Is the space industry a valuable investment? Should we be investing more in space infrastructure and the exploration of space or should we focus our resources on humanitarian issues such as global poverty and climate change?
This important issue concerns a variety of stakeholders including governments, businesses and the population as a whole and will be considered from a standpoint which strives to benefit as many people as possible.
Reduced Spend Argument
In 2014 the Russian Federal Space Agency’s budget totalled $4.88bn and more recently NASA was given a budget $700 million more than it requested; is it really acceptable to be increasing space exploration budgets in an age where half of global wealth is in the hands of a privileged 1%, whilst more than 2.1bn people live on less than $3.10 a day?
Governments have a choice in how their annual discretionary budget is distributed. Last year the US federal government allocated $18bn to NASA whilst only allocating $1.9bn to its Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program. Climate change is a current global issue and clearly isn’t being made a high enough priority by one of the most influential countries in the world. The Environmental Justice Foundation reported that there will be 150 million ‘climate refugees’ in the next 40 years. The effects of climate change are already observable, for example melting of arctic sea ice. Despite this, one of the only budgetary shortfalls NASA saw last year was to its Earth Science division, tasked with researching our global climate system. Last year NASA spent $4bn on its Space Exploration programs whilst only $1.8bn was allocated to Earth Sciences. How is this excessive expenditure helping tackle current global issues?
In 2014 the US government spent $32bn on Official Development Assistance (ODA), this is a voluntary fund given by member states to aid poverty. This is only 0.19% of the USA’s gross national income, in contrast to the UK’s ODA contribution of 0.71%. The UK doesn’t invest as much in space exploration which provides more budgetary flexibility. If NASA’s exploration budget alone was redistributed to the ODA then US aid spending would increase by over 10%.
The redistribution of government funds can have huge effects on populations, especially those who are most vulnerable. Clearly, allocating funds away from the space industry will inevitably lead to jobs being lost, research being considerably slowed and one of the most fascinating forms of modern science being severely impacted. However, the extortionate spending associated with this industry cannot be justified when compared to the benefits this money could produce elsewhere. By significantly reducing investment in the space industry, governments could distribute funds to arguably more important causes such as welfare, education and healthcare. Space exploration and research could continue but not to the extent where it deprives those in need of important resources.
We live in an age where extreme poverty and wealth coincide on this planet. Is it right for governments to fund these incredibly expensive schemes whilst leaving the rest of the world to suffer? This is a question that must be asked as we move into a very uncertain future.
Increased Spend Argument
When people think of space, they tend to cast their minds to the moon landing and missions to distant planets – but that’s not all there is to it. The space industry has a huge influence on the lives of almost everyone; be it through satellites fulfilling daily communication needs or through advanced research generating impressive technologies.
In 2014, global space activity amounted to $330 billion, with less than 25% contributed by government space agencies. Such a large investment from the private sector demonstrates that space programs are tangible investments and with improvements in technology, such programs are becoming increasingly affordable. With the space economy growing considerably, the share of the private sector is likely to increase further and it’s hoped that this progression will also benefit future government contributions.
The funding of space programmes has led to the development of technologies that are used regularly by almost everyone. Satellites play a vital role in our everyday life and are the basis behind almost all communication and earth monitoring systems. Without satellites, it would be impossible to monitor important humanitarian issues such as climate change and natural disasters, therefore leaving us potentially vulnerable to global crises. In addition to satellites, space programmes have provided us with numerous other technologies including memory foams, MRI and smoke detection, to name a few.
Global government spending is approximately $66.5 billion (compared to defence spending of $1563 billion) and includes space infrastructure, support and exploration. This funding generates a huge amount of jobs (120,000 people in OECD countries) and contributes to the development of highly skilled professionals – an important commodity for the generation of wealth. Compared to the private sector, governments contribute a larger proportion of funding towards exploration, a field which produces incredible scientific research into the nature of our universe.
The exploration of space has had a profound impact for generations and has inspired people of all backgrounds to pursue the answers to some of life’s greatest mysteries. Are we alone in the universe? How did it all begin? Will humanity ever leave Earth? These are some of the many questions that we are compelled to ask, and that space exploration aims to answer. Scientific exploration also brings about an immense level of national pride such as during the Cold War when the space race lifted the spirits of the people and encouraged collaboration between conflicting nations.
To conclude, it is advised that governments encourage private sector investment, subsidise humanitarian space efforts such as satellite launches and strive towards the improvement of space travel – hoping one day to identify new planets and forms of life in the universe. The inspiration generated by these actions will serve to motivate and educate young, inquisitive minds and help us work towards a greater future for humanity.
Do you believe government funding to the space industry should be increased or decreased? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
27: Connor Black, Bradley Brick, Ed Shell, Connor McGregor