U.S. should focus less on space, more on medical

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Many American kids dream of someday becoming an astronaut. The images of past space missions still excite thousands of students around the country as they dream of being able to take part in the exciting field of study that pushes beyond the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere and into the surrounding universe.

The U.S. has long been the pioneer of aerospace research and development, with many of the world’s advancements in space exploration technology coming from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) laboratories. Our country’s education system pushes students to pursue STEM-related careers so they can possibly work in aerospace engineering or another field that helps our country’s space exploration program.

Despite our country’s long history of excellence in space exploration, the billions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer money wasted on space exploration every year is a travesty and must be stopped.

According to the FY2020 Budget Briefing published by NASA, the 2020 budget provided by former President Donald J. Trump allocated $21 billion to space exploration, with $10.7 billion specially marked for research and development that prepares to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon “and beyond.” While the pithy catchphrase is exciting (and evocative of the Disney movie “Toy Story”), that is an absurd amount of money to be spending on an industry that has done very little to benefit everyday Americans.

We live in a society that is currently torn apart by racial conflict, bitterly divided over political allegiances and suffering from the ongoing effects of a pandemic. Yet we still think it is necessary to squander billions of dollars on space travel.

Some would argue it is for national prestige. I would counter by stating that it does more for our national image to heal long-standing racial and ethnic divisions. Others would say that it is critical for the advancement of aerospace research to continue to develop better space travel technologies, which can also have defense and civilian applications. But couldn’t one also point out that if we really want to help the average American, we should spend those billions of dollars on social welfare programs, medical research and actual defense development?

My critique is not meant to disparage all space exploration research. There have been numerous technologies developed through NASA that help everyday Americans, and I applaud the men and women who work to further our knowledge of outer space and try to find ways for humans to traverse the universe. There is a problem, however, in the proportion of attention and funds that space travel receives compared to other worthwhile scientific fields.

When our planet is crumbling before our eyes, I think it is important for us to try to find ways to preserve our God-given natural resources and make sure that everyone can benefit from the wonderful comforts brought by modern technology. Instead of spending money on finding a new galaxy, I would propose that money be used to find sustainable, clean energy sources that can bring electricity to impoverished families here in the U.S. (not to mention those around the globe who face unimaginable poverty).

When I see people around me wearing masks and hear stories about another person who lost a dearly loved family member to COVID-19, I think it is imperative that we devote more time and resources to medical research. The world is still dealing with the ongoing effects of a pandemic. Rather than spending money on developing new rockets that can take us to Mars, I propose we devote those resources to public health campaigns that can help stop the spread of disease.

My goal is not to heap criticism on those involved in space research. Rather, I hope to spark a healthy dialogue about the place that space exploration occupies in our national psyche. Is finding new moon rocks worth the billions of dollars that could have saved or improved lives? Will more American kids continue to work to become astronauts, or will they study to become environmental engineers and find better energy sources? Will they train to become doctors and nurses that help treat and prevent disease? I hope our country will seriously ponder the cost of outer space exploration, and what that means for our world.

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