Is Spaceflight Really Worth The Cost?

By Rachel Gould - Engineering Student @ Jesus College, Cambridge

NASA’s government budget for the year 2020 stood at $22.6 billion. Many people viewing this figure may wonder why governments and companies around the word spend billions of dollars on something that is not strictly necessary and gives us little in return, rather than investing this into sectors that seemingly provide more valuable output. This article will consider a different side to this opinion, by outlining and discussing its uses and relevance in modern society.


Firstly, it is important to contextualise the sum of money spent by governments on spaceflight. It represents 0.48% of the US government budget, standing at less than 30 times smaller than the military share, and less than 50 times smaller than the healthcare share. It is also important to note that investment in this sector creates jobs and produces significant economic output, aiding the economy. However, is this justifiable? For example, with the UN yearly funding requirement at $25 billion, could this money be better spent by proving them with an 80% increase in budget each year?


In the same way as it does in any other scientific discipline, research drives technological development and gives rise to new technologies that have implications across a wide range of industries. Take for example the space race, which bought rapid advancements in telecommunications, computer science, and other sectors in a very short space of time.


Even outside of these periods of change, the aerospace industry has given us GPS, a modern society without GPS would look very different, it is a core technology used by billions on a daily basis. Other notable developments include cooling systems for medical use, breathing systems for firefighters, mechanical arms for surgeons based on spacecraft robots, and artificial hearts based on space shuttle engines. Notice that many of these have medicinal implications, demonstrating that the cutting-edge technology that is developed has a wide-reaching impact in other sectors.


Another use of space exploration is, less obviously, for the protection of the human race. The monitoring of ozone depletion and ice cap melting to help monitor and tackle climate change, arguably one of the biggest crises our planet has ever faced. An asteroid collision, even if on a smaller scale than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, could be detrimental without sufficient preparation and research. And if our planet becomes uninhabitable, our only option could be leaving Earth – space colonisation.


This may seem an unimaginable amount of time away, so why is billions being pumped into it now? Space colonisation cannot happen overnight; it requires years of research and preparation. However, is it necessary immediately, or is this just pouring money and resources down the drain? The aerospace industry is often framed as an organisation launching millions of pounds of equipment into deep space for seemingly little output, but it is important to consider the huge advantages that this sector provides to all members of society, not just scientists.


Further reading:

  1. Forbes: Is NASA worth the money we spend on it? https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/08/19/is-nasa-worth-the-money-we-spend-on-it/?sh=e3cce7864477

  2. The space review: Is space exploration worth the cost? https://www.thespacereview.com/article/1040/1#:~:text=Manned%20space%20exploration%20is%20absolutely,want%20for%20ourselves%20and%20children.

  3. Interesting engineering: Is it worth it? The costs and benefits of space exploration. https://interestingengineering.com/is-it-worth-it-the-costs-and-benefits-of-space-exploration