We have taken a step back from the cosmos. In the '60s and '70s, however, cold war nationalism fueled a space race that brought humans into earth orbit and then to the moon in less than a decade. But we soon discovered the Soviet space program was more interested with creating a space station that would orbit the Earth rather than reaching the moon. We followed suit and turned our backs to the moon and any hope of traveling beyond it. Robots and probes aside, we have given up on traveling through the depths of space and trekking new worlds. Performing experiments on a space station orbiting the Earth or travelling a few miles above the stratosphere in a privately-built spaceship do not constitute true space exploration. Today, our government -- and many others -- does not see the importance of travelling into the cosmos; thus, they underfund and neglect the space agencies.
Ever since the dawn of man, we have had a frontier to explore, and an instinctual and economical need to explore it. In this age, that frontier is space -- there is no doubt we humans will be a space-faring species, but it is our current generation that will decide whether we will remain Earth-bound for only a few more decades or many more centuries. The future posterity will applaud our initiative or criticize our ignorance of the cosmos. I do not wish for the latter, which is why we must consider increased funding for NASA and all the space agencies of the world.
We need to fix problems here on Earth first, many say. The economy, the climate crisis, the tensions between our nations and religions, these all are situations that rightfully take precedence over space exploration. We generally see these troubles as independent of one another, but they are not. Fundamentally, all of these problems reflect society's lack of any ambition and optimism for the future. Space exploration changes that -- it gives us hope for a future in the stars. Space exploration spurs innovation in a plethora of different fields that could be used to solve our current problems. The Apollo Moon missions led to an unprecedented number of innovations, such as computer microchips and CAT scanners that drove our technology sector as the world's best. Space exploration exposes the next generation of students to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, stimulating them to strive for higher education -- a feat our government is so desperately trying to accomplish. Biology, chemistry, geology, math, physics, geometry, astronomy, astrophysics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering -- all are encompassed in what NASA does on a daily basis. With an emergence of new innovations and professionals, our economic woes would rapidly be remedied.
Critics of space exploration say, "How would space exploration solve, say, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?" But here lies space exploration's single greatest benefit: space unites us as a species. In space, we are more than just Muslims, Christians, Israelis, or Palestinians -- we are human. When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and footage of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong skipping across the surface was beamed to Earth, Americans exploded into jubilee. But something marvelous also occurred: It was not just Americans celebrating the feat. All across the world -- even some in the USSR -- people celebrated the first for mankind. If we are capable of landing on the moon, then we can solve any of the problems here on Earth.
Space exploration is too expensive, many say -- we should focus on spending more to help people than fund space agencies. If we take a look at the U.S. federal budget for 2012, 1.418 trillion dollars is allocated towards social programs throughout the Department of Health, Education, Housing, etc. However, compare that with the 925.2 billion dollars devoted solely on defense spending. NASA's budget for 2012 is 18.7 billion, a pitiful scrap left aside for more "beneficial" spending. But does the 700 billion we spend on defense really benefit society? Sure, the defense industry spurs innovation and jobs in the technology and aerospace industries, but NASA's work is primarily based on these industries as well. If NASA's budget were as large as the defense budget, the same industries would experience growth and innovation as they are now. Today, NASA's budget accounts for around half of a percent of the federal budget, or half a penny of every tax dollar. On a global scale, worldwide defense spending tops 1.6 trillion dollars. The global space spending, on the other hand, is an insignificant 71.5 billion dollars. But consider what 38 billion dollars has done: The International Space Station, the Hubble Telescope, the Mars rovers, and countless satellites and probes that scour the solar system that bring back valuable scientific data.
In front of a Congressional panel discussing the NASA budget, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the famed astrophysicist, ended his testimony by asking "How much would you pay for the universe?" Knowledge of the universe can be accessed with current technology and future innovations given that appropriate funding is allocated. But the ignorance remains. All plans for Mars explorations have been delayed to the 2030's, moon missions have been scrapped, and to top it off, 300 million dollars was cut from the planetary research branch of NASA for 2013. We can focus on problems here on Earth, but we cannot ignore the cosmos