Nine Good Reasons for Space Exploration

Advocates of space exploration often get asked the question: “Why should we spend money on NASA where there are so many problems here on Earth?” Universe Today has been compiling a list of responses to this question by space-bloggers from across the web. Check it out, there are some great answers.

In response to Universe Today’s call for answers, we decided to compile a list of our top reasons that space exploration is a worthwhile endeavor. I also encourage everyone to read The Case for Space Exploration, a collection of essays and articles put together by the Space Foundation.

Now, without further ado, our list:

1. Perspective – As our telescopes probe the depths of space and time and our spacecraft missions reveal the scale and diversity of worlds even within our own solar system, we are provided with a humbling sense of our place in the universe. Carl Sagan expressed the significance of this perspective in a beautiful passage in his book Pale Blue Dot. You can also listen to Sagan himself read the passage in this video clip. The world would be a better place if everyone watched that video.

2. Protecting and Understanding our World -

3. Inspiration – The Apollo missions inspired an entire generation of students to pursue math and science careers. As our society becomes more technology-dependent, the populace needs to become scientifically literate to keep up. Telling students that “You could be the first astronaut on Mars!” or “You could be the one driving the next Mars rovers!” is a pretty effective way of inspiring them to study science and math.

4. The Economy - NASA does not launch buckets of cash into space. The majority of the money spent on space exploration goes toward the salaries of thousands of skilled American workers who make NASA’s missions so successful. For more on this, and its connection to the recent Mars rover budget scare, check this post.

5. Exploration – To be human is to be an explorer. It is part of who we are: since the first tribes left the African savanna and spread into Europe and Asia, we have had the need to explore the unknown. Now humans have visited or settled every corner of the globe. The instinct to explore is still active, but there are very few outlets. Some people seek out extreme or exotic places to satisfy this need, risking their lives to do so. Others look to the skies. It may be an old cliche, but Star Trek had it right: Space is the final frontier, and it calls to the explorer in all of us.

6. New Technology - Space exploration brings together a lot of smart people from many different fields and puts them to work on some very difficult problems. The result is not only fantastic scientific discoveries, but also many useful inventions. From healthier baby food to technology to better diagnose breast cancer, to farther flying golf balls, NASA technology is all around you. Check here for an extensive list.

7. Answering The Big QuestionsHow did life begin? How did the universe begin? How was our world created? Are we alone? These questions and others have been asked by every generation since the dawn of time. That we can even ask them is a testament to the power of the human brain. Now, because we are smart enough and bold enough to explore the universe, we are finding the answers. In the words of Carl Sagan, “We are starstuff contemplating the stars.”

8. International Collaboration – Large space exploration projects are almost always the result of international cooperation. The International Space Station is the most obvious example, but the space shuttle regularly has astronauts from other nations, and many robotic missions include instruments built by teams in other countries. As NASA gears up to return to the moon, precursor missions from Japan, India, China and Russia are already in orbit, are planned, or are under construction. Future human Mars missions will almost certainly involve multiple space agencies to spread the cost among several nations.

9. Long-term Survival – As it stands, all of humanity’s eggs are in one small basket called “Earth”. It is only a matter of time before something happens to our planet that is so devastating that it changes the course of life as we know it. Whether the disaster is natural, like a rogue comet, or self-inflicted, like nuclear war, it is possible that our home will no longer be habitable. What happens, then, to all of the accomplishments of the last thousand generations of humans? All of our art, our music, our literature, our science, even our very genes could be wiped out. Unless, of course, there are a few humans living elsewhere in the solar system. Space exploration and colonization of the Moon and Mars are an insurance policy for humanity and all of our achievements.

That’s what we came up with. We think that, based on the reasons above, it is certainly worth it to spend 0.60% of the national budget (just six out of every thousand dollars) on NASA. We’re interested to hear what you think. Is the investment in NASA worth it?

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51 Comments on “Nine Good Reasons for Space Exploration”

  1. halfawake Says:

    NASA does not launch buckets of cash into space.

    I’d love to see a scientific experiment that tests the behavior of buckets of cash in space. Is anyone modeling this? Why isn’t anyone modeling this?!

    In seriousness, this is a nice list with a lot of compelling arguments. I think the important part, which you emphasize here, is the huge breadth of NASA’s impact. For any one or two of the nine points you address, 0.6% of the budget seems huge, and as you describe the scope of the impact of that money that it starts to sound more reasonable.

    Also I think the NASA website has a flash program showing something about the impacts of NASA science on human health (which was unexpected, to me anyways). That might fit in well as a sub-item on one of your points above. Maybe #6.

