sector begins to support itself as we are seeing beginning to see, for example SpaceX launching satellites for Orbcomm (2015).

Applying an ethical cycle analysis to the problem shows that space exploration is indeed worth the cost. The value added to society far outweighs the cost of exploring space, and space exploration could be seen as a fulfilment of duty towards future generations.

50 thoughts on “There’s No Space For It!

  1. Interesting article. I agree that an average person gets no benefit from space exploration and the money could go to better use. Most people either don’t care about the universe as a whole or will never get to experience the benefits of space exploration.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read our article and leave a comment. With the technological advances such as GPS and MRI scanners coming from space exploration, would you not agree that most people get to experience the benefits from these advances? Although it is difficult to assess if all tax payers get their money worth so to speak.

    2. Thank you for contributing vegan, but I also disagree with the idea that most people don’t see the benefits of space exploration. I’m sure you have at some point used one of Google Maps, Uber, Amazon or Deliveroo – all of which achieve their feats of logistics through GPS.

      1. I agree that we all may benefit from technology such as GPS, but do you not think it could have been developed without the immense contribution our country currently makes to space exploration? When an idea like GPS or MRI scanners comes along there will undoubtedly be interest for private investment and therefore I believe the current ESA funding could be better spent elsewhere

  2. This is a thought provoking debate with no right or wrong answer. A great deal of capital has been invested into space exploration and consequently we know more about the universe than ever before. As mentioned in the article, a plethora of technologies which affect us on a daily basis have their roots in space exploration from enriched baby formula to artificial limbs and GPS. A quantitive analysis of the cost-benefits of space exploration would be impossible due to the sheer number of variables at hand. Consequently debate rages on.

    Some would argue that it is our duty as humans to secure a future for our descendants outside of our planet of fundamentally finite resources – bound to one day expire. But should the scourge of humanity be inflicted upon other planets and ecosystems? We have driven countless fellow earthlings to extinction and squandered our precious resources in flights of greed and fancy. Do humans deserve another chance? Or should we accept that our fates and the fate of our precious planet are intrinsically linked – bound to eventually come to an end.

    1. Thank you for your comment ScottChegg! Whether or not humans deserve another chance is not something we considered when writing this article but it certainly is an intriguing point. Thinking about this from an ethical perspective is an interesting one. Have humans behaved virtuous enough to deserve another chance on another planet? Probably not. So on that basis I would argue that we deserve to stay on Earth and deal with the problems that we have created.

  3. A very interesting and eye opening read. Information regarding the annual budget allocated to the ESA is often not readily available and I believe that we, the tax payers of the UK, should have more of a say on whether or not we continue to contribute to the cause.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read our article and for offering your opinion. If we were to have our say would you choose to fund space exploration or fund other things?

      1. This is another interesting point. If the public were given more of a choice as to where public money is spent, can everyone be trusted to make an ethical decision? Or are people likely to just put themselves first? This brings into question the ability to make a decision based on virtue ethics, and I don’t believe that everyone is fit to do so.

  4. a very interesting and balanced article on a topic that affects us all much more than we realise.
    Perhaps the added benefit of inspiring the next generation into STEM careers could be seen as extra ‘added value’, whilst the simple benefit of both direct and indirect employment through the space industry could be enough of a justification for the funding. Will the private sector ever be able to pull it off on their own? i guess only time will tell

  5. A good article that I would encourage you to develop further in terms of the various ethical angles.

    You say” Furthermore, by virtue ethics it is wrong to continue with space exploration as extreme financial cost could be used benefit those less fortunate in society.”. Which particular virtue says it is wrong? For example, a virtue I like to encourage in myself and others is intellectual development. Space exploration works to encourage that virtue.

    Equally, however, compassion is a virtue and that, perhaps, is where we could argue against space exploration.

    It’s a good start, please do develop the various ethical angles to support/change your current opinion.

    1. It is frequently argued that space exploration is not beneficial to the wider community. However, there are many technologies used in everyday life, from phone cameras to memory foam, which were developed through space exploration associated research and have been commercially adapted. I think that space exploration should be supported, as the opportunity to learn, and specialist and commercial technology developments that it drives, are paramount.
      The achievements of SpaceX over the last few years are incredible, and such companies provide extremely desirable employment to those interested in the Science & Technology involved with space exploration. If private companies are encouraged, and governmental bodies are reduced, this could lead to space exploration being maintained, with the financial contributions of the tax payer being directed towards solving issues such as poverty.

