On the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight, completed by Yuri Gagarin lead to this discussion on the RPF forum about the importance of space exploration, which promoted me to jot down my thoughts on this subject.
Let's forget about Mars colonization, lunar base or manned space flight and for a minute just focus on satellites. When rockets were designed and launched in the 1950s, did they built them cause they expected to achieve rapid communication and broadcasting, high-speed exchange of information and data? No, all those inventions and technologies progressed after the evolutionary cycle of rockets, leading to the launch of the first satellite Sputnik and eventually having hundreds of artificial satellites floating around our planet. Many of which are playing a key role in our daily life activities.
RPF Member tripoli listed some good examples as to how space research has resulted in many applications on Earth.
"Fire retardant materials, Velcro, electronic applications, machining, metal alloys. Airbus uses the composite research from Apollo to make their new innovative aircraft. close to 10,000 direct applications from Apollo alone here on Earth.
Want a few personal applications? Weather satellites, communications, environmental studies, electronics miniaturization on the computer you are typing on, plastics in almost everything in most households."
Continuation of space flight and research is crucial as it helps to expand our vast potential, which will never be achieved if we choose to abandon space exploration all together. Of course we have so many problems on Earth, that needs to be addressed and worked upon. But that does not mean space travel needs to take a backseat until all other Earth problems are resolved.
Somebody invented the wheel, leading to carriages and eventually automobiles. If the Wright Brothers and inventors like them decided that we have enough successful transportation systems for local travel and ships to move around the world, aviation would never see the light of the day and space travel would have remained a science fiction idea.
Going to Mars is not just about discovering resources and establishing colonies, the struggle to reach Mars will involve overcoming so many hurdles that will itself lead to many new inventions and discoveries. Better spacecraft, alternative fuel, reusable launching rockets resulting in saving millions of dollars for future rocket launches.
If a natural calamity hits a city in the world, there are airplanes to take people across to another city for safety. If a natural calamity hits the entire planet, where are we going to go? Yes, it may not happen in our lifetime now, maybe not even for another few hundred years, so why should we bother? If the people and inventors in the past had that approach and attitude, can you imagine how we would be living in a world without aviation and satellite communication? Of course we can live without them, people have done that for centuries, but it's better now since we don't have to do that.
Between the 60s and 70s and sometimes in the early 90s, the NASA budget was over 1% to 3% of the US federal budget crossing even 4% in the mid 60s. But otherwise it has always remained below 1%. In 2008, it was 0.6% which is about $17.3 billion out of the $2.9 trillion US federal budget.
It saddens me that in the 50 years of manned space travel, there have been very from India who have traveled into Space. But this recent discovery of the biggest lunar cave by the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 is stepping in the right direction.
In the 1960s, it was a race between US and Soviet Union. Now with the International Space Station and other space programs it is a collaboration between them and eventually among other countries as well.
I will conclude this post with the following video, which is fan made promo for NASA using the words of Carl Sagan. (Original video and music credited to Michael Marantz)