  2. chiyapike Says:

    “The majority of the money spent on space exploration goes toward the salaries of thousands of skilled American workers….”

    I never thought of that before! Also, I think the US spends a lot on war (and war hurts people).

    Anyway, all these reasons sound good! Shiny.


  3. [...] exists in your toothpaste. One of our Nine Good Reasons for Space Exploration that we posted about last month was new technology – NASA programs are constantly pushing [...]

  4. Kevin White Says:

    More than anything, this list made me think about what it could accomplish with 5.0% of the national budget (eight times its current allotment).


    • I don’t think the price is worth it. There wouldn’t be many hungry people around if that money was spent “wisely” on humanity. Personally, I don’t think there is any life out there. Not even a blade of grass!!!!!!

      • Ryan Says:

        As Obama pointed out in his speech yesterday, it is a false choice to claim that we should fix problems on earth before exploring space.

        World hunger is not caused by a lack of money or even a lack of food. It is caused by improper distribution and various trade policies that make it difficult to get the food to places where it is needed.

        Killing NASA wouldn’t solve those problems.

      • unknown Says:

        Money is used in worse ways than by space exploration. eg. wars

  5. Dominik Says:

    they are all rubbish

  6. stefan Says:

    they are all doing it for money.

  7. stefan Says:

    they all do it for money to get rich :)

    • zanna Says:

      i dont htink hey are doing it for money to get rich but sometimes certain contries are racing each other to try and see who could get somewhere in space first ex: russia and america raced each other to get to the moon first so they are acting like its a contest.

  8. Ryan Says:

    Dominik: Thanks for your insightful comments. Could you please explain, for future readers, why they are all rubbish?

    Stefan: You don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone who works at NASA or academia could easily have gone off to work at big industry or defense projects and made much much more money. It’s a labor of love.


  9. [...] Ryan did this a while ago, the Humans Space Flight Plans Committee is in hearings, and I’m [...]

  10. courtney Says:

    lol this so funny

  11. Micheal Says:

    It’s a great list that will never get us out there exploring space. We’ve been toting that for forty years now.

    Guy Laliberte’s trip into space for 30 million has apparently netted him more coverage than a season of F1 formula racing…or 592 million in advertising value.

    Is sponsoring space exploration profitable for private corporations? Since all other forms of advertising are horribly saturated now with little in economic profit, space exploration absolutely a way for corporations to distinguish themselves above their competition. That it’s incredibly cost effective shows just how much we’ve dillied on space exploration.

    Who would have thought that sending a man into space would be that much more cost effective than buying advertising on TV? It costs less to send a person into space than to market a product on TV.

    Let me repeat, space exploration is cheaper than TV advertising.

    Guy’s trip to space should be an eye opener. This could be the beginning of a true space rush through corporate and private sponsorship.


  12. [...] the typing, please have a look at this collection of responses.  Other good responses are here, here, and here.  We can’t afford to not fund human space [...]

  13. zanna Says:

    sometimes i think that space exploration should stop because contrys could use the money for better things like health but my head is telling me they should continue space exploration because we get to understand more about planets and our dear planet earth.


  14. Hello,

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    Thanks so much,
    Lea

  15. Sean Lawlor Nelson Says:

    I used to feel that billions, or even millions, shouldn’t be spent on space exploration when there were so many in need of health care, improved nutrition, etc. But, as someone who spends a lot of time reading on and considering such questions, I’ve come to believe otherwise.
    To start with, ours is a very wealthy planet; Many of our humanitarian problems have to do with human nature and not a lack of resources. So, being for humanitarian progress doesn’t intellectually require being against space exploration.
    But, secondly, Earth has an out-of-control population problem that sooner or later will have to be dealt with. Pessimists might say that terra-forming and settling other planets is millenia away, but I don’t buy that. If the past few centuries have taught us anything about human technology, it’s that it far outpaces expectations. 2 centuries ago, who could have predicted nuclear energy or weaponry? 2 centuries from now might just might find us settling the moons of Jupiter.

  16. someone Says:

    While discussing about the future James Webb telescope, a friend of mine remarked what a waste of money that is just to look at some gas in space while a large number of people are living under the poverty line. It bothered me so much that there are people who feel that way. Making scientific advancement is the only way to keep our civilization going.

    Just about everything we take for granted today, like the internet, cellphones, weather predictions are possible only because of space technology. If you ask me, they should have more funding.


  17. Also space exploration is helpful for knowing the origin of universe.exploration work brings out new places to reside on


  18. Space exploration is important tool for finding the residuals of origin of the earth


  19. space exploration is the part of the nations progess.


