Yes, there are still many problems here on Earth that, quite frankly, we’re not spending a lot of time, effort, or capital to help address. But then is State funding of NASA’s budget really to blame, or even adding damage to an already beaten up planet? Astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson would beg to differ:
“The NASA budget is four-tenths of one penny on a tax dollar. If I held up the tax dollar, and I cut horizontally into it, four-tenths of one percent on a tax dollar does not even get you into the ink! So I will not accept a statement that says, ‘We can’t afford it!'” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
But what about rocket fuel? Surely we’d be spending a lot of that money in maintaining the industry itself. Asteroids would be the biggest contributor in rocket fuel as well! Liquid propellants come to a great advantage for rocket fuel due to its oxidizers – liquid oxygen, nitrogen tetroxide, and hydrogen peroxide. Alongside platinum, asteroids attain abundant amounts of the elements hydrogen and oxygen. With this, a single water-rich asteroid could potentially provide enough fuel for every single rocket we ever launched on Earth in history, and thus would become a major wealth driver in space exploration!
“[O]n asteroids, abundant quantities of hydrogen and oxygen can be used to create rocket fuel, the same stuff used by the Space Shuttle. This allows companies like Vivisat fuel spacetugs that will be used to keep satellites in their Geostationary slots, or fuel up your spacecraft before zooming off to Mars. The possibilities are endless!” – Planetary Resources
So how many asteroids are out there? According to Universe Today, “if you only consider those larger than 100 meters orbiting within the inner Solar System, there’s over 150 million.” This isn’t including the smaller asteroids, nor the amount of asteroids further away. Let’s add that up: $5 trillion x (+/-)150 million = A FREAKIN’ LOT! Imagine even a small percentage of all that accumulated wealth being used to help maintain a healthy Earth – energy, housing, food production, clothing, etc. etc. By not going to space would be one of the most devastating acts to our economy ever!
It’s hard to imagine that we’re now seriously discussing near-future plans to mine asteroids. For me, this was pure science-fiction when I was growing up. The idea of reaching Mars, colonizing it, and using nearby asteroids to help fuel a space economy was never in my mind as something to occur in my lifetime – and I’m only in my 20’s! And yet, here we are. This is our reality, and the future (say 10-30 years from now) is beyond comprehensible!
Becoming a spacefaring species will not only help protect our original home, Earth, but will provide many new homes as well on other planets, e.g. Mars. Despite plenty of unplucked wealth remaining on Earth, outside of the planet’s orbit there’s an unfathomable sea of wealth ready for us to discover. Remember, we are a wandering species with the innate drive to explore and discover new worlds. Exploring the cosmos is merely our next stepping stone.
So to say that we cannot afford going to space, my response is simple: the existence of our species and the existence of our planet rests on discovering new worlds outside of Earth’s orbit – we cannot afford NOT going to space!