TEDy: Human rights over space exploration

Landing the InSight rover on Mars sounds amazing, but the $830 million  price tag laughs in the face of migrant crises, global warming issues and millions of starving children here on Earth.

If I have learned anything, it’s that we have limited resources. I have limited time to do homework, we don’t have unlimited coal and our government has a limited amount of money. While exploring the universe might have made sense during the Cold War, modern space exploration goes against logic and uses an extraordinary amount of resources—human, natural and otherwise—toward what are, at best, abstract benefits.

Don’t get me wrong, my friends all know me as a “space nerd” for being obsessed with space fiction and games. I’m just not a fan of using money for space travel instead of human suffering. While it’s a wonderful spectacle to bring a man to the Moon or land a rover on Mars, are these things much more than just bragging rights and shows of power?

Let us consider the Mars rover, Curiosity. It landed in 2012 and cost NASA about $2.5 billion. Although this may be relatively small in terms of other government spending, it is not an amount to be laughed at. After a year of exploration, NASA provided us with an exciting statement on the benefits reaped from the journey: “Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust has provided new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars.” If I had $2.5 billion, I definitely wouldn’t use it to examine sand and dust.

Space technology can be extremely useful. For example, satellites and GPS are intertwined into our daily lives and can increase the quality of life immensely. However, space innovation and exploration are separate things. Something that has very little measurable benefit should not be heavily invested in.

Those that argue that this exploration may lead to future colonization or other long-term prospects fail to realize that these goals will most likely never be met due to the problems here on Earth. Discovering ways to inhabit other planets would require great coordination and prosperity among nations of the world, something unattainable without great changes in today’s world. Even now, with many people fleeing from war or suffering from poverty, exploring space simply because we can seems like nothing more but a needless extravagance.

Imagine if the more than $600 billion  spent by NASA according to the National Science Foundation were used on alternative energy research, testing cures for major diseases or developing cheaper ways to produce food and feed the hungry. We would no doubt be in a better position to function as a society and potentially even conquer other problems to make space exploration a realistic priority.

Sure, there are spin-offs that have resulted from NASA work such as phone cameras and baby formula, but these inventions could have been achieved faster and at less cost if society intentionally looked for improvements directly. Also, many products are wrongly believed to be developed by NASA. Can you guess which of these—velcro, microchips or cordless power tools—were developed by the space organization? The answer is none of them.

Living in America, many of us are ignorant to the great problems facing the world. If we continue to strive to live in a science fiction novel, our lack of prioritization of more pressing issues will come back to haunt us in a future that is less bright than it seems.