Hundreds of trillions of dollars are filtered into space exploration which provides humans with an opportunity to explore low-Earth orbit and Translunar space in search of answers to our origins, distinguish life on other planets, and colonization on Mars. Space exploration has further provided satellites, telescopes, the ISS [International Space Station], and data which helps sustain our armed forces when protecting our country. NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], together with their constituents, have paved the way into 21st Century technology and living across our nation and with all of this money invested into space exploration, one has to wonder why we are spending so much in space when we could invest into ocean exploration. Ocean exploration does not require lift off from our planet, rather, it allows us to go deep under water and explore unknown territory in search of answers pertaining to climate change, global warming, cleaning carbon dioxide from our environment, and maintaining proper mollusk supplies to decrease the chances of world hunger if the situation became an exceptional scenario. The bottom line is; if we do not invest money into proper research and development for our planet now and take the appropriate steps in preserving and conserving our environment, we will not have much of a future for generations to come.
Researchers, Scientists, and commercial agencies have collaborated to explore low-Earth orbit together with Translunar space, just beyond the protection of Earth’s geomagnetic field which will give astronauts leverage in deep space exploration. (Wiles, 2013) Astronauts have landed on and explored our Moon, NASA has rovers on Mars, and on August 6 after a decade long journey the ESA [European Space Agency] comet chaser Rosetta landed on a comet, a major highlight in discovering our origins. (Bauer, 2014) The purpose of these explorations is to answer some of life’s mysteries such as; are we alone, does life exist on other planets, and can humans colonize on other planets?
NASA is the world’s leader in space exploration and it is their objective to maintain that position. (NASA Budget Estimates, SUM-9, 2014) Every year, NASA composes a revision of their Fiscal Year Budget requesting more funds towards human exploration and robotic mission exploration. Human exploration and colonization in low-Earth orbit and Translunar space is a point of contention for many. The CBO [Congressional Budget Office], published a Nonpartisan Analysis for the United States Congress regarding the reduction of our nation’s deficit by $73 billion from 2014 to 2023, by eliminating human space exploration in favor of robotic exploration. By eliminating the human element from exploration of low-Earth, Translunar space, asteroid and comet exploration, we reduce risk to human life, reduce the cost of transportation, and thereby rely more heavily on technology for robotic missions.
The human element in space exploration is a “waste of money” says Martin Rees, a professor of cosmology and astrophysics at Cambridge University and a former president of the Royal Society. Rees further states that “the practical case for human spaceflight gets weaker and weaker with every advance in robotics and miniaturization.” (Etzioni, 2014, p. 73) Specifically, humans need a return ticket back to Earth when robots do not. For humans to survive while in space they will require air, food, space to live in and do their work, and all of this costs money. Sending a human to perform a robots job does not justify a means to an end. It is NASA’s way of staying ahead of the competition and ahead of the space exploration game.
In contrast to human exploration, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], our planet, human life, wildlife, and aquatic life, would greatly benefit from ocean exploration. While exploring space has yielded minimal answers to the complexities and issues on Earth, exploring our oceans could, says Amitai Etzioni, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University. In his article “Final Frontier vs. Fruitful Frontier, The Case for Increasing Ocean Exploration”, Etzioni emphatically states that; “Space is a distant, hostile, and barren place, which has few major discoveries and an abundance of overhyped claims.” (p. 65) In contrast to our oceans which are nearby and a potential source of discoveries, we could address concerns ranging from climate change, disease, defenses against natural catastrophes; including tsunamis and hurricanes, to creating industry jobs in Environmental Science and the interdisciplinary studies within. (Etzioni, 2014) Unfortunately for NOAA, not enough attention and resources are directed towards ocean exploration and instead directed at NASA towards human exploration.
Another point of contention for NASA is space debris or space junk, floating around in low-Earth atmosphere. Every time NASA and other Aeronautical nations launch into space, diverting space debris is a common problem for astronauts, satellites, telescopes, rockets and the ISS [International Space Station]. China tested a high altitude anti-satellite weapon [ASAT] against one of their old weather satellites which created tens of thousands of pieces of orbital debris, and increased the risk of collision and damage to many satellites operating in low Earth orbit, says Scott Pace, author of Strengthening Space Security. Video footage provided by NASA to a local news station captures an astronaut using jettison to divert space debris from colliding with the ISS which originated from a satellite that China had purposely and intentionally shot down with a rocket. (7News, 2011) That space debris which spanned the entire length of low-Earth orbit will remain there for decades to come.
