Why Invest in Space Exploration?

Panagiotis Papanastasiou
6 min readDec 24, 2021

Imagine we are living in a cave…

Credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/v2HgNzRDfII

-“I am going to go out and explore what is across the mountains”

-“No, you must not do that, because we have problems in the cave, which need to be fixed first. That has high priority, so you can’t exit the cave until we’ve solved them”

In essence, you argue that exploration should not happen if problems of higher priority exist.

Now, imagine if Columbus’ and all the other great explorers in humankind’s history had this mentality…

This scenario is ridiculous, yet we experience it every single day.

It is thought that space agencies’ budgets should be cut down because “we shouldn’t be wasting money on space exploration when there are problems to deal with here on Earth.”

Undoubtedly, there is no shortage of problems that need to be solved such as public health concerns, social injustices, climate change, however, addressing these problems simply does not rely on defunding space programs.

First and foremost, the capital allocated to the space industry by governments as a part of their budget is not nearly as great as many might expect. Research conducted has shown that people thought NASA took up as much as 15% of the US federal budget, where in fact it only takes up 0.5%! Even if this amount was not allocated to space exploration, the problems we are suffering from are not going to be solved.

Credit: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/space-exploration-and-us-competitiveness

As evident on the figure above, since we landed on the moon in 1969, marking the end of the first space race, interest in the space industry along with its funding has significantly declined — with it, all the benefits we gain from this endeavor, which unfortunately are not properly communicated and known by all of us.

The Return on Investment of Space Exploration

Not only does space exploration provide incredible potential future benefits for humanity, but it also has a contribution to our daily lives, which may not be acknowledged only by one who is “embarrassingly short-sighted”.
(Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, at Dubai Future Talks)

The analogy used at the start of this article was taken from this video

Through the process of addressing the challenges that space poses to our species, we pursue our development and reach levels of innovation, which up until the moment were thought to be impossible resulting in the invention of technologies and solutions to problems that make our lives back on Earth easier, safer and better.

Inventions Derived from Space Exploration

Expenditure for commercial products consists of 75% of all the money being currently allocated into space. In addition, NASA even has a department that works on repurposing space technologies into everyday products. (NASA Spinoff) Thanks to space exploration we have the list of the following available to us:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Solar Cells
  • GPS
  • Heart Monitors
  • Weather & Communications Satellites
  • Camera Phones
  • LEDs
  • Computer Mice & Portable Computers
  • Wireless Headphones
  • Firefighting Equipment
  • Athletic Shoes
Credit: https://theloaferonline.com/2018/11/05/60-years-of-nasa-spinoffs-touch-everyday-world/

The list goes on…

Manufacturing in Space for Earth

The rapidly growing activity of the private sector in the industry, increases competition and quality significantly, leading to even more benefits for everyone. Companies like Varda Space Industries, which is developing sustainable “industrial parks” functioning like small space stations that will take advantage of low gravity to manufacture things such as more powerful fiber optics cables, more efficient semiconductors for solar panels, and even 3D print human organs, are pushing the limits of engineering. The recurring idea is that we go to space, to improve our life here on Earth.

Credit: https://cyprusshippingnews.com/2021/08/16/rocket-lab-inks-deal-with-varda-space-industries-to-supply-multiple-photon-spacecraft-for-space-manufacturing-missions/

Global Cooperation

More importantly, exploring space gives us the opportunity to unite, leave all our differences behind, and lay the foundations for international cooperation. Science and space do not care about one’s nationality, race, etc. We are all humans, equally trying to make our own dent in the universe. The International Space Station is proof that humanity can accomplish great things when we synergize together towards a common goal. This is also a requirement for solving all other world problems like global warming and asteroid threats, where worldwide coordination is necessary.

Protection from Extinction Level Events

The universe is a violent place. Stars engulfing planets, supernovas firing lethal rays, and asteroids hurtling around at enormous speeds are just a few ways the only known to now intelligent species could be rendered extinct.

Credit: https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/nasa-reveals-new-plan-stop-asteroids-they-hit-earth-ncna885316

Nonetheless, as uninviting space may seem, these also consist of reasons for us to further explore. From the laws of physics and probability, it is guaranteed that an extinction-level event will happen again on Earth. So, if we don’t want to go the way of the dinosaurs, not to mention that spreading out might be the only thing that saves us from ourselves, we should focus on making life multi-planetary. Whether you support the creation of a Mars Colony or not, setting outposts on other planets or Moons will be vital and significantly improve the chances of a positive future for humanity.

Credit: https://www.archdaily.com/880697/elon-musk-announces-spacex-plans-to-begin-mars-colonization-by-2022/59ce60f5b22e384e100000bf-elon-musk-announces-spacex-plans-to-begin-mars-colonization-by-2022-image

Growing Number of Opportunities

Other sectors that space exploration directly impacts are the health, materials, and tourism industries. The ISS has delivered crucial medical innovations with uses on Earth, such as a method for delivering cancer-fighting medication directly to tumors, useful gadgetry, and many more. Moreover, it has been stated that the first trillionaire will probably be the entrepreneur that successfully mines asteroids for precious minerals and manages to utilize them properly. Last but not least, who wouldn’t sign up for a flight to orbit or a quick honeymoon trip to our future moon colony?

There is still so much research to be carried out, science to be learned, and valuable technology to be created that it is irrational to go against space exploration. The possibilities presented in the new frontier of space exploration are endless!

The Deeper Reasons of Space Exploration

Space exploration is rooted in us, it is part of what makes us humans; curiosity and the need for exploration are in our nature. Even our ancient ancestors, whose survival was much less guaranteed than ours, looked up to the stars.

“The same curiosity that sends us to the stars at speed of thought urges us to go there in reality.” -Stephen Hawking

Throughout the course of history, humans have constantly pushed the boundaries of their knowledge to discover the unknown. The world would have been significantly different if Columbus had not embarked on that trip, and the same is true with space exploration. As a matter of fact, the magnitude of what we have to gain from exploring space is much greater than exploring our small beloved planet.

This embedded curiosity is what drives us down the path of seeking answers to deep questions such as: What is our Place in the Universe? Are we alone? and give us a greater insight into the history of our solar system, galaxy, and universe.

The Pale Blue Dot

Think about all the monuments ancient civilizations built so that a generation can prove to the next that they achieved something worthwhile. Reflecting on some of these ancient marvels, we are still in awe of what the engineers of the time accomplished. What is more important, is that many times the creators did not live long enough to witness their completion, and even though they knew that would be the case, they never lacked passion or commitment. Space gives us the chance to provide meaning and value to our lives by working on something inspiring, for which we shall be remembered.

Space exploration has served, serves, and will serve our interests as long as it is treated with the appropriate attention and vision.

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Panagiotis Papanastasiou

Ambitious teen, interested in emerging tech, entrepreneurship, space, education and sustainability. I am a petrol-head and unicorn person under construction!