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Column: Space Exploration Yields Few Results

This story was written by Munim Deen, Oklahoma Daily


The so-called space race first started in the 1950s as a pitched competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. As in all things during the Cold War, each superpower tried to outdo the other.

By the 1960s, the United States was a bona fide space power, along with Russia.

The space race instilled and embodied immense national pride in both nations and wsometimes even global pride among mankind. The 1969 lunar landing was indeed a giant leap for humanity.

But what good did it really do?

Not that much, honestly.

The six NASA moon landings between 1969 and 1972 didnt directly improve anything tangibly.

No magic source of perpetual energy was found. The lunar rocks did not yield the cure for the common cold or for any other earthly ailment. There was no breakthrough of any kind on earth that came from the moon landings.

To be fair, some of the research and developmental work that went into making the moon landings happen did have some benefit in the real world.

However, the most lasting and most recognized example of this has been a pen that can write upside down and under water. Infomercials and magazine ads still tout them as having flown into space .

Can you think of anything else useful that we use regularly that came from the moon missions? I cant. The very fact that the moon missions were stopped after 1972 shows that there were little long-term benefits to be had from these missions.

After the moon was conquered, attention turned to living in space. With this came the concept of the space station, in which astronauts could live for extended periods of time. Astronauts generally conducted scientific studies during their time up there. Scientific study is always good as long as it produces valid results, positive or negative.

However, because of the particular environment of the space station, studies conducted in space are valid only in space.

An experiment conducted in zero-gravity conditions produces results that are only applicable in zero-gravity conditions and therefore not valid on Earth. Considering thats pretty much the only place humans can live, the experiments, and therefore the missions, and the space stations themselves, are really of no direct benefit to earthlings.

In todays world, there are not just two space powers.

Several countries have conducted missions into space. The European Space Agency, Japan, India and China all have built up a long record of space missions.

In addition, almost a dozen other smaller national agencies conduct minor space-related operations.

Combined, the worlds space agencies have approved budgets of about $50 billion. NASA alone spends about $17 billion annually.

While some of these missions involve launching or repairing useful technology such as communications and weather satellites or pertinent atmospheric and weather conditions, the majority of the missions involve scientific experiments whose results have little bearing on earth because the experiments are conducted in environments that are nothing like earth.

Some defend space experiments as being necessary precursors to mans eventual colonization of other planets. I dont buy it.

We have yet to find a planet remotely capable of sustaining humanity. Even the vaunted efforts to find evidence of life and water on Mars have come up short.

The best evidence of life put forth thus far were fossilized remains of what could be bacteria. Most scientists, particularly bacterial microbiologists, describe this evidence as shaky at best.

Mars has no magnetic field. This mens that Martian atmosphere is unable to stop solar wind and radiation from interacting directly with surface soil. This would make life as we know it on Earth impossible.

NASAs earliest projections put a manned Mars mission no earlier than 2037. Because of Martian conditions, the mission would essentially be akin to an extended stay on a space station, but with gravity. A fully contained inside and outside on any structure on Mars would be absolutely necessary. That would be true of any attempts to live on Mars, as well.

So, in 40 years, astronauts may set foot on another planet.

But theyll have to wear spacesuits wherever they go. Their base will have to be artificially maintained to simulate Earth because the planet theyll be on is by most estimates incapable of supporting life.

And any attempt to build civilization there will have to start from the ground up. There is nothing there. Imagine the most desolate desert on Earth, make it very cold, take away all the oxygen, and make it impossible to leave without rockets. Thats what Mars is like right now.

Even with all of Earths problems, who would seriously want to go to Mars? You cant live there, you cant make a living there, and if something goes wrong, you probably wouldnt be able to leave there in time.

Thus, justifying space experiments as leading the way to Martian colonization does not sway me because the entire premise of Martian colonization is flawed.

Aside from satellites that actually have some benefit to Earth and humans, what good is space exploration really doing? Its eating up money in the billions while not really yielding anything of solid value.

Were in the middle of global recession right now. There are millions of people starving to death on Earth.

Millions more barely make a living due to abject poverty. People die of curable diseases every day.

Even factoring out the costs associated with maintaining useful satellites, ending space exploration would save billions of dollars that could be used to improve life on Earth. What good was a man taking a step on the moon when millions of malnourished children die before taking their first step on Earth?

Instead of throwing money at outer space, lets make use of it on Earth, where it can actually do good for the people who live here.

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