  6. A very interesting article and a good analysis of the ethical arguments for both sides!

    I personally believe that, although the benefits of space exploration to the everyday person may not be immediately obvious, there have been a number of significant inventions and technological advancements that have come about only due to the significant investments in this industry. Without space exploration, we may not have MRI machines, water purification systems or functionally dynamic artificial limbs!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read our article and for offering your opinion. I agree with you that there are many more advantages than we realise, the technological advances that space exploration has brought are obvious to see, and who is to say there won’t be more?

    2. Thank you for your comment and for leaving a link McKean! – One way to think about this is that we ‘may’ not have these technological developments whereas the poorest in our society almost ‘definitely’ will not have any more finances made available to them in the near future. Consequentially I think funding should not be continued.

  7. Very thought provoking article.

    A convincing argument that we should be investing more into the planet and less on space exploration. However, aside from tehcnological and geographical advances that come from space exploration, there will always be an innate curiosity surrounding space and what/who it contains. Therefore, the solutions put forward for overcoming funding issues would be the best solution for this ethical dilemma.

    1. Thank you spacegal123 for taking the time to read our article and offer your opinion.
      The article did not discuss the innate curiosity involved with space exploration so thank you for bringing that to our attention. Indeed if curiosity is considered one of your virtues, then this is an argument for space exploration. I do believe it is our duty to future generations to do what we can to improve their experience of life. By maintaining curious about what/who could be in space who knows what we could discover.

  8. Very interesting article to come across. Makes some good points about how we should focus more on the planet we live on and the amount of money we put into space exploration should be questioned.
    Could focus more on ethical issues regarding this.

    1. a_sam, thank you for your contribution. I would argue that the research from space exploration allows us to concentrate on earth’s problem; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. However, if it is assumed that they are – is there a balance between on-earth investment and space investment? Or should we cease space exploration all together and accept we’re bound to this planet?

  9. A thought provoking article. It would be interested to see what type of effect the space programmes have on the environment. I am for space exploration as it has brought about many positive changes to the world we live in and also inspired a new generation of engineers. The money for school meals etc could be raised from companies paying the proper tax rather than being allowed to avoid it.

    1. I would say the environmental effect of space exploration has the potential to be positive. If, for example, asteroid mining becomes a reality, we can out-source the damage of mining on earth to an asteroid of which there are thousands.

      The actual emissions from launching rockets are probably negligible compared to car and plane emissions, although I would be interested to see the numbers.

  10. An interesting article. It appears that we are benefiting more from space exploration than we think.
    Despite the negatives of space exploration: emissions, loss of life etc. I am in the belief that the positives outweigh the negatives. Who is to say that if we continue to explore we discover future technologies that will help solve some of the problems that we currently face on earth.

    1. MoSalah, I’d go as far as saying there is no net loss of life. Think of the lives saved through things such as satellite phones. I imagine emergency services have also used GPS at some point. Whereas the space-related accidents such as the Challenger accident mentioned in the article are really small.

      I agree with your point about future technology though.

      1. CS, thank you for your reply. I understand what you are saying. However, what about the lives that may be lost through the emissions that are causing global warming which may impact future generations? It is difficult to quantify and therefore perhaps a utilitarianist approach is not ideal and a different ethical theory would be better applied?

        I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  11. Very worth the read! The motivations behind further space exploration have always been puzzling to me, and to see the pros and cons laid out in a detailed discussion provokes even more questions. The USA government has profited from tax payers contributions to the development of GPS; what has the UK got to show for their support? Will the UK government continue to contribute to the ESA after Brexit? Whilst the points made in favour of space exploration are valid, I feel that the facts against it speak louder and bear a stronger argument. I still question the morals of the significant financial investments that our governments make to this cause.

    1. I’m sorry tomulcahy, but as a staunch remainer, I wholeheartedly disagree with your assertion that we haven’t benefited from contributing to the ESA. As stuart43 pointed out below, Tim Peake has probably inspired thousands of British children into going into science and engineering, and he went to the ISS through the ESA.

      I don’t know how I’d quantify the value of that, but personally I think it’s priceless.

      I believe thinking like this lead to the terrible Brexit vote and would be ashamed if we were to shun the ESA due to political developments.

  12. A very interesting article. I certainly agree that more information should be provided regarding where taxpayers money goes. It seems logical that space exploration should receive more investment from the private sector as ultimately it is the main beneficiary of the research.
    On the other hand, I don’t think that redirecting money used to fund ESA will help solve some of the societal problems we face in the UK. I think this article has tried to use it as a scapegoat whilst ignoring some of the more important issues the UK faces.

