One of the biggest challenges to space exploration is the public and politics. A space exploration has always been a capital intensive endeavor requiring vast resources and extensive research. Because of this Governments have been the only organizations big enough to foot the bill. Even more telling, only three nations so far have successfully sent human beings into space. When something involves the spending of government dollars it always becomes entangled in politics. This is the main point of contention surrounding programs like health care reform and in this case, space exploration. The questions that many American grumble out is “Why waste the money on space when we can use it down here?”
The answer is two-fold. We actually do spend the money down here. It goes to the salaries of the countless worker and scientist that support every mission that NASA does. It also goes to pay major private companies and corporations that play important roles in major sectors of the US economy. For example one of NASA contractors for aircraft is Boeing the same company that makes commercial aircraft for the airline industry. So as you see there are already direct benefits to the economy provided by NASA missions.
The less obvious and most important benefit is spinoff technologies. The simple fact is that every new step we make in space exploration advances our knowledge of not just the Universe but the new height human innovation and technology can achieve. Some scientists have already hypothesized that if a civilization from another part of space were to make first contact with Earth their technology would be several orders of magnitude more advanced than ours because the many scientific and technological milestones they would need to achieve to make the feat even possible.
We are surrounded every day by technologies developed for space exploration. The artificial heart for example, resulted from experiments on the space shuttle and a partnership with renowned heart surgeon Dr. Michael Debakey. The hand held Jaws of Life used to save victims from car wrecks originated from the system used to separate the space shuttle from its booster rockets. Even the insulation that keeps our homes warm and energy efficient is based of the technology used to insulate the space shuttle.
These advances are found in our food, our building materials, medical procedures and the vehicles we drive. So the next time you wonder if it is a waste of time and money to explore space remember that it is actually an investment that improves the quality of our lives.
If you enjoyed this article there are others on Universe Today that you will find interesting. There is an article about how we really watched television from the moon. There is also a great article about spin offs from the Hubble Space Telescope.
There are also great resources on the web. The NASA website has an online publication called Spinoff that documents the new technologies that come from NASA. There is also a document that lists some of the technologies that have come from the space shuttle.
You can also listen to Astronomy Cast. Episode 144 Space Elevators.