Is space exploration worth the cost?

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Since 1969, when Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins walked on the moon, the industrialized world has been vying to bring astronauts into orbit. Each year, the US government devotes a significant amount of money to space navigation in order to finance the research endeavors needed to ensure the effectiveness of the whole operation. The overarching concern in the whole phenomenon is whether the gains gained from these space voyages are worth the costs incurred. When asked why he kept scaling Mt. Everest, English mountaineer George Mallory responded, “Because it was there” (Billings 162). According to Mallory, exploration is an innate predisposition in all men; it is the nature of all people to keep discovery new things with an aim to fuel curiosity, creativity, and inspiration.
Virtually all developments happening in all places around the globe occur as a result of man’s curiosity to explore and discover new things that he doesn’t know about. Then comes the question of benefits and the cost implications. Mallory explored Mt. Everest not occasionally and wouldn’t stop because he drew inspiration from his climbs. As opposed to the modern space explorations, Mallory used just a little money compared to the billions of dollars spent today on space explorations. Certainly, the benefits drawn from these explorative adventures need to be higher than just inspiration, competition and satisfying the human curiosity as did Mallory. This paper questions the viability of space explorations and the costs implications of the same to obtain a justification for its continuity.
The cost-benefits analysis has been used as a dominant paradigm in economic decision-making. The model predisposes that the outcomes of possible decisions should be understood purely from the perspective of their costs and benefits accrued from them. For a possible decision to be considered as a viable option, the benefits must be larger than the costs incurred. That is, as the benefits of a given decision tend to increase and the cost implications become lower, the decision stands a better chance of preference. According to Baum, when the underlying ethical frameworks are considered exclusively regarding the costs and benefits intended, the decisions must be recommended only when they pass the cost-benefits analysis framework (Ross 21). The benefits and costs can be defined in a variety of ways depending on the perceived outcomes. Although the most common valuation is monetary, the human and environmental costs and benefits are an alternative valuation.
One of the key benefits we gain from space exploration is the great insights and social value that we achieve from the space we know of or occupy in the universe. The insights are numerous and include discoveries such as cosmic waves and the background radiations. These discoveries have been used in scientific studies to reconstruct the theories such as the ‘big bang’ theory explaining the origin of the universe (Ross 27). The information has been dispersed in terms of published goods explaining the distribution of life on earth since creation to date. A lot of the space information is often turned into money through the sale of information and books. However, a lot of the information realized from these navigations goes untapped by the global markets (Ross 23).
Also, the human life depends largely on the bulk of information drawn from the space from time to time. Paxson, for instance, maintains that the information garnered from space travels have reduced the risks of human extinction due to unknown impactful space events (Paxson 487). The sun, like all other stars, is an important part of the solar system and on which human life depends wholly. The sun and all stars keep changing their radiative output and composition over time. For instance, the sun constantly converts its hydrogen into helium thereby becoming hotter at different times. With continued warming of the sun and climate change, it is expected that the earth may become totally inhabitable in the next 500 million to about 1 billion years to come (Paxson 487). Part of adaptive options to keep with these changes would be based on the knowledge gathered from space about the changes occurring therein to inform adaptation options on earth.
Space exploration provides adequate information to that can be used by the human population on earth to hedge against these long-term astrological threats. Besides, the information is also crucial to evading the more immediate threats emanating from the space and which continue to pose tremendous threats to human population on earth as well as other species inhabiting it. Such threats include pandemics, climate change, and its anthropogenic relationships, impacts of the nuclear warfare and the use of space disruptive technologies (Paxson 487). The information gathered from the space is important for making informed decisions on earth to abate the severe impacts of these natural catastrophes thus enabling the human life to be sustainable in the long term. To this end, the social, environmental and monetary benefits of space exploration are clearly understood.

The cost-benefits analysis paradigm insists that a preferred option should be considered a viable option when the anticipated outcomes from it are more beneficial than all other available alternatives which can lead to the same results. That is, the decisions must be made in consideration of the other available options. In the case of space exploration, therefore, we would consider other viable options which could lead to the same results attained from space explorations as has been highlighted in the previous sections. Based on the goal of enhancing the understanding about human life and increasing the probability of lengthening human survival on earth, there could be other more cost-effective options available for consideration than space exploration.
However, this option would only suffice if the cost-benefits analysis is considered in terms of the efforts, money and other related measures. For instance, Aldridge recommends other cost-effective options such as setting isolated refuge on earth with an aim to increase humans’ ability to survive catastrophes (Aldridge 12). Improving the global seedbanks would help to abate the cruel impacts of climate change. The major setback, however, is the lack of adequate knowledge and research to devise suitable measures to enhance human life on earth in a more scientifically viable manner. These inadequacies point to space exploration as the only most effective approach to ensuring long-term human survival on earth.
Having highlighted the benefits of space exploration and other available options in terms of increasing human survival on earth, the question which remains unanswered is how we can make the tradeoff between increasing human survival and focusing on other benefits. This question does not seek to consider human survival as less effective or as a constraint to the cost-effective analysis of space exploration but as a benefit which can be compared to other alternative benefits. Such measures would require that we assign a value to the human survival. However, there is no assumed monetary value to the human life. In the traditional cost-benefits analyses, it is often uncommon to assign some monetary value to human life since the human life is assumed to be valued above all things.
In a US court of appeals case, for instance, Judge Richard Posner valued human survival at about $600 trillion and described this valuation as a huge underestimate. This means that the human life is valued high above all things; social, economic or environmental values. All exploratory works meant to enhance the human survival, therefore, must be considered high above all things. Due to these reasons, any possible undertakings to save the lives and promote the value of human lives overrides every other means as an important factor to human’s space exploration. This view is supported by Durante observations, made from the perspective of ecocentricity, that the essence for space colonization is rooted in the efforts to avoid human distinction through the avoidance of both the immediate and long-term effects (Durante 469). The benefits of space exploration in meeting these demands is an essential aspect of it. Due to these reasons, this study concludes that the current focus on space exploration is worth the cost incurred due to the massive benefits associated with the whole process.
To conclude, space exploration has been ongoing phenomena in the current scientific adventures. While the popular argument behind space exploration is to satisfy the curiosity and inquisitiveness of the human nature, a lot underlie the issue. Consequently, the major question has been the benefits to be derived from the whole process of space exploration compared to the benefits associated with it. This study has provided an in-depth cost-benefits analysis to respond to the question: Is space exploration worth the cost? According to the analysis, the science behind space exploration is to do with human survival and development, a fact which overrides all other benefits associated with the exercise. This study, therefore, supports that the humanitarian value of space colonization is worth the cost and thus should be developed further.
Works Cited
Aldridge, Edward C. Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover: Report of the President’s Commission on the Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy. Government Printing Office, 2004.
Billings, Linda. “Exploration for the masses? Or joyrides for the ultra-rich? Prospects for space tourism.” Space Policy 22.3 (2006): 162-164.
Durante, Marco, and Francis A. Cucinotta. “Heavy ion carcinogenesis and human space exploration.” Nature Reviews Cancer 8.6 (2008): 465-472.
Paxson III, Edwin W. “Sharing the Benefits of Outer Space Exploration: Space Law and Economic Development.” Mich. J. Int’l l. 14 (1992): 487.
Ross, Adam M., et al. “Multi-attribute tradespace exploration as front end for effective space system design.” Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets 41.1 (2004): 20-28.

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