Space exploration is an area of research that is intrinsically linked with the progression and development of the human race. NASA is currently the largest civilian space program with a budget exceeding the rest of the world’s combined investment. Many people have spoken out to denounce the spending of the federal budget on space programs when considering the current state of affairs in the USA, with suggestions that the budget should be reduced significantly and spent on more demanding priorities.
The NASA budget should not be reduced.
NASA has been an established program since 1958, and has since produced technological advancements that have benefited the entire human race. By reducing the budget this directly constricts the further advancement of space technology which would have implications on everyone who could be helped by it.
The American government is the body who controls and capitalises NASA, however it should be noted that the government is a democracy and therefore is influenced by the demands of its constituents. Other parties are affected by this situation, such as the current employees of NASA totaling 12,000 as of 2012, and cuts to the budget would undoubtedly result in cuts to this workforce.
Considering the scope of the implications, the objective of any actions taken should be not to hinder NASA’s progression. This realistically can be achieved in two ways:
- Do not change the budget, hence no interference
- Invest further in privatised companies
Before moving on to evaluate the ethics of the situation, the benefits that NASA provides includes:
- Research which leads to an array of new technologies that have aided the economy and advanced industries such as health and medicine, transportation, public safety the list goes on.
- Insight into the possible future of the human race, offering methods to survive if our planet is destroyed and answering limited resources with asteroid mining.
Though the second benefit is preparation for an unlikely scenario, if it were to occur it does impose the ethical issue that if we were not prepared we would therefore be negligent to wellbeing of everyone. From an engineer’s perspective, which shares common ground with virtue ethics, it should be our responsibility to be professional and from that we should have means to survive cataclysmic events. After all, if virtue ethics implies that the goal of a human life is to attain happiness, how can this be possible without human existence? The primary ethical issue would ask, ‘is it immoral to restrict humanity with the potential future technology that NASA produces?’ Considering only the impacts to the health sector alone if cuts were made, Utilitarianism calculus states that for a group of actions we have to reflect on the following impacts in terms of pain caused:
- Intensity – High
- Duration – Ongoing
- Certainty – Regarding the advancements already made is high
- Propinquity – Longer until treatment discovered
- Fecundity – None
- Purity – Pain for family members of those effected
- Extent – Anyone who could have been helped
From a non-formal perspective, intuitively it makes sense to not restrict the research conducted and to us this is also supported from a common sense view. Reflecting on the ethics contemplated, cutting NASA’s budget would cause undue pain to the general populous and therefore should not occur.
The NASA budget should be reduced.
As one of the major powers in the world the USA has a socioeconomic responsibility to aid the welfare of its population, and to help other nations during times of crisis. The ability to do so is largely dependent on money, or more specifically the funds allocated by the government to serve these purposes. The NASA space program drains resources, in 2014 alone its allocated budget was a whopping $17.6 billion. The ethical issue at hand is that there are millions of people in the world that could directly benefit from these funds. As the government is in control of NASA they must be the ones to act.
The possible actions presented are:
- Reducing the annual NASA budget allowing a proportion to be utilised for more pressing matters whilst retaining space exploration with consideration to efficiency and wastage.
- Completely abolish the NASA space program, freeing up the entire budget to be used in alternative sectors.
Reducing the annual budget would minimise economic losses due to failed missions, free up funds that could be better spent in other sectors, and allow the manpower and research facilities at NASA to be put to better use to help solve more pressing matters.
If the budget were to be reduced there are a number of different approaches that could be undertaken to utilise the money more effectively.
- Taking a utilitarian stand point indicates that the best decision would be to provide the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people. The fastest and most direct route to this morally right alternative would be to transfer the budget currently invested in space exploration into foreign aid. This could provide lifesaving aid to impoverished countries as well as facilitate improvements to refugee camps.
- Using Kant’s theory to look at this from a deontological viewpoint, the President of the USA has a duty to his people and no such obligation to provide foreign aid. He does however have an obligation to serve his people so may choose to alternatively utilise the extra financial resources to improve the internal welfare and infrastructure of the USA. This would be morally right according to Kant, however if this was done universally this would be detrimental to impoverished nations.
Looking at the situation from an ethical viewpoint, it is difficult to correctly determine the right thing to do with the NASA budget. Nevertheless, whilst the world is still up in arms with poverty and wars, how can it investing in space exploration be justified?
Considering the ethics involved, action must be taken to increase the welfare of more pressing matters rather than investing in schemes that inefficiently address the issues at hand. Therefore, the NASA budget should be completely abolished.
The main issue of these discussions is that they are influenced by the authors opinions. In order to correctly address the issues at hand, thorough research should be conducted to decide on what is the best action for the benefit of the human race.
21: Sean Parle, Angus Brockie, Philip Owain Proctor, Kazuki Regan