Every year more than 10 million children die, the majority from preventable causes. One hundred and ten million children worldwide do not have access to schooling. Ten thousand women die every week from childbirth. Two million people will die of AIDS this year in Africa alone. There are about 4 million pounds of space junk floating around us at all times.
If my inclusion of that last figure left you shaking your head then you’ll likely agree with what follows.
Space junk, most of it leftovers from human activity in outer space, orbits at speeds that can turn a harmless fleck of paint into a threatening projectile.
The danger posed by space junk means that space agencies worldwide are tracking over 8,927 bits of orbital detritus. Simply put, this means that a lot of money is being dedicated to watching floating galactic garbage.
The idea that something as trivial sounding as space junk is occupying the time of some of our brightest minds, and eating up funds is troubling, and points to a much bigger question; what are we getting from being in space at all?
Are there not more pressing issues? Can we not find better ways for the world’s finest minds to spend their time?
According to UN statistics, about (US) $79 billion is spent on foreign aid by the world’s 22 wealthiest countries. Compare that with about (US) $50 Billion being spent on space exploration and development.
When much of the world around us is struggling to survive, is it even ethical to be spending this much time and money on exploring the cosmos?
Last year, Canada allocated $300 million to space spending (part of this dedicated to the galactic trash patrol), and $3.74 billion to foreign aid. While the latter sum may seem to dwarf the former, $300 million is still a lot of money. And the fact remains that Canada’s Official development spending index (ODA) is only about 0.27. That means that according to the UN we are only spending about one quarter of one percent of our gross national income on foreign aid. Far below the 0.7 percent target set at the United Nations General Assembly in 1970.
Given that the wellbeing of all life on this planet is inextricably interwoven, would it not serve us better to invest our tax dollars in global processes which promote political stability while encouraging the eradication of disease, hunger, poverty and environmental degradation?
Granted some of us benefit from space exploration. Many products and gadgets that we use daily were developed for space exploration, (the Tang and Teflon factor). Many of the projects occurring under the auspices of space exploration are undertaken by private contractors and companies, and create jobs and growth. And yes, those pictures of Mars are neat-o and floating around in zero gravity looks like a hell of a good time. But aren’t we missing something in all this?
The astronomical costs of developing technologies for use hundreds of kilometers above the earth’s surface seems counterintuitive at a time when the health of the planet and the life it sustains is at risk.
Do we really value gadgets above social responsibility? Adventure above human life?
Let’s stop creating and chasing space junk through the heavens and put our human and financial capital toward creating heaven here on earth.