An upside for NASA, human exploration, and reduction of space debris is the creation of the Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk. The Falcon 9 rocket is the first rocket to be built in the 21st Century and has the ability to not only enter into space but also return to Earth without breaking up in our atmosphere. With VTVL [Vertical Takeoff Vertical Lift] capabilities and a fully reusable vehicle, the Falcon 9 could prove to be the next generation of vehicles in commercial space travel and exploration. While the Falcon 9 has proven successful in carrying cargo in its payload to and from the ISS, the next stage or SpaceX is to carry humans into space in the Dragon Spacecraft. The Dragon is a completely autonomous vehicle and can separate itself from the Falcon 9 rocket. While the Dragon continues on to its destination, the Falcon 9 can return safely through Earth’s atmosphere and land at its original launching site, reducing the production of space debris and junk in Earth’s orbit. On August 22, 2013, however, SpaceX endured the loss of their new prototype rocket called the F9R [Falcon 9 Reusable], which apparently suffered an anomaly in flight and after take-off. As a result, the F9R rocket self-detonated over the town of McGregor, Texas, says SpaceX.com’s Tariq Malik. (2014) Every time SpaceX builds a rocket the minimum cost is roughly around $54 million per rocket. Instead of the Department of Defense [DoD] and NASA investing funds into commercial rockets, this money should be invested into ocean exploration and building sustainable, reusable robotic vehicles, to explore unchartered territory which makes up around 95% of foreign waters. With $73 billion going towards NASA’s human space exploration and an addition $54 million per reusable rocket, the question needs to be asked whether humans should be exploring space or would robotic missions to the deep sea depths be more feasible than risking the lives of our astronauts.
Even though all these accomplishments are underway for NASA, NOAA on the other hand is lacking financial backing, public relations, and support for research that could provide answers to our environmental questions. It is amazing to think how NOAA wants to provide research and development solutions here on Earth, yet NASA receives the attention towards space which is a distant place and has yet to reveal life. Why is it so important for the United States to be leaders in human exploration and what is it that they are really doing up there in space? NASA is supposed to be a civilian agency so why is it run by the DoD? Investing money in our planet seems justifiable considering we live here every day of our lives. What is so great about space when we have all of this beauty here on Earth? Earth provides us with natural resources sustainable for human life, wildlife, aquatic life, plants, organisms, and multitudes of species. According to an article published by Etzioni titled; “Mars can wait. Oceans can’t.”, he provides evidence of what oceans have to offer by depicting how “Oceans play a major role in controlling our climate and organisms living in the ocean are said to hold the promise of cures for an array of diseases.” Etzioni further establishes how an examination of the ray fish led to advances in combating blindness and how the horseshoe crab was crucial in developing a test for bacterial contamination, and sea urchins helped in the development of test-tube fertilization.
Not only do the oceans provide food and substance for us to survive off of, it also absorbs CO2 in the air, which is a deadly gas that would literally make breathing our air toxic to all life here on Earth. If the Earth begins to die, then we too will begin to die. NASA claims that Mars’s history is similar to Earth yet there are a plethora of differences as well. (Wiles, 2014) Perhaps we could take a page from Mars’s past and reflect on the fact that there may be water present there but it has yet to reveal signs of life. If we continue to pollute and destroy the fruits that this planet has to offer, we will continue in a downward spiral making our planet an inhabitable, hostile planet, much like Mars is now. In contrast, if we explore the depths of the sea and the inhabitants and nutrients that are in it, perhaps we can begin to discover what we are doing wrong and begin to correct and learn from the mistakes we are making. Through understanding clean energy, natural resources, climate change and our oceans, we effectively and efficiently could learn a cleaner way of living and also take the necessary steps to protect our environment from further damage.
Instead of looking up to the stars for the answers to Earth’s riddles, NASA, NOAA and other supporters of space and ocean exploration need to look deeper into understanding our Earth and the resources it has to offer. Terra firma [solid Earth] and our oceans hold a multitude of solutions to modern day issues happening right now on Earth. If we eliminate human exploration in favor of robotic ocean exploration, we would save money and our planet by investing it accordingly into research and development. If we cannot save this planet for our future generation, who will?
Bauer, M. (2014, August 6) Rosetta Arrives at Comet Destination. European Space Agency. Retrieved from http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta/Rosetta_arrives_at_comet_destination
Congressional Budget Office. (2013, November 13) Eliminate Human Space Exploration Programs. Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 to 2023. Retrieved from http://www.cbo.gov/budget-options/2013/44774
Etzioni, A. (2014, June 1) Final Frontier vs. Fruitful Frontier. The Case for Increasing Ocean Exploration. Issues in Science & Technology Vol. 30 Issue 4, p64-74. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=f70bf0f9-3b26-4fcd-bd45-7be832c244c3%40sessionmgr114&hid=127
Etzioni, A. (2012, August 17) Mars can wait. Oceans can’t. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/09/opinion/etzioni-space-oceans/
Malik, T. (2014, August 23) SpaceX Reusable Rocket Prototype Explodes. Space.com. Retrieved from http://www.space.com/26921-spacex-reusable-rocket-explodes-over-texas-video.html?cmpid=514630_20140823_30345316
Musk, E. (2013, March 31) Reusability: The Key to making Human Life Multi-Planetary. SpaceX.com. Retrieved from http://www.spacex.com/news/2013/03/31/reusability-key-making-human-life-multi-planetary
NASA. (2014) FY 2015 Budget Request Executive Summary. Budget Highlights, SUM-9. Nasa.gov. Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/508_2015_Budget_Estimates.pdf
Pace, S. (2012, April 1) Strengthening Space Security. Advancing U.S. Interest in Outer Space. Harvard National Review. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=8&sid=f70bf0f9-3b26-4fcd-bd45-7be832c244c3%40sessionmgr114&hid=127
Wiles, J. (2013, September 30) Why We Explore. Nasa.gov. Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/whyweexplore/why_we_explore_main.html
7 News. (2007, July 24) Space Station Jettison of Debris. YouTube.com. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpjtfqQ5yT8