Expenses - What to chose at the expense of what?

What is the purpose of space exploration? Sure, I see the benefits of satellite use and how research in robotics that has led to technological advances in the health-care industry. But what now? Does landing on moon really give any benefit to humankind other than being able to say, ‘we can reach the moon’? What about our expeditions and efforts to Mars? What benefit does that give, other than to the space tourism industry where individuals spend around 40 million to experience the outer space? Don’t get me wrong, it truly is fascinating and inspirational, and useful in some sense too, but I find it hard to justify NASA’s budget of over 18.4 billion dollars (or CSA’s budget of $425 million) when there is SO much more in the world that requires more money than space exploration. The figure is actually $790 billion when adjusted for inflation and accounting for its fifty years of history.

I was discussing this with my husband and he was pointing out all the benefits and reasons behind research, more specifically those mentioned in this letter by NASA’s Associate Director of Science Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger to a Zambia based nun. Research makes sense to me and so does advances in scientific discovery but I was still not convinced with these arguments. My point- do you know how many hungry people in this world can be fed by 18.4 billion every year? (It only takes $1 or less to provide a healthy meal to a poor person in a third world country) And how many poor people suffering from critical diseases can be treated? How much it can benefit researches for finding cure for cancer and AIDS or a better system for food production and distribution, or on education programs in the developing world.

All that said, I retract my statement. After all, NASA’s budget only represents 0.5% of US Federal  funding. What  takes a major chunk from this is Defense, accounting for 20%, or more specifically, $684 billion per year (this figure is 21.8 billion per year in Canada)! I understand the importance of defense too, surely a country has to protect its citizens and provide security for them.  Perhaps this importance is how you justify spending $9 billion per month in the war in Iraq, with an initial outlay of up to $13 billion. (source) This does not even include the costs for returning forces to US and temporary occupation of Iraq. We mourned for the 4484 US soldiers who died there, but somehow justified the over 110,000 civilian deaths due to this conflict (according to the Iraq Body Count Project). (source)

I’ll save my rant on war for later, but I came across this interesting article which stated how Americans spend $586 billion dollars a year in gambling $27 billion on pizza, $1.5 billion on operating the White house, $88 billion on tobacco and $97 billion on alcohol. But we care about health of course, so then spend $313 billion a year for treatment of tobacco and alcohol health related medical problems.

As a side note- I use the word ‘we’ simultaneously with Americans since Canadians are not much far behind either, and also since most of the developed world has similar ideology to a great extent.

These may not be the most accurate figures but gives a pretty good idea of how our society thinks, and what we deem as important. It is a lot more common to hear debates on space exploration and defense budgets, but we probably do not think too much when ordering pizza for takeout or admiring the gardens at White house.

No one is asking that we live on a tight leash and think about our expenses every second of the day, as to how it portrays us as a society. Nevertheless, it is something not to be forgotten and be considered, especially when making big financial decisions. Money may be just a means of living our life with a particular standard, but for many, it is what classifies whether they live or die, or get the very basic necessities.

Posted on: Sunday, October 21st 2012 3:28:pm