by Gavin Weng, Los Altos
Since the 1950s, Americans have strived to be ahead in the international space race, competing with other countries to reach new places in space and now trying to innovate in space tourism, flying regular people out of our humble homes and into the vast cosmos. Not only have we as a country invested immense quantities of money into outer space-related endeavors, but we have also inspired many generations of kids to pursue jobs in the field. The exploration of space has also become increasingly commercial and accessible with companies such as SpaceX and Deep Space Industries over the last few decades. Both corporations and governments have figured that resources in and knowledge about space can help to improve life for humans on Earth. We are even making slow progress on a last resort: packing up and abandoning Earth. However, with scientists thinking that they can rely on space to solve a lot of problems, they ignore the core problems within our societal structure. A lot of projects concerning space even suggest space exploration for the sake of it while failing to acknowledge Earth’s issues altogether. Overconsumption, mass unsustainable production, deforestation, and other issues are all concerns that need to be fixed through overhauls of a broken system, not simply by a change of policy in a fundamentally dissolving structure. Though space can provide us with more resources and knowledge, the abundance of what we know and have on Earth should be prioritized. Governments should first invest in Earth’s needs before investing in space exploration, because our problems on Earth are much more urgent, the massive costs of space exploration may not yield immediate benefits, and we have yet to explore our vast planet.
First, governments should prioritize investment in Earth’s basic needs before spending money on space exploration because our problems on Earth are much more urgent. One of the most destructive ongoing issues on our planet is climate change, which while caused by volcanic emissions of carbon dioxide in the past, is now proven to be caused by human activity. Since we have the ability to cause climate change with advanced technology and systems, we must also have the ability to develop sustainable and effective systems without the need for space exploration. Through further development of methods like hydroelectricity, wind turbines, and solar energy, we can create eco-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels by engineering and applying scientific principles. We can also develop better alternatives to plastic—which is destructive and wasteful—through chemistry and bioengineering. According to Nature, one of the world’s most credited scientific journals, new plastics developed from plant oils can be almost perfectly recycled. Finally, instead of engaging in small boycotts of these destructive materials and products, which cannot work to take down such a large industry and also blames consumers for the perpetuation of these unethical practices, consumers should all collectively pressure their governments to establish stronger regulations around operations like deforestation and factory production. The pressure of consumers protesting for the eventual elimination of fossil fuel usage combined with the development of better alternatives will give governments less of a reason to support dirty energy. Even though some climate change research relies on outer space study of the atmosphere and climate patterns, there are more important aspects to the bigger problem that we need to solve on earth. These problems are nuanced, and researchers and citizen scientists from all fields must work together simultaneously to solve them.
Additionally, we should invest directly in the Earth’s problems before exploring space because the massive costs of exploring space may not yield immediate benefits. Two leading reasons space advocates push for more investment in space exploration are the opportunity to mine space for resources and the chance to find a new habitable planet. While both of these pursuits could theoretically benefit humans a lot, the various inconveniences and setbacks of the whole process will render these endeavors pointless wastes of money and time. For example, one of the biggest appeals of space mining in recent times is the asteroid Ryugu, which is estimated to be worth over $80 billion. So that material could help us a lot, right? Although it seems to be easy money, not only is the asteroid 9 million miles from Earth, but it is also 450 billion kilograms heavy. The amount of resources needed to send spacecraft out of the atmosphere, create a space mine, sustain astronauts, and have enough fuel is exorbitant . A recent example of this impracticability is Japan’s excursion in 2014 to study Ryugu. After six years of preparation and $157 million spent, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft brought a single gram of asteroid back to Earth. The money spent for such an anticlimactic result is unjustified, even if it were clearly feasible, and astro scientists are still struggling to figure out how to carry so much mass back to Earth. At least we can try to find a new place to inhabit after Earth is destroyed, right? Sure, but even without the hassle of finding a new planet that can sustain people long enough for a new civilization to be built, the process of creating a whole new environment that suits our living requirements on a completely different planet would be inefficient and slow, if possible at all. If we can afford to change our way of life that drastically, can we not afford to just change how we live, produce, and consume to be more sustainable on a planet that we are already comfortable on? Not only would discovering and terraforming a new planet be insanely difficult to pull off, but moving several billion people across space is already probably impossible as is. While space could help solve a lot of problems, sustainable production and consumption is the only long-term solution to keeping this planet alive. Why should we go to drastic and unrealistic measures when we can think about the repercussions of our ways of life now and create better solutions that contribute back to Earth’s health?
Lastly, governments should invest in Earth’s developments before spending on space exploration because we have barely explored most of our planet. For example, over 80% of Earth’s oceans remain unexplored by humans, and their exploration may teach us more about aquatic life, climate, and natural disasters. By exploring the depths and crevices of the ocean, it is quite probable that we will find many new species of plants and animals. By learning more about discovered and undiscovered species, we can use what we learn about the needs of aquatic life to develop better technology to clean and maintain the ocean. Many scientists use this goal of bettering the ocean as a drive for their projects, such as Xiaoguang Duan, who did a research study finding that nitrogen and manganese-coated magnetic coils can cause chemical reactions with oxygen molecules to break down microplastics into CO2, water, and salt compounds. Even though we know that the ocean plays a big part in climate by absorbing solar radiation, further exploration and experimentation could help to uncover even more information about the ocean’s influences, which can then help us to fight climate change on another front. Though a lot of what we don’t know comes from the most unexplored region, a lot of important change and development—for better or for worse—happens on land. For instance, due to rising temperatures in Siberia, the permafrost in the Sayan Mountains have started to melt, and researchers are now studying the area. The melting, carbon-full permafrost will release a lot of carbon dioxide upon melting, and without any plan to clean up the air, the effects on the area could be catastrophic. However, with the permafrost now melting and with further research on how to deal with this problem, this area of mountains could become habitable, and with further exploration of the ocean, a reality in which we can expand civilization on and under water while creating clean technology for aquatic life is now possible. While exploring space can help us achieve a great number of things in the future, we have the resources and materials on Earth to create a better environment for humans, but more importantly all of Earth’s wildlife; the final catalyst we need is dedication and conviction put into these ventures.
The better our technology gets, the farther we will progress from our primitive activities—whether for better or for worse. Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve rapidly advanced past the habits of our ancestors, but that tendency is leading us in an unsustainable direction. Due to rapidly advancing technology, innovators are looking towards outer space to either solve or escape the problems on Earth. Dropping advanced technology is no longer an option. So if our only choice is to move forward and keep advancing in technology, we should use that momentum to move in the right direction by restructuring our technological framework to be healthier for Earth’s environments. There are many scientific solutions to unsustainability, and they are currently gaining more attention. However, we as a society must be willing to relinquish some of our comforts and money for the greater good of Earth’s future. If we do not do so soon and take accountability for the destructive practices we thrive on, we may not have the time to reverse them in the future, and fomenting enthusiasm about space exploration while ignoring Earth’s issues accelerates destruction of our planet. We’ve avoided confrontation for a long time—now is the time to start creating a better future on our own planet, not among the stars.