Emily, at Slate, admits that she doesn’t share her kids’ enthusiasm for space exploration, in part because she fails to see how such exploration benefits mankind. Here is my response:Emily,
While I am an avid space enthusiast, I agree with your point that much of space exploration seems disconnected from the rest of society here on earth. Doing anything in space seems to involve massive amounts of money and effort that oftentimes seem like they could go to uses which would be much more directly beneficial to mankind, such as clean water, or fighting diseases. However, I think that has more to do with a poor methodology of space exploration that our society practices than anything else.
Thus far, space exploration has, for the most part, been funded by the government, and as such tends to be massively expensive, with quite nebulous motives and results. While this is how we do things currently it is not necessarily the only way to do things. A private space industry is beginning to rise up, with such companies as SpaceX, Armadillo Aerospace, and Bigelow, and while most of the talk of the initial motives is about space tourism, that is merely the first, closest, profitable step. Once cheaper ways to get to space exist, many new possibilities are available. A short list of the industries that private space will enable that would directly benefit mankind are:
Protein Crystal growing (enabled by zero G environments, incredibly useful to pharmaceutical research)
Next Day package delivery, anywhere in the world.
2-hour flight times, anywhere in the world.
Asteroid mining (platinum, the most valuable metal in industry, may be the second most prevalent metal in asteroids after iron)
In addition, private space would continue the incredible amount of communications, navigation, and weather surveillance breakthroughs we’ve had thanks to satellite technology, breakthroughs that are incredibly valuable, even with today’s massively expensive launch costs.
While there is intrinsic value in astronomy and pure scientific curiosity, don’t be discouraged that the value of space exploration is so far off from benefiting mankind, because it’s not.