    1. Thanks for commenting joserodriguez! I do not feel that the article is using space exploration as a scapegoat however I hope that it opens people’s minds to think about the ethical dilemma of public spending in general. There are many other situations where this thought process could be applied such as funding in elite sports. Does it really benefit the entire population or could the money be better spent elsewhere?

  13. Fantastic read. I was not aware of the technological developments that have come about thanks to space exploration. GPS has massively enhanced the ease with which we travel making it far easier to discover new shops, restaurants and local businesses. Therefore, the value that it adds to the economy is almost impossible to estimate.

    In my opinion these advancements are priceless, but I somewhat believe that they would happen without the extensive space exploration budget. These sort of commercially available creations are a very small part of the space exploration program, and the rest is rarely of interest to the general public.

    The bottom line is that the money would be better spent on public services such as the NHS, which is a hot topic of debate at the moment.

  14. Good article. Creates a very interesting debate topic, should so much money be invested into the unknown when we are fully aware of the bad situations our world is already in?

  15. A really interesting read. Space really fascinates me so this article really perked my interests. Back to the article, GPS has made everyone’s lives so much easier and that is realistacally priceless, no longer do people get lost constantly and that is all thanks to space exploration and space advancement. With the effects of brexit dawning ever closer who knows what will happen with the ESA but in my opinion I think the funding should remain because ultimately space will be the way forward in this world and we need to harness that as fast as we possible can. The only way to do that is to either keep the amount of money we have in space programs or to fund it even more.
    There are other areas within the UK especially that also need the funding like the NHS but space is the age of new and it now inspires people to become engineers more and more, it is a relatively new field that will offer lots of jobs in the future and we should take advantage of that, not let it fade away.

  16. With poverty being such a big and controversial problem in our society, it is understandable why the investment into space exploration is a hot topic for debate. Having said this, the developments in space travel and technology more generally, our society has moved on much further than ever expected.

    Very good article.

  17. I believe that space should continue to be explored as it increases the chance of new technologies to be developed as well as inspiring a new generation of engineers. The arguments proposed against this argument are not individually down to exploration in space and funding in areas with a much less worthy cause could be given up. Furthermore this would allow both sides of the argument to be happy.

  18. I am in no doubt that the space race and the continued exploration has and will continue to provide advances in technology that the planet Earth needs to survive. For me this is the primary benefit. A secondary benefit would be “is there anything our there”. Whilst other topical subjects such as defence also attract focus due to expenditure and the consequences of war, it too has delivered significant advances that have subsequently benefited society. I guess the funding to NASA and ESA will always attract similar attention but for different reasons. A great thought provoking read

    1. Thank you for your comment Zamorraah! – I am glad to hear that the technological advances that have come from space exploration are made clear through this article. However I personally believe that a lot of these discoveries would still be achievable without space exploration and potentially at a lower cost. So ultimately all thins need to be considered.

  19. An interesting and thought provoking argument on both sides. Personally, I am drawn towards the ‘space’ side more than the ‘ethics’.
    Enough government money around the world is wasted on ‘projects’ that could be more efficient and redirected . Think “we must form a committee to investigate……” when it could be solved by a few educated people making a decision. But that is government, too afraid of the legal case 15 years down the line. Spend that money on the earth.
    As for space, just look at the impact Tim Peake had during his time on The ISS here in the UK. In 20 years time, who knows how many brilliant minds will be working on projects to solve bigger advances than GPS etc and who knows, all sorts of humanitarian issues here.
    We spend too much time looking down, look up, you never know what you will see!

  20. I may be a bit biased because I find space exploration very exciting. Nevertheless, I think that the benefits are very useful for the whole of society. As mentioned in the article, GPS is extremely useful and used extensively these days for various applications. Additionally, meteorology/natural disaster predictions is obviously beneficial to the whole world.

    Many technological discoveries have resulted from NASA research. As mentioned in a previous comment, the technology involved with phone cameras is one such technology, which is particularly impressive. Instagram wouldn’t be the same without this technolog that is for sure!

  21. I really enjoyed the discussion in this article, if only more articles like this were available.

    I think space exploration just as costly experiments at CERN should continue regardless of their high cost. Typical methods of quantifying their social and capital benefits do not take into account the added value from a society looking to the sky and pursuing engineering and scientific excellence.

