The new space race: Two staffers offer their opinions on America’s role in space exploration

November 2, 2017


Since the Space Race began in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1, many have viewed the cosmos as an opportunity for exploration and discovery. The recent development of national issues such as the destruction resulting from natural disasters, however, has led some to believe that space exploration should be put to a halt in order to resolve these internal problems. Regardless, the U.S. should seek a solution to ensure that both space exploration and solving domestic crises can occur simultaneously because of the numerous advantages to launching more missions.

Space missions inspire students across the country and fuel their interests in the sciences. Success in a daunting challenge like space exploration encourage students all over the world to challenge other problems and come up with innovative solutions. An example of this is NASA’s High School Student United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH), a program in which high school students build hardware for NASA engineers. Additionally, space exploration can heavily influence a country’s self-confidence, as seen in the heightened levels of American nationalism during the Space Race. This is extremely crucial for the U.S. in maintaining its global standing in an increasingly high tech world.

Although space missions can draw from resources needed for monitoring dilemmas on Earth, they actually play a key role in the success of ecological projects. In fact, a majority of launches are dedicated to earth-observing projects that monitor conditions on Earth, helping scientists better comprehend environmental problems. Launched in late 2016, the GOES-R satellite provides high resolution images of weather patterns at faster speeds, revolutionizing weather predictions. NASA has also backed the COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) project, which is aimed at understanding the effect of rising temperatures on coral reefs. Space exploration often indirectly results in inventions that would be hard to imagine life without, such LED lighting, freeze drying technology, solar energy and advancements in water purification. As aerospace engineers face increasingly difficult problems to solve, they will likely continue churning out inventions to better everyday life.

A key concern of those who oppose space exploration is its cost and feasibility. NASA, however, already has the support of industry partners like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. The public’s interest in space and congressional support also increase space exploration’s practicality. According to the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of surveyed Americans believe that it is essential for the U.S. to remain a leader in space exploration, while another survey stated that 74 percent of Americans felt that space exploration does more good than harm. Legislation such as the SPACE Act and the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 has recently increased monetary support for the commercial space sector as well as deep-space and planetary exploration.

Space exploration also strengthens America’s ties with other countries through international collaboration. Large space missions are almost always the product of collaborations between multiple countries, which can also reduce their cost. One of the most famous examples of this is the International Space Station (ISS), a large earth-orbiting spacecraft that houses astronauts from multiple different countries. Russia routinely launches American astronauts to the ISS, displaying strong ties that can continue to be developed when nations work toward a common goal. Another example of successful collaboration between countries in the realm of space exploration is the European Space Agency, which is comprised of 23 member nations that share resources and facilities with each other for the common goal of advancing human knowledge regarding space.

Whether or not space exploration is necessary, given the issues with the current global situation, it is important to note that exploring space and tackling earthbound problems are not mutually exclusive events. Resources can be set aside for endeavors on Earth while astronauts investigate the cosmos, but the advantages of space exploration should be an important factor to keep in mind when making such conclusions.

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As seen through Vice President Mike Pence’s statements at the first meeting of the National Space Council on Oct. 5, the Trump administration is determined to increase the push to send astronauts to the moon in order to build a stronger foundation for future expeditions to Mars, ultimately prioritizing U.S. dominance in space. With recent domestic issues demanding the nation’s time and money, however, the government should put space exploration on the back burner until higher priority issues have been solved.

From August to October, the American Atlantic and Caribbean was severely pummelled by a series of hurricanes, the most notable being Harvey and Irma. These hurricanes have impacted Texas, Puerto Rico and Florida where thousands of people remain displaced after homes and communities were destroyed by the rain. Puerto Rico was also affected by another storm, Hurricane Maria, which added to its existing struggles. About 75 percent of Puerto Ricans do not have power, and around a third of the population still does not have access to clean water.

Similarly, the west coast of the U.S. has been struck by a different type of natural disaster: wildfires. Throughout Northern California, these fires have burned thousands of homes and buildings and displaced many from their homes. Thus, the government’s top priority at the moment should be to find immediate aid for the victims of these natural calamities, instead of focussing on exploring space.

One excuse that has been given for the lack of action being taken to help Puerto Rico is the fact that it is an island, isolated from the mainland of America, thus making it difficult to send supplies to the U.S. territory. It is hypocritical for the government to claim difficulty in sending aid to a small island over a relatively small body of water but still be able to send millions of dollars of equipment to explore space, a completely unknown territory.

Since the hurricane affected areas require billions of dollars to finance relief efforts, the U.S. should be using funds to help those who require it immediately instead of pouring the money into space expeditions that can be pursued at a later time. Furthermore, NASA’s current budget for the fiscal year of 2017 is over $19 thousand million, an immense amount that could be spent to resolve other issues on land.

The Trump administration’s reasoning behind increasing the push for space exploration is not well supported either. According to Vice President Mike Pence’s statement in an opinion-editorial of the Wall Street Journal, “America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth.” Pence’s claim proves that the government aims for space exploration to be a way to display U.S.’s power, instead of a way to gain knowledge and find out more about the cosmos. With more pressing domestic matters at hand, gaining political power should not be a primary concern for a first world country with a leading economy.

Moreover, the country’s current diplomatic relations with countries such as North Korea where the threat of a nuclear bomb is prevalent, establishing power and leadership in space is ineffective. With North Korea rejecting the U.S.’s diplomacy, the tension between the two countries has worsened, making the threat of a nuclear war more imminent. The government needs to work with other countries such as China, Japan and India, in an attempt to stabilize the global political climate and promote denuclearization instead of trying to assert dominance over these countries. Furthermore, the U.S. should attempt to balance international powers instead of seeking to gain more individual power through space exploration.

Although space exploration may be beneficial in furthering current scientific research, the U.S. must shift its focus from trying to gain more power as a country to paying attention to more pressing domestic problems such as ensuring that victims of natural calamities are receiving the aid that they need. Certain domestic issues require immediate efforts that the government should be attempting to provide instead of its fulfilling its desire to be a dominant figure in space exploration.

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