By Reilly Brady
The mind struggles to grasp the infinite beast that is space: its incomprehensible endlessness and its mind-boggling contents of planets and galaxies are mystifying. Humans combat our bewilderment by funding space explorations and research to venture beyond our familiar planet, launching ourselves into the belly of the beast, fueled by curiosity and hunger for the unknown. Satisfying our cravings of discovery comes with a hefty price, both in its risks and in its monetary cost. In 2020, the U.S. budget for NASA spending is over $22.5 billion, according to The Planetary Society. Additionally, a recent White House document detailing the 2021 budget revealed an increase to over $25 billion. This price tag sparks a question: are these billions of dollars truly worth it, all in the name of a fascination with space?
Government spending on space fluctuates over time. The space race of the 1960s produced a noticeable increase in federal funding of space programs as the U.S. raced the Soviet Union to the moon. As technology suddenly bloomed with the start of the 21st century, more technologically complex programs were funded, from sending robots to Mars to capturing never-seen-before detailed images of black holes. While these programs have allowed for tremendous strides to be taken in the context of scientific discovery, each one has required substantial funding. According to Space.com, a recently proposed rover mission to Mars in 2020 could cost nearly $2.5 billion, cutting a significant chunk into NASA’s allotted budget. And that’s just one mission among a myriad of new technologies, potential explorations, and other advanced research opportunities that will all require funding of various degrees.
Despite the expense, the accomplishments of NASA and its space program are undeniable. The moon landing of 1969 served as both a major scientific achievement as well as a proponent of patriotism and national unification. Space technology has the potential to function in ways other than appeasing our inquisitive natures; satellites, for example, can monitor the earth’s atmospheric levels as well as observe weather patterns. Although these accomplishments are scientifically and historically monumental, is the societal value worth the tremendous cost?
While humans may be fascinated with space, it is hard to say how particular space missions have impacted the betterment of individuals in society. A moon landing may be a major cause for bragging rights, but a flag on the moon does not have the power to aid those who are less fortunate or guarantee rights for groups that are discriminated against. And though space is mind-numbingly captivating, a mission to Mars would not provide help for the lives of individual Americans struggling in poverty or dealing with a debilitating illness. Maybe those billions of dollars would be better spent directly providing assistance to these individual Americans. Before we delve deeper into the beast of space, we must first do what we can to support the creatures of our home planet, which itself needs significant attention and fixing.
However, it is possible that the money for these social programs to benefit individuals could be extracted from other areas of the U.S. budget. Though $22.5 billion for 2020 and $25 billion for 2021 seem like incomprehensible amounts of money, they only account for a tiny fraction of the government’s total budget. The White House document describing the proposed 2021 budget states that the Department of Defense will be allotted nearly $705.5 billion. It is difficult to wrap the brain around that excessive sum of money, and it all goes towards just one department. Perhaps instead of depleting the funding of the space program, money can be taken from areas such as military and defense spending, which already receives an inconceivable amount of money.
Whether it be for the space program or for military efforts, the U.S. government spends a lot of money––more than we can even fathom. Because of the value society places on money, what we spend money on as a country is what gets the most attention. Though they may not receive as much attention, what are most important for the future of America are the needs of individuals who are struggling with medical bills, overcoming discrimination in the workplace, striving to financially support their family, or generally in need of help. Space is entrancing, mysterious, and mentally compelling, and it challenges our wildest fantasies and curiosities. However, let’s prioritize the people here on Earth first before our ventures beyond our home planet.