Is NASA’s $34 Billion Budget Worth It?

Data collection and software development spurred by space exploration can make life on Planet Earth far easier.

Written by Elizebeth Varghese
Published on Nov. 10, 2023
 Is NASA’s $34 Billion Budget Worth It?
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We are embarking upon one of the most exciting moments in human history, what I term stellar singularity. This shift represents the time and age where we see a robust spacefaring economy — a moment where technology, life and business operate together across the cosmic landscape.

People often forget that the technology developed to support space exploration, including our phones and our GPS machines, already permeates our lives. The material used in everyday lifestyle items like foam bedding, power tools and many others were created for space utility. And that’s just the beginning. 

4 Value Streams of Space Exploration

  1. Primary space research: Developing the technology to explore and understand space.
  2. Launch and logistics: Getting vehicles off the ground and operating in space.
  3. Data and applications: Creating and maintaining value-added services (satellite services, media, cell phone towers) that can benefit life on Earth.
  4. Direct to consumer: End-user access and analysis of space-originated data, for instance satellite data, to calculate estimates, measure and monitor changes. This can also include space tourism.

Through theory and practice, space technology supports access to a deepened understanding of climate change, enhancement and expansion of the global economy, and the development of a philosophical framework for global cooperation. 

Since 1976, NASA’s Technology Transfer Program has shared innovations developed for exploration and discovery with the public. One example: NASA has long worked to mitigate bone loss caused by long stays in space. That started with engaging biotechnologists to test osteoporosis treatments on mice in microgravity, to help astronauts and the rest of us here on earth. The results supported research that helped shape a new bone-loss treatment drug and others in development. 

The democratization of technology is also democratizing access to space. Outer space will soon serve as a medium to provide access to content and services. Ultimately, this will lead to the consolidation and integration of technology and services. The technology used to explore space creates other technologies and products. The boundaries between what we have traditionally thought of as space and non-space activities, for instance download and processing speeds, are increasingly blurring.

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How Space Exploration Will Affect the Global Economy

The global economy is about to boom with commercial space exploration on the horizon. Based on available data from mostly the United States and Europe, Bank of America expects the space economy to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.6 percent, growing 230 percent, to about $1.1 trillion in 2030 from $424 billion in 2019. Global collaboration and competition will affect the space economy in ways we cannot fully calculate. 

 

Job Creation

Multiple countries signed The Artemis Accords to consider how we return to the moon and establish a long-term lunar base. A base on the moon would provide a lunar gateway, generating many new jobs. The launchpad could be used for tourism purposes and as a tool in securing resources on the moon. There is much work to be done to determine what minerals are available on the moon. We are starting to make inroads into technology that can extract some of the minerals that are valuable and useful to us. 

 

Business Operations

Space will transform how businesses will operate. Companies are testing how materials react in microgravity in their development of novel drugs. Insurance companies will begin using real-time satellite data to measure risk around the globe and will be able to expedite natural disaster claims based on satellite sensors. Insurtech companies provide free data sets for insurance companies to base quotes off of. Biotech companies plan to leverage micro gravity to execute precise layering in an artificial retina designed to heal blindness. 

 

Software Applications

Outside of hardware, machines and processes, scientists developed countless software applications for use in space. Those, in turn, can be applied for the betterment of the earthbound. Remote sensing satellites comprise approximately one-third of all operational satellites currently in orbit, and we can measure only more than half of the essential climate variables from space. This is incredible progress if we put it to use cooperatively.

 

Data Collection

Additionally, the capacity to collect information about adverse weather conditions that might impact not only homes but also crops — or the ability to foresee potential droughts or floods, which we can track using remote sensing satellite data — is a game-changer. We’re obtaining more critical data daily on if preventative actions to slow climate change are working and to what extent. 

Our ability to observe Earth’s orbit variation in correlation to the causes of climate change have provided a deeper understanding of the issue. Satellite imaging of forest fires and oceanographic data help detect history, patterns, and change in intensity. The prediction of areas where climate change will progress at a faster rate will allow time for safety precautions to be taken and implemented quickly. Optimizing efficiency of green energy sources via remote-sensing technology can be captured by satellites. We can monitor carbon dioxide emissions from cars and pinpoint forest fire locations to expedite the process of putting them out. 

Additionally, they provide critical data on how effective preventative actions to slow climate change are and to what extent.
 

Reducing Poverty

Space technology is able to create a more equitable world by reducing global poverty. Energy deficit is one of the key factors affecting social and economic progress. Lack of electricity for lighting, energy to pump water, power to allow large-scale manufacturing and fuel to enable transportation and movement of goods and services all impede progress.

Microwaves may be used as vehicles to harvest solar energy from space. Satellites in space collect more energy than any technology used on Earth due to the lack of atmospheric interference. Project Cassiopeia consists of a series of strategically placed satellites in a high Earth orbit with the promise of harvesting solar energy and bouncing it back to Earth. These satellites could produce all of the world’s energy by 2050, though downsides include the expensive cost of launching satellites into space and the carbon dioxide it would create.

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Peaceful Collaboration

A revised Outer Space Treaty needs to consider the designation of particular management areas or protected zones to mitigate the impact in advance. Next, we should consider developing a comprehensive environmental protection protocol to outline our procedural approaches, which might have an impact due to direct or indirect contamination.

Spacefaring and its associated technology have  created an interconnected world.

We also need to establish codes of conduct appropriate for different celestial bodies and environments, including subsurface and orbital environments. These will need elaboration on how these may apply to various categories of activities and other sectors, from scientific and public activities to commercial and industrial. Finally, there will always be the question of ownership and property boundaries. 

Space is Global Commons. Now we need to move into an era of greater symbiosis, where we realize that it’s not just about collaboration, but also about synergies of working together. 

Spacefaring and its associated technology have created an interconnected world. The technology developed during spacefaring connects loved ones separated by time zones and vast seas; provides under-resourced communities opportunities for mobility; and enables values that power inclusion to people working for change. We should continue to accelerate space technology and the space economy to create technology that reaffirms human dignity and makes life better for everyone.

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