Should we be spending money on space exploration?

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Question: 

Hello, I'm in the 8th grade in Ontario's Gifted Enrichment Program. I am researching for my Independent Study Project which I chose to be about space. My question is, "In your opinion, considering the current issues on Earth, should we be spending money on space exploration? If so, should we be spending more or less money than we already are?"

Answer: 

I should be clear that economics cannot provide an answer, but it can help us to organize our thoughts about an answer. The economic concept that is most helpful in thinking about this question is "opportunity cost." That is, the best way to value any activity is what we must give up to purchase it.

According to the NASA website https://www.planetary.org/space-policy/nasa-budget the budget for the agency in 2021 was $23.3 billion, which is 0.5% or 1/200 of total government expenditures. Another way to think about this is that it cost each of the 329 million people in the United States about $71 dollars. So the question in some sense is whether the value we get from the space program is bigger than that cost.

You asked my personal opinion. I think that this is a pretty good investment. First, I think that expanding scientific knowledge is worth it whether it offers practical applications or not. Second, technologies developed for exploring space may have practical uses here on Earth, so knowledge gained solving problems related to the space program may generate payoffs in the future. Third, there may be other practical discoveries from space exploration that we cannot anticipate now, but will show up later.

Should we be spending more? I don't know. Answering that question would require a deeper dive into what NASA does with its $23.3 billion, and what the incremental value of additional expenditures would be.

Answered by:
Dr. Joshua Rosenbloom
Professor
Department Chair
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Last updated on January 30, 2022