  22. It’s a very interesting debate!Initially my thoughts were that money could be better spent, however after reading the full article I realised how much many of us will benefit or will have already experienced the benefits of space exploration with technologies such as GPS, or MRI scanners. Perhaps taxpayers contributions should be allocated wisely to to fund space exploration as well as to dealing with poverty! Space exploration should continue but so should looking after those less fortunate!

    1. I am much like PerfectlyShapen I did not know the full extent of the benefits space has given us. Many of us now could not live without GPS and if AV’s are going to be adopted then this will be a key element, so on that point space exploration is a necessity. I do think taxpayers should get a bigger say in how their money is spent but then you can’t please all the people all the time. Therefore it should be a debated matter when governments come to allocating funds. I think private sector investment is key and company’s like SpaceX could help free up funds for governments to help those within their communities who need it.

  23. The desire to explore and further our knowledge is an innate human trait. That’s why we’ve explored our own planet and have learned a huge amount about the natural world and the physical laws of the universe and we’ve exploited much of that to achieve incredible things in technology and engineering. So it seems a bit near sighted to sit in a comfortable central heated/air conditioned building typing out a comment on an ipad or a laptop that says we should curb these aspirations.

    I think the cost/benefit argument is there anyway but the primary reason we should do it is because we can and because it’s what makes us human.

  24. An interesting mix of viewpoints. Many dependant on the time frame allowed for the results of any one action. If the money for space was spent on the very poor today the Stats say that they would only benefit from 10% of it because of corruption.
    The definition of poor is geographically specific. In sub Saharan Africa its did you eat this week. In the UK it can be much better than that.
    The very poor need help now but the whole of mankind needs the help that the finding of new resources that include Space can bring. The Law of Entropy applies to civilisations as much as it does to jars of chemicals. No exploration and we all die is a cesspit of our own mess. Balance over time is needed, but do our political classes have the brains to manage it or the lack of personal agendas to bring it about?

    1. Thank you for your comment Gandlalf! – I think that looking at this problem on a global level is a difficult one as you cannot compare the level of investment in space exploration between countries. Otherwise you could bring into question whether funding your own space exploration versus financial aid for war torn countries is ethical, further complicating the argument.

  25. The pro’s point to amongst things, benefits to society through MRI and GPS. The con’s are that the money can be better spent to improve our society. As someone has pointed out above, there is no right or wrong answer. What would be interesting is the demographic (not sure I am using the right term here) of who is for this and who is against it? A bit like Brexit leavers and remainers. What influences the decisions of these people? Is it a financial benefit? Is it for the greater good. And if financial, what influence does the ordinary person in the street have in changing these views and policies? A thought provoking article.

  26. the reason for exploring space is surely the same as the reason people like to climb to the top of mountains and explore the bottom of the ocean – because its there! Trying to quantify whether its worth it is so difficult because it all depends on your viewpoint and circumstances at the time. And the benefits that it can bring will be influenced as much by personal motivations of people leading the projects as any wider objectives. In the early days the motivation seemed to be political, now days it seems to be about pushing the frontiers, and looking for alternative places to live. The advances in technology that are of use to us today probably came about by accident rather than by design linked to some altruistic plan.

  27. For me I am all for space exploration it captivates the worlds audience and affects us in ways we don’t see. Yes the projects are expensive but we do see the benefits in day to day life and think of the amount of people that have entered in to STEM subject as a result of an interest in space. This alone has probably paid back that investment. Yes governments are under extreme pressure to make the money stretch as far as possible but without an investment in tech we are at risk of falling behind the curve and that could have further implications down the line.

  28. I was shocked to read how much is given per year to the European Space Agency to continue the research and development. Maybe the money could be spent funding research here on earth delivering the same benefit. You never know what could be achieved and for less. Although, it would be interesting to find out if there is other life out there. I just think in times of austerity funding should be diverted to more pressing areas requiring urgent attention

  29. I have always found space to be a fascinating subject and whilst £300M per year is a huge sum of money to give to ESA the return of investment in terms of benefit benefit in return seems worthwhile. As long as the benefits are clear, focussed and relevant i would support the continued exploration of space. There will however, alway be a balance to be struck and could the required benefit be achieved another way, for example a similar mega global project/challenge.
    Or maybe rather than exploring space invest in a missile defence system to protect earth from attack !!

  30. A well debated article. the money to solve issues such kids school dinners can be raised without having to sacrifice our interest in space. Safety is a big concern and the point about sending people in to space when we don’t know what is out there is valid however with lots of technology advances we aren’t always sure what will happen. These risks need to be taken if we are going to extend the lifespan of the human race.

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