Research Paper: Is Space Exploration Necessary?

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¶ … Against Deep-Space Exploration

In April 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his intention to support continued space exploration as a fundamentally valuable human endeavor. More specifically, President Obama reiterated his belief that the nation should commit itself to putting a man on Mars much the way the nation did in connection with the effort to land a man on the Moon in the 1960s. Several prominent retired former NASA astronauts support the President's view, most notably, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel "Buzz" Aldrin. Meanwhile, other retired astronauts (including Neil Armstrong, who commended Aldrin's historic Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969) believe that the nation should first commit more resources to returning to the Moon instead.

Still others question the need to continue deep-space exploration at all, primarily because of the tremendous financial cost of doing so. Various arguments have been advance on both sides in that regard. A logical consideration of the relative costs and benefits of continuing deep-space exploration suggests that it is probably not worth the cost to pursue deep-space (manned) exploration at this time.

The Five Strongest Arguments Supporting Continued Deep-Space Exploration

There are five major lines of reasoning that support the continuation of manned exploration of deep space (Dubner, 2008). First, human space exploration could provide mankind the ability to cultivate other planets for human habitation in case human life on Earth is threatened by natural (or other) catastrophe. Second, the space program yields beneficial and profitable technological achievements and provides incentive to young people to enter into the scientific fields. Third, space exploration is a valuable mechanism for fostering international cooperation among nations. Fourth, continuation of an American space exploration effort is necessary to maintain national prestige among the other nations on Earth. Fifth, continued space exploration is necessary to enable scientists to answer the ultimate philosophical questions about how life originated and whether or not life exists elsewhere in the universe (Dubner, 2008).

More specifically, according to the first argument, space exploration is necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human species. The idea is that Earth (as we have learned) is not capable of supporting our current need for natural resources indefinitely; in fact, at the current rate of depletion, fossil fuels may not be available at all by the end of the current century (Dubner, 2008). Therefore, space exploration is necessary, whether to identify other inhabitable planets or to exploit them for natural resources to enable human civilization to continue on Earth.

According to the second argument, every dollar spent on the space program actually returns approximately eight dollars to the national economy in terms of the eventual commercial benefits derived from the technology developed for the space program. Many of those technologies are tremendously beneficial for humanity, particularly in the medical sciences (Dubner, 2008). Furthermore, the space program increases the numbers of students who choose to study science and engineering, both of which are in high demand that is not currently being met as well in the U.S. As it is in other nations.

According to the third argument, the International Space Station and (especially) the collaboration of U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts is a perfect example of how important space exploration is as a mechanism that inspires international cooperation. Without such projects, nations might be less inclined to cooperate in other ways that are important for world peace and maximum human welfare on Earth. According to the fourth argument, the success of the American space program throughout the Cold War was instrumental in the triumph of the U.S. And NATO over the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. It is still in America's best international interests to continue the space program because it is still important today to maintain superiority in science and technology because it is no less a symbol of American prestige in the international community today than it was during the Cold War. Finally, according to the fifth argument in support of the continuation of the space program, the effort and financial cost necessary to do so is worth it if it enables scientists to determine how life originated on Earth and whether life exists anywhere in the rest of the known universe.

Evaluating the Five Strongest Arguments Supporting Continued Deep-Space Exploration

Addressing those arguments one at a time requires examining their underlying premises and their conclusions. Generally, the arguments supporting continued (manned) deep-space exploration are not convincing; all of them either fail because the premise of the argument is flawed or because the conclusions drawn in connection with valid premises are flawed. First, even if it is true that long-term continuation of human life on earth could be potentially threatened by natural (or other) catastrophes, that hardly answers the question why it is so important to continue human existence elsewhere.

Eventually, every star in the universe will grow cold and dark and the universe will become lifeless (Pecker, 1999; Hawking, 2002). At best, even the most successful colonization of space would merely postpone the inevitable. There is a good argument to be made that human beings are not doing a good enough job of managing their societies on Earth to support the conclusion that human life must necessarily be continued elsewhere for as long as possible if and when it should die out on Earth. Furthermore, the use of the funds necessary to support continued space exploration could be put to more beneficial use (and to applications that would yield benefits much sooner to this generation of human beings) than dedicating those funds (and many more in the future) to space exploration in the hope of cultivating other environments for human life. Finally, with respect to that argument, if space exploration is justified by the need to find more natural resources than exist on Earth, the more reasonable, cheaper, and faster-developing solution would simply be investing more on scientific research into alternative energy technologies rather than searching for another source of finite natural resources to consume.

Second, it is true that the space program has yielded many beneficial scientific breakthroughs and technologies that have filtered down to other industries and furthered scientific developments in many areas, including human medicine (Sagan, 1997). However, those benefits are not attributable to the technology necessary to continue deep-space exploration; rather, they were developed mainly in connection with the Gemini and Apollo missions in near-Earth orbits (Sagan, 1997). It is a logical fallacy to conclude that manned missions to deep space (or missions to land astronauts on other planets) is required to yield the benefits that benefit human life on Earth. Those same benefits would continue to be developed by a continuation of only near-Earth space exploration at a very small fraction of the cost of deep-space manned missions (Sagan, 1997). There is also no basis to imagine that young people will be any less inspired to study science or to aspire to become astronauts simply because the future space program is limited to near space rather than deep space.

Third, there is no logical reason to conclude that manned deep-space exploration is either the only way or the best way imaginable to foster good-faith international cooperation. It is likely that any large-scale international project on Earth (such as the elimination of hunger worldwide or even the collaborative effort to continue near-space exploration) would achieve the same degree of international good will and cooperation among nations.

Fourth, it is not clear why deep-space exploration is considered the only way or the best way to maintain American international prestige; it is not even clear that America still enjoys the same status around the world as it did during the 1960s. Currently, he U.S. In heavily in debt to China; the quality of American education is no longer among the best in the world; the U.S. In embroiled in two major military campaigns that probably inspire more international resentment than any space program is capable of equaling on the positive side; and approximately 40,000 Americans die annually because the U.S. healthcare system is so poorly designed and managed that millions cannot afford basic health insurance or healthcare.

Fifth, there is simply no truth to the suggestion that deep-space manned exploration is necessary to (or even capable of) helping scientists determine the origin of life or whether life exists elsewhere (Feynman, 2001). That is because the data that is important to those investigations are gathered by terrestrial telescopes and those stationed in near-Earth orbit and by unmanned vehicles sent into deep space; those data are not gathered by manned space missions. Currently, the deep oceans on Earth are less well understood than deep space and there are good reasons to believe that scientists could learn more about the origin of life on Earth (and at much less cost) by devoting more effort to deep- sea exploration instead of deep-space exploration (Sagan, 1997).

Finally, the data pertaining to the possible existence of life elsewhere in the universe are also gathered by radio and infrared astronomy and not by manned space exploration.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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