For and against space exploration – is space research a waste of time?

28th April 2021 | News

Written by explorer and environmentalist Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE and science journalist Piers Bizony for the IET’s E&T magazine in October 2017.

This house believes that in a time of collapsing national economies and worldwide austerity measures, investment in space is a bad use of resources.

For: Investing in further scientific exploration of space is a waste of resources:

The amount of money being spent on space research is in the billions and it has achieved extraordinarily little except for a bit of improved technology which would probably have come about anyway by other means. Whether or not global warming is real, and whether or not we are facing imminent catastrophe on this planet, we are certainly facing serious issues here on Earth, and they are getting worse as we simply watch them. These include the disappearance of the rainforest, the pollution of the oceans, and increased desertification of an area about the size of England every year. These are the general crises that are coming to the planet, quite apart from the economic ones we’re so obsessed with at the moment.

Against: Investing in further scientific exploration of space is a good use of resources that will ultimately help to stimulate global economies

We’re living in a tremendously virtual age where many young people think that all of the discoveries that they need to make will happen on their laptops and smartphones. For me, it’s more important than ever to reintroduce a sense of physical exploration, to get out there into strange, hostile and challenging environments. There is probably 99 per cent of deep oceans and all of space to left explore, and it is only by putting humans into new physical locations that we’ll be able to make genuine and crucial scientific discoveries. Human presence in science is almost the definition of science. It’s a human endeavour to gather knowledge, not just a machine endeavour to gather data. The robots we send into these environments don’t know what to look for, and above all they don’t know how to be surprised by something like the strange glint of a rock.

By The IET’s Engineering and Technology magazine 

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