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How Much Does Space Exploration Cost?
It is extremely hard to gauge the value of space exploration and travel based on cost. This question will be debated by experts, politicians and scientists far into the future. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Spends about 18.7 billion dollars a year on space exploration. While that sounds like a large number, you must ask yourself if that cost is worth the advancement of mankind. To put that number into perspective, Americans spent 110 billion dollars on fast food for 2009. Does that justify the cost of space exploration? Maybe not, but it should be mentally noted that the quest for knowledge in regards to space and how the universe works is relatively small in terms of cost.
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Why Explore Space?
Human beings by nature are explorers. We enjoy going to new places, discovering new things and seeking out knowledge. If this were not the case we might still be using clubs and thinking the Earth was flat. Exploring space not only fulfills a nature driven quality in humans, it also gives us the knowledge we need for advancement. Whether this knowledge provides us with new sources for energy, how the Universe came to be or the possibility of expanding humankind to new worlds, the benefits of space exploration are ten fold.
Currently, manned missions in space are limited to routine trips to the International Space Station. Astronauts and scientists are continually studying life in space and the effects it has on humans and plant life. These experiments are the stepping stones for a space fairing society. While satellites and robots serve a purpose in space exploration, they cannot compare to that of humans for one sole reason, situational awareness. With our current technology, it is extremely difficult to program situational awareness into the friendly little robots we have exploring the solar system. So ask yourself, wouldn't you like to see a sunset from Mars?
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Should This Money Be Spent Elsewhere?
To counter some of the possible benefits of space exploration, experts often bring up the question: Should money spent on space programs be used for something else? Space exploration can be considered by many to be a complete waste of money. This money could be used for many of the problems experienced here on our own planet, such as insufficient health care in many countries, green living, renewable resources, and many other things that could have a direct benefit for people on Earth. Focusing our monetary resources and time on our own planet and its inhabitants might be a more constructive approach. It can also be argued that we should learn more about Earth before spending our time and money on research elsewhere.
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Whether you are ready to hop the next shuttle to Alpha Centauri to do some space exploring or work on a field of solar panels, the 21st century is an exciting time to be alive. We are on the cusp of discovering how the Universe works and what we can do to be a sustainable civilization. Humans will always continue to explore and advance, no matter where our focus is directed. Let's face it, exploring space is awesome!
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