By Narrelle Gilchrist
Since ancient times, humans have dreamed of “reaching for the stars.” During the past few decades, men have taken the first steps into a new frontier of possibility: outer space. Yet, people have wondered whether exploring outer space truly has more benefits than costs. I believe that it does. Space exploration has impacted the world at large through innovations in engineering, technology, and science and by promoting unity and interconnectedness throughout humanity. Despite the risks, I believe that space exploration will lead us into a peaceful future of exploration sustained by resources from outer space. Space exploration holds great meaning for our society and for our future.
Already, the effort put into space exploration has produced innovations in engineering and technology. The space race led to one of the greatest outbreaks of technological advancement in history. At the beginning of the 1950s, rocket science had only begun to venture past the stratosphere. In 1957, a rocket launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into outer space. By 1969, a spacecraft had landed on the moon and returned safely to Earth.
Reaching for the stars landed a man on the moon, but it also had a profound impact on our lives at home. Approximately 60,000 products made by NASA, including memory foam, LEDs, and solar panels, are used by the general public. Today, satellites are relied on for weather, navigation, television, communication, and much more. Without satellites and LEDs, cell phones, social media, television, and the world-wide communication we enjoy today would not be possible. Without the efforts put into space exploration, technology would not be nearly as advanced as it is today and our daily lives would be very different.
Exploring outer space has greatly expanded the realms of our scientific knowledge. During the Apollo missions, geologists discovered that the moon has a molten core, a fact that had before been subject to speculation and debate. Moon rocks that astronauts collected consisted of similar minerals to those on Earth and showed signs of impact, supporting the impact-collision theory of the moon’s formation. Through the Hubble Telescope, the Kepler spacecraft, and the International Space Station, we have discovered new solar systems and galaxies far away from Earth. By observing other planets, astrophysicists have refined their theories on the mysteries of the universe and have discovered new anomalies, including dark matter and dark energy. In a short time, humans have learned far more about their universe than they ever dreamed possible.
Space exploration is more than the next step in the field of science; it is the next era of human development. About five hundred years ago, Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean and first explored the Americas. They discovered another part of their world. By venturing into outer space, I believe that humanity will discover another part of our universe. Christopher Columbus realized that his people were not alone on Earth, just as I hope we will realize we are not alone in this galaxy. The universe is so much larger than this solar system and this planet, and it seems only logical that we are just one among many advanced civilizations. I hope that through space exploration we can enter another era in human history, the beginning of a future that will take humanity into outer space. As a New York Times journalist put it, “[Space exploration] is more than a step in history; it is a step in evolution.”
Since humans began exploring outer space, humanity has become more connected as a people sharing a great planet, rather than a race divided by borders and ethnicity. Seeing Earth from outer space unites humans in a way that nothing else does. It reminds them of the planet that we all share and the things that we have in common, not what separates us. From outer space, Russians saw the United States for the first time, and Americans saw Russia for the first time. And suddenly, none of them could remember why the two countries had such conflict when they were really not that different. “We were flying over America and suddenly I saw snow, the first snow we ever saw from orbit. I have never visited America, but I imagined that the arrival of autumn and winter is the same there as in other places, and the process of getting ready for them is the same. And then it struck me that we are all children of our Earth,” cosmonaut Aleksandr Aleksandrov reflected. When Apollo astronauts brought home images of Earth from the orbit of the moon, humans were amazed by the fragility and beauty of Earth. James Lovell, an Apollo 8 and 13 astronaut, recalled the awe he felt when he gazed upon his home planet from thousands of miles away: “Everything that I ever knew – my life, my loved ones, the Navy – everything, the whole world was behind my thumb.” Similarly, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong remarked, “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” From outer space, Earth seems so insignificant compared to the vastness of the galaxy beyond. Suddenly, we remember that we are one people sharing one planet, and that our planet is only one of billions. When we realize the magnificence and the magnitude of the unexplored, our problems on Earth seem so insignificant and petty. I believe that as we delve further into outer space, we will become only more united and we will strive to evolve into a better people. As Willy Ley put it, “a giant leap into space can be a giant leap toward peace down below.”
Opponents of space exploration think the resources we put into exploring the universe could be better spent fixing the problems we have here. But what they don’t realize is that space holds the answer to many of these problems. While we are running out of resources on Earth, space holds an infinite amount of resources. Energy from the Sun or fuels from other planets could become our new source of energy, one that doesn’t require a vast amount of fossil fuel or nuclear radiation. As our population expands, Earth is suddenly becoming too small for us. Confined to this world, we will constantly run into dead ends trying to fix our problems. In space, we will evolve past worrying about the problems of today.
Opponents of space exploration also say that the risk of sending humans into outer space is too great. They suggest we satisfy our curiosity using unmanned probes and satellites. But without the human touch, space will not be within our finger tips. Probes and satellites cannot do the work of humans. Centuries ago, European sailors risked their lives to explore the unknown. Today we must do the same in outer space. Traveling to outer space is risky because it is rare and vastly unexplored, but one day it will become no more risky than crossing the Atlantic is today. We take risks every day. If we are not willing to take risks, we will never be able to reach the full potential of our capability. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy firmly committed the nation to the goals of space exploration during a speech at Rice University. He declared, “But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask; why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic?…We choose to go to the moon 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, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
When I look at the stars, I dream of the future space exploration will bring us. I believe that space exploration will usher in a new era of peaceful cooperation and unity unlike any we have seen before. By expanding our minds and our horizons, we can achieve anything we dream of. Humanity has done more than reach for the stars; we have flown fly among them. The future that space exploration will bring us holds great possibility for me and for humanity.
1. Pasachoff, Jay M., Ph.D. Astronomy. Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.
2. “Space Exploration.” Wikipedia. August 19th, 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. August 24th, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_exploration
3. “Space Exploration.” The Greatest Quotes. January 24th, 2009. August 24th, 2013.
Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics.