Space Exploration: Wastage Of Resources Or Seed Of Development?

Just a few months ago, billionaire techpreneur Elon Musk launched the long awaited Falcon Heavy rocket into space. The rocket was the most powerful rocket to be launched into space ever since NASA ended its Apollo space mission to the moon. With a whopping 27 engines, Falcon Heavy was indeed a mammoth and it was no wonder that this launch made headlines.
This lead to the awakening of a dormant argument which had long been on the lips of humans ever since the advent of space travel in the mid-20th century: was it really worth it? In retrospect, was it really worth all the hustle and bustle?
Countless groups of people from across the global spectrum have argued tirelessly that humanity is wasting useful time and resources going to space at the peril of man. Or more precisely, in the words of Obama, “we don’t lack for problems to solve here on the ground!’  There are humanitarian crises worldwide in countries like Yemen and Syria, in addition to poverty. Let’s not forget the menace of climate change too!

But let’s be factual, most of these problems stem as a result of inadequate policies, not a lack of funding. An example is the humanitarian crises worldwide. Throughout history, we can observe that it was political turmoil and internal conflicts that lead to this. Wars in countries like Yemen, Congo or Syria erupted due to political reasons thereby leading to humanitarian crises. It had nothing to do with a lack of funding. 
Climate change can only be eradicated if there are adequate policies in place to curb the widespread emission of greenhouse gases. 
 We are being short sighted if we assume that the space programme was all about searching for alien life or exploring possibly habitable planets apart from mother earth. Such notions aren’t just myopic but show that many people are only aware of the superficial aspect and aren’t well versed with the sheer amount of benefits humanity has derived from space flight.
Vast technological improvements have occurred in various fields such as agriculture and climate monitoring due to ground breaking research and innovations carried out by scientists specifically for space missions. Let’s get our facts right! Before a shuttle is shot into outer space, the various stages its construction undergoes produce tones of spinoff technologies that affect our lives positively. Air travel wouldn’t have grown to such a colossal scale were it not for space travel and neither would supercomputing. 

From LED light bulbs to powdered lubricants to solar panels, there is virtually no aspect of our daily lives that hasn’t been affected positively by the groundbreaking researches done in the field of space exploration.  In fact, the benefits of space exploration have become so omnipresent that the average human being doesn’t even appreciate its worth anymore.
The truth is, the only way for humanity to progress technologically is by setting extraordinary goals that scientists can work towards. Many great achievements were catalyzed by iconic leaders or organizations that people devoted their unbridled energies to achieve something extraordinary, in the process creating countless jobs, scientific discoveries and spinoff technologies. 
A perfect example of the aforementioned is the beginning of the space race in the US in 1960s. The then president JF Kennedy challenged American scientists to land a human on the moon by the end of the decade but at the time, the United States hadn’t yet even developed the technology to reach outer space talk less a planetary body thousands of miles away from the earth. 
Kennedy’s speech pretty much sums it all up. He said ‘we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.’

 It’s noteworthy however that this doesn’t mean that developing countries (Nigeria for example) should divert all their resources towards space programmes or scientific fileds at the expense of a failing economy and other sectors. The most sound and logical thing to do is to get ones priorities straight by way of multitasking and proper planning. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
The space programme had its fair share of ups and downs. Many lives were lost and so many resources wated! But the journey towards the Promised Land is full of sacrifice. It’s never easy and there will be disappointments. We have to remember that the darkest hour is just before dawn!
Working towards launching spacecrafts into outer space requires man to toil and moil, but when carried out at the right conditions, the dividends are infinite! A seed planted today might not blossom overnight. But let’s not forget that every tree was once a seedling.
written by: 
400 Level Mechanical Engineering, University Of Ilorin.

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