Space Exploration Pays Off Here on Earth

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Space exploration may focus our attention "out there", but it pays dividends here on Earth. For example, Mars missions require a lot of research into life sciences, which benefits medical science, too. NASA

Every so often someone asks the question, "What good does space exploration do for us here on Earth?" It's a question that astronomers and astronauts and space engineers and teachers answer nearly every day. The answer is complex, but it can be boiled down to the following: space exploration is done by people who are paid to do it here on Earth. The money they receive helps them buy food, get homes, cars, and clothing.

They pay taxes in their communities, which helps keep schools going, roads paved, and other services that benefit a town or city.

In short, all the money they get is spent here on Earth, and it spreads out into the economy. In short, space exploration is an industry and a human endeavor where the work helps us look outward, but helps pay the bills right here on the planet. Not only that, but the products of space exploration are knowledge that gets taught, science research that benefits a wide variety of industries, as well as technology (such as computers, medical devices, etc.) that are used here on Earth to make life better.

Space Exploration Spin-offs

Space exploration touches our lives in more ways than you think. For example, if you've ever had a digital x-ray, or a mammogram, or a CAT scan, or been hooked up to a heart monitor, or had specialized heart surgery to clear blockages in your veins, you've benefited from technology first built for use in space.

Medicine and medical tests and procedures are HUGE beneficiaries of space exploration technology and techniques. Mammograms to detect breast cancer are another good example.

Farming techniques, food production and the creation of new medicines are also impacted by space exploration technologies. This directly benefits all of us, whether we are food producers or simply food and medicine consumers.

Each year NASA (and other space agencies) share their "spinoffs", reinforcing the very real role that they play in everyday lives.

Talk to the World, Thanks to Space Exploration

Your cell phone uses processes and materials developed for space-age communication. It talks to GPS satellites circling our planet, and there are other satellites monitoring the Sun that warn us of upcoming space weather "storms" that could affect our communications infrastructure.

You're reading this story on a computer, hooked up to a worldwide network, all made from materials and processes developed for sending science results around the world. You may be watching television later, using data transferred via satellites from around the world.

Entertain Yourself

Do you listen to music on a personal device? The music you hear is delivered as digital data, ones and zeroes, the same as any other data delivered via computers, and the same as the information we get from our orbiting telescopes and spacecraft at other planets. Space exploration required the ability to transform information into data that our machines can read. Those same machines power industries, homes, education, medicine, and many other things.

Explore Distant Horizons

Travel much?

The airplanes you fly in, the cars you drive, the trains you ride in and the boats you sail on all use space-age technology to navigate. Their construction is influenced by lighter materials used to build spacecraft and rockets. Although you may not travel to space, your understanding of it is enlarged by the use of orbiting space telescopes and probes that explore other worlds. For example, every day or so, new images come to Earth from Mars, sent by robotic probes that deliver new views and studies for scientists to analyze. People also explore the sea bottoms of our own planet using craft influenced by the life support systems needed to survive in space.

What Does all This Cost?

There are countless examples of space exploration benefits that we could discuss. But, the next big question people ask is "How much does this cost us?"

The answer is that space exploration may cost some money, but it pays for itself many times over as its technologies are adopted and used here on Earth. Space exploration is a growth industry and gives good (if long-term) returns. NASA's budget for the year 2016, for example, was $19.3 billion, which will be spent here on Earth at NASA centers, on contracts to space contractors, and other companies that supply whatever it is that NASA needs. None of it is spent in space. The cost works out to a penny or two for each taxpayer. The return to each of us is much higher.

As a part of the general budget, NASA's portion is less than 1 percent percent of the total federal budget in the U.S. That's less than military spending, infrastructure spending, and other expenses the government takes on. It gets you many things in your daily life you never connected to space, from cellphone cameras to artificial limbs, cordless tools, memory foam, smoke detectors, and much  more.

For that sliver of money, NASA's "return on investment" is very good. For each dollar spent on NASA's budget, somewhere between $7.00 and $14.00 is returned back into the economy. That's based on the income from spinoff technologies, licensing, and other ways that NASA money is spent and invested. That's just in the U.S. Other countries engaged in space exploration very likely see good returns on their investments, as well as good jobs for trained workers.

Future Exploration

In the future, as humans spread out to space, the investment in space exploration technologies such as new rockets and light sails will continue to spur jobs and growth on Earth.

As always, the money spent to get "out there" will be spent right here on the planet.