Research Blog 4: Should humankind go to space?

In this activity, you will create a blog post about an additional article centered on the future of unmanned systems space-based applications; specifically, an article that takes a clear stance on the side of either human based or unmanned space exploration. Present the case as to whether you agree with the article or disagree; then justify your position based upon commensurate capabilities and challenges. The article you find/research must be less than three years old.


Should we still send human beings into space? Is it worth risking the lives of humans in the harsh, volatile, frictionless environment of space? Can’t we just do everything with robots? The answer to the last question is, “No”, which makes the first two “Yes.” Humans are a necessary part of current and future space exploration. There are many reasons people dispute sending humankind to space. For this discussion, the focus is on three key arguments: It is too dangerous. It is too expensive. What is the return on the investment?

First, is spaceflight dangerous? Absolutely. Wearing spacesuits to protect them from the forces of flight, astronauts are strapped atop a controlled explosion that is capable of losing integrity catastrophically if even the smallest detail is missed. Since the first American entered space in 1961 on the Freedom Mercury 7 spacecraft, to today, 22 astronauts have died while participating in training or live missions. (Chronology, 2005) (Deaths, 2014). In contrast, as of this writing, 60 firefighters have died in the line of duty this year. (Firefighter, 2015) There is no dispute that firefighting is necessary. The benefits are immediate and recognizable. Firefighters risk their lives at an alarming rate to protect lives and property. Astronauts risk their lives in the pursuit of science and new ideas, but we will come back to that. There is no dispute firefighters have a very dangerous, yet valuable job to do. However, perhaps astronauts have helped them make it safer.

The next argument is expense. Space is expensive. Any mission is expensive but a manned mission has the added expense of requirement of maintaining life for those who venture off the planet. However, the investment for the manned exploration of space and science does is not as large as some would guess. The federal budget for NASA in 2015 is $18 billion dollars with $8.5 billion going to human exploration.  This includes continued access and presence on the ISS, development of communications and navigational technologies, and development of commercial systems for future explorations. In contrast, the Department of Transportation received $91 billion dollars, the Department of Education received $68.6 billion, and finally, the Department of Health and Human Services received $77 billion. In comparison, the cost of human exploration of space is significantly less compared to more contested slices of the US budget. (Budget, 2014)

Lastly, the return on investment is the least understood and often the most overlooked in the argument of whether or not humankind should continue to venture, physically into space. NASA took the place of the National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics in 1958 and since then has been inspiring and churning out technology and science at a rate that has changed our culture. Beyond the growth of the Global Positioning satellite system, Tang and Velcro, NASA science inspired the creation of the first computer mouse, technology to detect auditory and visual conditions, improved and lowered the cost of cancer screenings, developed grooved runways and roads and even improved techniques used to help those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorders. (Dunbar, 2013) Many advances to human comfort and longevity have come from the human space program. The needs of humans in space inspire engineers and scientists to develop new technologies that inevitably improve the lives of everyone. Returning to the firefighters, the benefits to the industry has been more obvious. The need to lower weight and improve materials, communication, and autonomy in space, has not only resulted in more comfortable space suits, but also improved the breathing systems for firefighters, better protection from heat and flames and improved the two-way radio communication. (NASA, 2008)

Do we need to send humans to space anymore? Is there a benefit in even exploring space? The answer to these questions is yes. Unlike sending unmanned missions to space, the need to keep humans alive improves technology in a way that benefits us all. The value of the lives saved due to technology inspired by the needs of the human space program is not easily measured. However, the value can be understood as higher than the financial investment. This alone is a valid reason to continue the manned spaceflight program, now and in the future.

References

Budget of the U.S. Government, FY 2015. (2014). Washington, D. C.: Office of Management and Budget.

Chronology of Selected Highlights in the First 100 American Spaceflights, 1961-1995. (2005, January 27). Retrieved September 11, 2015, from http://history.nasa.gov/Timeline/100flt.html

Deaths associated with US space programs. (2014, November 4). Retrieved September 9, 2015, from http://www.airsafe.com/events/space/astrofat.htm

Dunbar, B. (2013, August 20). What Have We Done For You Lately? NASA Connections to Everyday Life. Retrieved September 12, 2015, from https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/spinoffs.html#.VfZBuxFViko

Firefighter fatalities in the United States. (2015, September 13). Retrieved September 13, 2015, from http://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/

Garber, S. (2015, August 28). NASA History Program Office. Retrieved September 11, 2015, from http://history.nasa.gov/index.html

NASA Technologies Benefit Our Lives. (2008). Retrieved September 13, 2015, from https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html

NASA FY 2016 Budget Request. (2015, June 3).

USDA Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Overview (pp. A-1). (2014). Washington, D. C.: United States Department of Agriculture.

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