  20. Now a days a keen focus on Space exploration is shown by all the nations around the world


  21. Every Nation is trying to contribute in the space exploration for finding new place to live on

  22. isha langalia Says:

    is that true that USA spends more money on NASA then health or medical for USA people and is all the things that is happening in outer space and astronaut visiting at moon is all of that true or its made up story n photographs for just publicity?

  23. unknown alian Says:

    10 thumbs up!!!

  24. Daisuke Says:

    Good post, however, these were more the positive results of space exploration rather than the reasons FOR it. Very informative -things I’d never have thought of!

  25. Recardo Says:

    I don’t believe these are good reasons for space travel. I like the protection idea under number two as sound reasoning. The others are highly debatable. I think the truth is that space exploration was “””ALL””” about military dominance and research. What technology have we received. This is all hogwash. The space race was a greed race to claim the moon first and then to exploit it for resources and use as an outpost. Those are basically the first presuppositions that launched the “space race”. It is now know that the returns are minimal and humans in space are ridiculous. We can continue but lets use robots from Japan. ( So, maybe I would agree with multilateral cooperation with other nations.) Wake up Space Cadets and quit getting hosed.

  26. Gideon obiokoli Says:

    hi peepz,
    exploration of more planets is very necessary bcos it’ll help d entire world to know the complition of Gods wondaful works nd also improve the welbeen of most people on earth so scientist should keep on the good work of explortation of other planets.

  27. Gideon obiokoli Says:

    i ova heard that they’ve discovered more 50 planets so wants 2 know if its real or not…..?


  28. [...] Anderson, Ryan. Nine Good Reasons for Space Exploration. April 16, 2008. <http://martianchronicles.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/nine-good-reasons-for-space-exploration/&gt; Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  29. Ethan Yeung Says:

    NASA has been getting far too many deep budget cuts by short sighted bureaucrats. People need a new frontier to refresh themselves. We are spending the same amount we did during the Apollo days. After the post-Apollo budget cuts, the conomy dropped! The money goes to students and researcher’s families, not to straight to the core of the sun. FYI the planets they discovered aren’t in the solar system.

    P.S PO TA TOE

  30. Quandry Says:

    It is a specious argument advanced by shallow minded thinking that would suggest life would be better for the “poor” if we were not spending money on space. Politicians do it all the time for their own narrow self-serving purposes. The naïve who don’t understand economics fall for it.

    This is not, and it never has been, a quid pro quo. It is not a case of either having a space program or feeding the “poor”. That thinking is nonsense and adds nothing of value to the conversation. Those who advance that line are not interested in the wellbeing of the “poor”. All they want is to get the votes of the “poor” by convincing the naïve that the rocket program is keeping food off their tables. What they don’t tell you is that the rocket program is keep food on the tables of a lot of space workers.

    Every time we buy something, where it is a rocket or a tube of toothpaste we are paying someone’s salary. Our dropping the space shuttle program did not divert a single dollar to the “poor”. All that happened was that a lot of people who worked in the shuttle program lost their jobs.

    If you will chase a product back through the process it took to make it, you will find nearly all of the cost of the product goes into labor costs.

    Only a very small percentage of the cost of steel is not labor.
    You have to pay salaries to get the ore out of the ground,
    You have to pay salaries to convert the ore into steel,
    You have to pay salaries to convert the steel in a thousands of products,
    You have to pay salaries to convert those products into other products,
    You have to pay salaries to bring those products to the market place,
    and so on and so on.

    If you buy a gallon of gasoline, you are paying
    The salaries of the service station.
    The salaries of the company that built the service station
    The salaries of the trucking company that brought the gasoline to the service station.
    The salaries of the company that built the 18-wheeler
    The salaries of the refinery where crude was converted to gasoline
    The salaries of the companies that built the refinery
    The salaries of the pipeline operator that moved the crude to the refinery
    The salaries of the companies that built the pipeline
    The salaries of the drilling company that extracted the crude from the ground
    The salaries of the company that built the drill rig

    Anyone who cannot explain the difference between profit and profit margin or business investments needs to stay out of the discussion. You contribute nothing of value.

    It is deceitful for a politician or his water-carrier to suggest that the purchase of a rocket is taking food from the mouths of the poor. Why will they not tell you that the purchase of the rocket is putting food on the table of the people who build rockets?

    Instead they lead the innocent to believe the are poor because the “rich” beat the “poor” to the pile of money. There is no pile of money somewhere waiting for people to run up and take some of it. No rich people beat the poor people to the pile. THERE IS NO PILE AND THERE NEVER HAS BEEN.


