(Currently) Do you think that we should spend more government money on space exploration, or cut the funds for other needs on Earth? Would it have been different a few years ago?
I believe that the Space Program should continue but I'm not totally convinced the budget should be increased. In fact, the program may be able to be viable, with even some budget cuts, depending on the initiatives NASA commits itself to in the next ten years. I believe that infrastructure and some social programs do need increased funding. With budgetary pressures the fact of the day, this money has to come from other programs, which may have to be the Space Program, among others.
That being said, I believe that the Space Program does contribute to the economic health of the United States. It encourages research and innovation and new technologies and processes, and products result from all of this, which in turn creates jobs. In addition, many smaller businesses (and by extension their employees and local economies) are dependent on the monolith that is NASA. Years ago I may have been more adamant in my defense of the Space Program, but I must accept the reality of the current U.S. fiscal situation.
I think that the underlying issue at hand here is what constitutes “worthwhile” spending. The problem for many people, especially those in the US, is that they look at the crumbing infrastructure and “failing” school system and wonder why we are spending money on things like space exploration that have very few easily recognizable tangible rewards.
However, what if I said I wanted to cut the funding for the space program and instead use that money for defense spending? How about channeling that money towards social programs, or just sell-off all of NASA’s assets and send everyone in American a refund check? Suddenly the previous feelings of agreement disappear.
We fund things like the space program for two reasons. One, while it seems like a lot in terms of raw cost, relative to the rest of the federal budget, the space program receives very little funding. Two, you never know what you are going to get. Yes, much of what the space program does is abstract and the rewards are intangible at best. However, all it would take is a single specific type of discovery to make the entire investment worth it.
Ultimately, the space program represents a sense of childlike wonder and possibility that many people appreciate.
Your question is a little confused. The "stars" are not the object of space exploration as it relates to space shuttles and manned flights and surface probes. The solar system--and only the nearest portion of that--is the object of these sort of space exploration.
The "stars," including our "star" (better known as our Sun), are the object of a different kind of space exploration. This kind of exploration centers around various satellites that perform various imaging and collection missions and that operate in space in one of two or three select modes. These are a couple of examples out of scores of possible examples.
To explore the Sun, we employ satellites like SOHO, which orbits Earth's First Lagrangian Point (L1), which suspends it caught between the Earth's and Sun's gravitational forces. It has a continual view of the Sun, which it takes images of through various ionizations, and collects data on solar wind, the Sun's corona and all plasma and gaseous layers all the way down to the Sun's deep core.
To explore the cosmos, Hubble takes images to surprising depths far out into the universe, lately finding the farthest known galaxy, which is called galaxy MACS0647-JD. SPITZER, NASA's first infrared telescope satellite, helped Hubble narrow the field to find MACS0647-JD.
Other satellites engage in cosmos mapping, like the mapping of the locations of dark matter, and triangulating cosmic occurrences, like impending X-Class solar flares, and identifying component characteristic of the cosmic microwave background.
The value of this sort of space exploration is (1) practical and (2) pure knowledge. First, it is valuable for practical reasons because, for example, Earth's magnetic shell--the magnetosphere--incurring holes from solar wind particles will be poor protection from a direct-hit M- or X-Class solar flare, and we need to know how to protect our communications and other satellites. Second, it is valuable for pure knowledge because humans can't seem to stop asking questions that only pure knowledge can answer: What holds universe together (what is dark matter?)? What forces tipped the cosmic scale in favor of baryonic matter (us)? Where is the interface between quantum physics and Newtonian physics?
So, if you mean the first kind of space exploration, I'm not so interested in that, personally, and can see budget cuts there not doing a great deal of harm as I can't see the practical use of exploring Mars for the remnants of ancient waterways. If, however, you mean the second kind, I am rather more interested in that and sigh sadly whenever I hear of budget cuts in these areas. I find the results of this space exploration of rather more practical value.
I have to agree that the money could be better spent in other places. Think about how many schools could get the much needed funding if the space monies were funneled there. We have yet to find anything which would lead us to believe that living anywhere other than Earth is possible. Why not try to just make Earth the best planet possible?
The government should not focus on space exploration at this time. There are too many really important issues here on the ground for the government to waste their time and our money on sending Miracle Whip up to the ISS to see how its consistency holds up. The government instead should focus its attention on the real-world problems that face modern Humanity.
Having said that, space exploration is vital to the survival of the human species. Resources on the Earth are finite, but the human population is not; unless we implement some sort of zero-sum population control scheme, humanity will eventually be unable to survive on Earth's resources alone. We must colonize the Moon and Mars, and develop space-based resource schemes. This will be accomplished not by government, but by private industry, and will give Humanity the ability to colonize space as a species, not as a government crawl.
I am torn on this issue. We just spend so much money exploring space. I would rather have better roads and schools. However, if we are going to destroy this planet, we will need a back-up plan.
However, there is another benefit to space exploration. Through the years, there have been many technologies that we got from NASA. For example, there is currently a new heart pump in development.
The pump would allow critical heart patients a much more convenient alternative to the heart pumps currently in use. (see stars4space.org)
Other technologies that came from space travel are memory foam, smoke detectors, and even home insulation. Let's not forget astronaut ice cream!
Even though there are calls to end funding of the space program, especially in this difficult economic time, I absolutely believe in the continued development of the United States' space program, primarily because of the research and technological advances that have been made in conjunction with NASA. Everything from velcro to microfiber to TANG, some pretty important inventions have happened along the way. Continued support of the space program keeps our country on the cutting edge of technology. We may need to tone down our spending for the time being, but should not discontinue our space exploration indefinitely. There will come a time when humanity may desperately need to explore other planets for resources or colonization, and when that time arrives, the U.S. will want to be on the forefront of that exploration.
Discoveries and inventions are made on the way to space as much as they are made in space.
NASA has developed technologies for its missions that have eventually become commonplace and quite helpful, from infant formula to digital thermometers. To me, this means that there is a way in which our investment in space exploration is also an investment in more earth-bound concerns.
This does not mean that we should give space-oriented organizations all of our money, but it may be an argument for continuing to invest in exploration.
I personally do not think that space exploration is worth it, at least not if we are talking about space exploration using human beings. When we use things like the space shuttles and when we plan to send humans to Mars, we have to spend so much money on safety and research that it becomes wasteful. The benefits that we get from doing such things are really minimal and the costs are huge. It would be much better if we would simply use mechanized probes only and forget about doing "manned" exploration. It would be more cost effective and would gain us much more knowledge than "manned" exploration does.