“Why do we waste so much money on space when we have so many problems here on Earth?”

Picture of a galaxy

By Aditi Sharma

From the climate crisis to the current global pandemic, our Earth faces significant threats. This has led many people to criticize space exploration, emphasizing instead that before looking to the stars we should focus on the issues on the planet we live on.

It seems that many believe investing in space signifies a severe lack of commitment to improving the Earth. However, such an argument fails to address how space exploration has already benefited modern society and our technologies. For instance, with the development of satellite technology, scientists have been able to study the Earth from an important perspective. Before weather satellites, some disasters, such as the Galveston hurricane in 1900 that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people, caused greater losses of life and economic disruptions due in part to the lack of early-warning systems.

Our climate is suffering. Each day we see a new ecosystem burn, and hurricanes, droughts, and heatwaves intensify. Initially, it would seem that funding toward space exploration would not aid the climate crisis. Yet, satellites provide crucial information about our climate daily. Satellites are being used to monitor greenhouse gas emissions, and these data provide crucial information to develop an understanding of climate change. The continual innovation of this technology has meant that scientists have the precise data needed to analyze and predict the impact of climate change.

The future of space technology is equally as promising. For instance, solar power stations in space could provide the world with limitless clean energy. Currently, implementing solar energy on Earth has multiple constraints. Other than the cost, the Sun is not a constant power source throughout the day on our planet. Yet, above Earth, there’s no day and night cycle and no clouds or weather that might obstruct the Sun’s rays.

 Space-based solar power first gained attraction in the 1970s, however, at the time it was not deemed economically feasible. Recent advancements in technology such as photovoltaics and electronics have meant that the costs of this venture can be lowered. In 2015, a research agreement between Northrop Grumman Corporation and Caltech provided up to $17.5 million for the development of space solar power system. As of December 2017, the team at Caltech have developed prototypes that verified their concept and presented that they can collect and wirelessly transmit 10 gigahertz of power. The next stage is conducting experiments in space that the team hopes to achieve in the next couple of years.

Ultimately, the Earth we reside on demands our attention and it is integral that world leaders continue to direct focus upon developing solutions to pressing predicaments. The mentality of many is that we must strictly explore Earth or strictly explore space. However, this outlook is too restrictive, and it is apparent that advances in space technology could greatly benefit Earth itself.

Space exploration may seem to many a ‘waste’ and an economic commitment. But it is also a necessary commitment to human curiosity and progress.

Aditi Sharma is a science communicator and prospective chemical engineering student. She’s working this summer on the BMSIS YSP project “Communicating Topics in Earth and Space Science”.