I recently heard a few people talking about how humankind shouldn’t spend such extravagant amounts of money on space exploration when there are so many problems rife on earth. I was slightly stunned when I heard this—for I had always wholeheartedly supported investments in space exploration; I hadn’t really thought about the opportunity cost involved. But that got me thinking—was the quest to escape the boundaries of our Solar System denying poor children water and electricity? Could the money being spent on space exploration be spent on developments in medicine? Was humanity doing what was ethically right?
After dwelling upon this intriguing question, I believe that I have reached a satisfactory answer. When we look up at the sky, we are overwhelmed by our insignificant presence in the cosmos. By learning about distant planets, stars, and inexplicable phenomena, we truly establish our positions in the universe: for our planet is not a gargantuan sphere, but rather a miniature dot in a vast expanse of nothingness. This realization is not only sweeping, but also humbling—for it truly puts our little lives into perspective. It has prevented us from still embracing the Geocentric Model developed in ancient Greece, which believed that the earth was the centre of the universe. Space exploration puts humanity in its place—not as conquerors, but as survivors.
Moreover, humans are explorers. It is not in our nature to shy away from an opportunity to explore the universe at a deeper level. And it is our inquisitive and outgoing character that has lead to the multitude of developments and discoveries we see today—in the fields of medicine, geology, climatology, and so many more. It is why we know that the earth is not flat, but rather round. Suppressing our curious, daring instincts is like eliminating the most admirable trait of humankind—a desire to learn, to grow, to explore. Although so many of us are ensnared in our meaningless ventures, the soul of humanity still hankers to investigate the profusion of mysteries millions of miles away. Indeed, exploration is the lifeblood, the essence, of humankind—and the effort we put into space exploration is a true manifestation of that driving force.
Now, when I look at the world around me from my high-rise apartment, I perceive the following: clouds of smoke coiling from vehicles and chimneys, greenery that doesn’t exist anymore, an acrid smell that makes me wince, an endless procession of noise. We are depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate, while simultaneously overpopulating our planet. However, space is brimming (http://planetsave.com/2009/07/26/top-5-reasons-why-space-exploration-is-important-for-the-world/) with pools of natural resources like oil—which can be used to sustain our species with the resources they require. Although there is little guarantee that we can truly depend on distant celestial bodies for oil and even fresh water, the thought stands as a glimmer of hope in a choking, coughing environment.
And lastly, as I mentioned previously, space exploration serves to put our insignificance into perspective. It helps us come to terms with the fact that the earth is a tiny speck careening across the universe. It helps us realise how utterly lonely humankind is—for we are civilisations pressed by strata of nothingness. And this isolation should serve to unite us: it should serve as an impetus to join hands and work collectively towards social change. Space exploration should remind us that when we declare war against other nations, we are only dividing the little orb of life we know of. Humanity is an island in a never-ending sea; and if we slice that island, our planet will sink. But if we join hands and fight for each other, our island may stand a chance against the perils that surround it.
Yes, the world has a plethora of problems: corruption, environmental degradation, epidemics, domestic abuse… the list seems endless. And while money should certainly be spent to address these issues, it doesn’t mean that all of it has to. We are creatures of development and inquisitiveness; and if we spend all our resources trying to undo the harm we have caused, how will we ever move forward? If all of our efforts go into correcting our mistakes, what will be humanity’s defining characteristic? Indeed, space exploration is a mark of what makes our species what it is—a species of curiosity, of courage… a species with a desire to make a difference. After all, as said by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and cosmologist, “Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival”.