  31. thanks for this.. i need this for my research paper.. Thank you so much!


  32. This information is useless

  33. yang1236 Says:

    ………

  34. Luis Aguiar Says:

    adding to abobe reasons:

    1 – industrial production, in sequence of R&D. 0 Gravity provides a unique production environment, indispensable to sime high-end technologies, like nanotech and microbiology

    2 – Mining rich planetary resources. If there are planets and asteroids so immensely rich in precious minerals, why not digging them out? And there wouldn’t be any polution problems, once those aren’t breathable environments anyway

  35. Oliver Milne Says:

    I quite like Elon Musk’s motive for space travel – making life multiplanetary. It’d be an unparalleled instance of national and personal greatness to do something so historically significant, and the more difficult, dangerous and expensive it is, the greater it makes us.

    There’s a kind of existentialist reason too, which goes like this: People and things are given ‘meaning’ by other people’s interactions with them. So a sunset is beautiful because someone sees it and finds it beautiful, a collection of bricks is a house because someone thinks of it as a house, and a home because they make their life with their family there, and a person gains meaning in their life because someone for example loves or appreciates them. (There is also negative meaning, for example a bus crash becomes a tragedy because people are bereaved by it. But the sort we’re interested in here, which I’m be talking about, is positive.) This is something we all instinctively appreciate. Once we’ve explicitly realised it, we can then ask ‘Where is all the meaning in the universe found? Which bits of it are meaningful in this way?’ The answer is: stuff on Earth, and maybe some aspects of the Moon and Sun. Everything else has no meaning at all, or if it does, only the faintest patina of meaning, from one or two astronomers looking at it. The planets in our solar system, for example, are only appreciated as single objects for most people. The amount of meaning people get out of them is vastly less than that which people get from the Earth and its contents. So most of the Universe is pretty much totally meaningless.

    Now if you’re of a passive turn of mind, that’s a depressing thought. But actually it presents us with a huge opportunity. By expanding our civilisation into space, we can take whole worlds and illuminate them with meaning. And trying to achieve this goal – bringing meaning to a meaningless universe – can itself give our lives meaning, basically by giving us an overarching purpose to work for. Even better, it’s a purpose we won’t exhaust for millions of years – in human terms, forever.

    This is totally compatible with belief in God, by the way. The whole thrust of most religions is to say that only people or souls matter, and all that ‘dust and ashes’ of the material world is fundamentally worthless. So God gives meaning to things only through our doing so – He isn’t interested in rocks and gases in their own right. In fact, adding God to the mix makes the meaning we can give the universe more divine by His endorsement.

    I’m quite proud of having thought of that – what do people think?

  36. Elmzie Says:

    These are all great reasons, but the number one reason is simply survival.

    This planet is not infinite, it will not last. Even though modern day technology is out there to help impact the environment less as far as CO2 goes. The damage is already done.

    It takes our atmosphere on average of 100 years to dissipate the CO2 we create. It is inevitable the destruction of our planet.

    It may not effect us, but for future generations such as our kids and their kids will be dependent on a new world to survive.

    Simple Fact this planet will NOT last, and the need for a new one will be a requirement.

  37. heidi Says:

    wow that is great

  38. heidi Says:

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  39. Rinzy Says:

    I can come up rebuttals for each of these. Like the one where we will find out whether there are aliens out in space. Seriously, like we can whip around every planet in the universe in an afternoon and find all the aliens because they are not hiding and not trying to kill us. Then we can have coffee with them. Get real.

  40. Nina Says:

    But what will happen if another incident like Apollo happens. Or what will happen if all the years research and a lot of money goes to waste when we find out that Mars or any other planet isn’t a suitable environment for humans to adapt to. I mean considering the large gap between Earth and other stars, it could take 4000 years to travel.

  41. Charity Says:

    This is very helpful but I think it has too much information and the format makes it look boring.

    Concerned user

  42. Ben Dover Says:

    Not a bad website i must say. Nicely detailed and also, very helpful.
    but you know what i dont agree with, is Charity.
    firstly, her name.. Charity.. DAFUQ!
    and secondly, she doesnt seem very concerned.. might need to add some emoticons.

    Very concerned user >.<" (<– see what i did there)

  43. karabi sweet Says:

    There is no earth-like planet in the whole universe. Our earth is the only planet to sustain life.

  44. Luke Says:

    Makes me mad how we are not majorly funding NASA like we use to ever since I was a child my biggest dream like most Americans is to go to the moon go to mars explore space .. I believe and know for a fact we landed on the moon America if we don’t continue space exploration we will loose our lead and loose our first place in space America #1


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