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TRAN: We should support space exploration efforts

Column: Hung Up

SpaceX's Starship rocket recently exploded midair during its first launch, but society still needs to continuously invest in space exploration. – Photo by @FOX2News / Twitter

Humans have been fascinated with space for thousands of years. Many religions and gods have been associated with the bright stars in the dark night sky, and they have always seemed so far away as distant and unreachable objects. 

While the celestial bodies are still mostly unreachable, modern humanity has come closer than ever to the cosmos as humans walked through space and later on the moon in the 60s. Even space probes are exploring interstellar space billions of miles away from Earth. There are currently two fully operating space stations orbiting the Earth, with a crew of seven people more or less permanently standing on a different ground than everyone else.

While we know more now about space than ever, humans still have not reached any other planet. Humans have not been to the moon recently, either: the last astronaut to visit was decades ago in 1972, more than fifty years ago.

But there is still an intrinsic desire to push humanity's boundaries. Humans constantly want to see and know more about the world we live in, and this means we may be inching toward making some aspects of science fiction turn into reality.

Just last Thursday, SpaceX made the news for launching its Starship rocket in its first test flight. With its Super Heavy rocket booster, Starship is the most powerful rocket ever made and is meant to take humans to Mars and the moon if successful. Although it exploded in this flight 24.2 miles above ground, it met several flight objectives and provided data for future tests on its way to spaceflight. 

NASA is currently working on its Artemis mission program, which aims to return humans to the moon. Earlier this month, NASA announced the four astronauts of the Artemis II mission, which will be the first crewed mission to the moon in this modern series of space exploration. 

Scheduled for November 2024, the mission's goals are to test the spaceflight capabilities on the journey to the moon, although the astronauts will not land on the surface. Artemis III, which will put astronauts on the moon, is planned for 2025 and, depending on its success, will set the foundation for future Artemis missions.

The primary barrier, though, is and has always been this question: "Why?"

Space exploration is dangerous and quite expensive. And with so many issues down here on Earth, spending so much effort and resources on what is perhaps a frivolous pursuit can seem like a waste. After all, there do not seem to be many direct benefits from putting a person on Mars or back on the moon as opposed to studying with the present rovers and satellites. 

Though, regarding economic effects, investments in space exploration are not necessarily a net negative. NASA has a $32.5 billion budget, which is approximately .2 percent of the U.S.'s total spending. And in 2021, the agency's federal budget was $23.3 billion, while its economic output was three times that amount at more than $71 billion.

Space exploration also created approximately 340,000 jobs that span across every state in the country. In that sense, the money spent on space directly affects many personal lives here on Earth.

Investments in space travel also lead to innovations that may significantly improve numerous aspects of the industry and personal life on Earth. From the past, this includes GPS, advancements in medical diagnostic tools and a better understanding of agriculture and crop yields.

Developing remote control of complex machinery millions of miles away can lead to faster and more robust connections on Earth. Technological research includes new drug development and the printing of human tissue. 

Setting up life away from Earth necessitates recycling air and water, which can contribute to better and cheaper filtration systems worldwide. There would also need to be more productive, efficient and reliable energy generation. When living months or years worth of travel away from any help, the systems need to be self-sustaining, which would then improve Earth's renewable resources as well. 

Given how much has been developed to reach space and seeing what has already been developed on space stations, humans returning to the moon or visiting Mars could accelerate discovery even more.

Less tangibly, space exploration can increase global cooperation. Countries from around the world plan and coordinate together in hopes of achieving something greater. Even in the middle of the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia agreed to collaborate in space. While competition breeds faster innovation, these challenges can also bring such a political world just a little closer. 

While space exploration is not without worries, it is an endeavor worth pursuing. It propels human ingenuity and innovation, and there are few, if any, other opportunities that can discover more about the fundamental reasons for our and the universe's existence.

Tyler Tran is a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. His column, "Hung Up," runs on alternative Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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