Space exploration is a relatively new endeavour to humankind and one which is often surrounded by controversy and disagreement. Supporters of space programs have heralded the technological advancements space exploration has achieved and the invaluable opportunity it offers mankind to explore the boundaries of its knowledge. Detractors, in contrast, question the ultimate value of such research and whether the ends justify the means.
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Many people argue that space exploration is a unhealthy pursuit as it stirs up feeling of nationalistic sentiment and encourages people to compare one’s achievements with other countries. The very act of erecting a flag on the moon or anywhere beyond the Earth can be seen as nationalistic gesture of ownership and competitive pride at the expense of other countries. Such activity can be seen as aggressive and likely to stir up similarly nationalistic sentiments in countries around the world. These space race conflicts may lead to international hostility and aggression between nations who would otherwise not be competing with one another.
A common argument raised against space exploration is the colossal financial expenditure and whether such spending is ultimately beneficial on a scientific level. The Whitehouse government website reports that Barack Obama’s NASA requested funding from 2010-2012 was approximately £12 billion ($19 billion dollars) per year. Whilst space exploration via the use of land telescopes and unmanned orbits may yield important information about our universe, many doubt that manned missions yield any greater insights. Considering the inordinate costs involved in training astronauts in zero gravity and transporting them safely, this can be viewed as an unjustifiable expense.
Even if manned space missions were shown to provide scientific insight into how our universe works, many would argue such knowledge is not as important as tending to the defects of our own planet. Civil wars continue to rage across the globe, large proportions of the earth’s population are on the brink of starvation, whilst others live in poverty and suffer from incurable diseases. In light of these problems, space exploration could be viewed as a vanity project that we can ill-afford to undertake.
Space exploration involves the use of extremely powerful technology that harnesses forces of huge magnitude. Our understanding and ability to control such forces is not yet fully developed, meaning rockets can often explode or malfunction, resulting in human fatalities. The Columbia shuttle, which broke up as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003 killing all seven inhabitants, is a recent example of the risks inherent in space exploration. Many would argue the risk to human life is simply not worth the opportunity to develop our knowledge of the universe.
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