Updated: Aug 30
By: Eliana Zhang
Bang! Your time machine’s doors swing open, revealing the mysterious new world of the year 3081. Humanity has yet to go extinct and is, in fact, absolutely thriving. Climate change has been brought under control, poverty has been eliminated, and new technology has been created from resources mined light years away… Okay, maybe the last idea is kind of out of this world. Or is it? Because of the complications involving space exploration, many are understandably wary of pursuing it -- yet its full potential could yield financial benefits through new resource mining and job opportunities, as well as enormous scientific advancements due to new data and enhanced exploration capabilities. It might even save the planet!
Among the obstacles facing us as we venture beyond our planet is the cost of it all. Sending anything into space is extremely expensive, ranging from ten million to four hundred million U.S. dollars! Funded by NASA, the Advanced Space Transportation Program (ASTP) estimates that it costs around $10,000 to put a pound of payload in Earth orbit today. Drastic changes are necessary to reduce the cost, such as making satellites and ships reusable. Among other plans, the ASTP is developing air-breathing rocket engines much like today’s airplanes and jets. An air-breathing engine would get its initial take-off power from air-augmented rockets that boost performance about 15% over conventional rockets. Once the vehicle’s velocity reaches twice the speed of sound, the engine begins to totally rely on atmospheric oxygen to burn the fuel. This way, spacecrafts could be reusable, use airport runways, and be ready to fly again within days.
Even if space costs can be lowered, what might space exploration do to our economy? As much as everybody is sick and tired of being reminded of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s true that the American economy has been devastated by it. Unemployment, especially considering the rise of machine labor, is a dire problem, and the labor needed to explore space must be taken into consideration. Fortunately, space exploration can open up additional job possibilities. Even pursuing it as an investment for the future can result in more jobs for people in the present. The increase in energy demand required by space exploration would lead to a larger energy supply and more workers to sustain it. As such, even the tiniest space exploration missions would not only create new jobs for physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and engineers, but it would also generate new jobs for the energy field. Long term, it would also increase the demand for sustainable energy, which would benefit wind, nuclear, and solar power energy related companies. Countries and companies alike won’t be sorry if they pursue space exploration!
On top of that, space travel helps us gather data on our own planet. Climate change has become a huge concern lately, and thanks to space exploration, we can gather data on how drastic it is, then come up with ways to prevent it from getting worse. NASA spends about 2 million dollars specifically on Earth science, and satellites in orbit constantly take in information and send the data to NASA, helping them know exactly what's happening in the atmosphere. These satellites help scientists identify pollution sources, monitor water and air quality, gather data on carbon monoxide distribution, detect oil spills, and find areas that are contaminated by mining.
To add on, overcoming the hurdles of space exploration has already led to many technological and scientific advances; it will continue to do so if we let it. These advances have provided us benefits in a wide variety of areas, including health, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy production, and industrial productivity. For instance, it has contributed to solar panels, implantable heart monitors, cancer therapy, light‐weight materials, and water‐purification systems. And these are only from the last century! Considering the exponential rate of human advancements, imagine what we could do if we continue to unlock the potentials of outer space.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson put it best: “People often ask, if you like spin‐off products, why not just invest in those technologies straightaway, instead of waiting for them to happen as spin‐offs? The answer: it just doesn't work that way. Let's say you’re a thermodynamicist, the world's expert on heat, and I ask you to build me a better oven. You might invent a convection oven, or an oven that’s more insulated or that permits easier access to its contents. But no matter how much money I give you, you will not invent a microwave oven. Because that came from another place. It came from investments in communications, in radar. The microwave oven is traceable to the war effort, not to a thermodynamicist” (Space Chronicles).
Despite these benefits, many are still hesitant to whole-heartedly support space exploration because of its danger. Space travel unfortunately isn't as safe as it can be yet. In the past, astronauts have died due to malfunctions in technology. Apollo 1 and Apollo 13 are famous cases of these. A flash fire started during a rehearsal of Apollo 1 on January 27, 1967, killing the three men inside. Apollo 13 was also a disaster; it was supposed to be the third ship to land on the moon, but the mission had to be aborted due to a malfunction with the oxygen tanks two days in. It was a miracle the crew managed to survive. Furthermore, prolonged exposure in space can cause genetic changes, bone deterioration, and atrophy. There are also undoubtedly undiscovered effects caused by prolonged human space travel.
While these are very understandable concerns, the human race should not allow fear to obstruct our search for prosperity. NASA and other space programs are already striving to make safer means of transportation. For instance, the flaws that caused the Apollo disasters have been investigated and fixed. Similarly, scientists are studying all that they can about the dangers of space travel. While it may be dangerous, it is a necessary risk to help move our world into a brighter future.
What did you learn?
How might space travel become cheaper in the future? Making satellites and ships reusable can reduce the cost of space travel! A lot of money goes to rebuilding rocket engines. The Advanced Space Transportation is a company owned by NASA that is developing air-breathing rocket engines much like everyday aircraft. An air-breathing engine would be more fuel efficient and reusable. It would also allow the spacecraft to use airport runways and be ready to fly again within days, lowering costs.
What can space exploration provide for us economically? For starters, it can provide additional jobs. Space exploration missions would contribute towards the need for physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and engineers. The energy needed to power the missions would also result in more revenue for energy related companies. Furthermore, technology developed for space exploration missions can be built upon and improved for everyday life.