Since ancient times, humans have dreamed of “reaching for the stars.” During the past few decades, men and women have taken the first steps into a new frontier of possibility: outer space. Yet people have wondered whether the benefits of exploring outer space outweigh the massive costs. I believe that they do. Space exploration has provided the world with amazing innovations in engineering, technology, and science, and promoted the unity and interconnectedness of humanity. Despite the risks, I believe that space exploration will lead us into a peaceful future sustained by new resources and technologies. Space exploration holds great possibilities for society and our future.
Already, the effort put into space exploration has produced innovations in engineering and technology. The space race led to one of the greatest explosions of technological advancement in history. In the 1950s, rocket scientists had only begun to venture past the stratosphere. In 1957, a rocket launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into outer space. By 1969, a spacecraft had landed on the moon and returned safely. By setting our sights on the moon, we made achievements that any other generation would have thought impossible; space programs around the world made the greatest strides in science and engineering ever known to humanity.
Reaching for the stars landed a man on the moon, but it also had a profound impact on our lives here on Earth. Approximately 60,000 products made by NASA, including memory foam, LEDs, and solar panels, are the result. Today, we rely on satellites for weather, navigation, television, communication, and much more. Without satellites and LEDs, cell phones, social media, television, and the world-wide communication we enjoy today would not be possible.
Exploring outer space has greatly expanded the realm of our scientific knowledge. During the Apollo missions, geologists discovered that the moon has a molten core, a fact that had before been a topic of speculation and debate. Moon rocks that astronauts collected had similar minerals to Earth and showed signs of impact, supporting the impact-collision theory of the moon’s formation.
As a result of the Hubble Telescope, Kepler spacecraft, and International Space Station, we have discovered new solar systems and galaxies. By observing other planets, astrophysicists have refined their theories on the mysteries of the universe and have discovered new anomalies, including dark matter and dark energy. In a short time, humans have learned far more about their universe than they ever dreamed possible. And, there is still so much more to learn.
Space exploration is more than just the next step in the field of science; it is the next era of human development. Over five hundred years ago, Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean and first explored the Americas. They discovered another part of their world; by venturing into outer space, I believe humanity will also find another part of our universe. Christopher Columbus realized that his people were not alone on Earth, just as I hope we will realize we are not alone in this galaxy. The universe is so much larger than this solar system and this one planet, it seems only logical that we are just one among many advanced civilizations. I hope that through space exploration we can enter another era in human history, the beginning of a future that will take humanity into outer space. As a New York Times journalist put it, “[Space exploration] is more than a step in history; it is a step in evolution.”
Since we began exploring outer space, humanity has become more connected as a species sharing our great planet, rather than people divided by borders and ethnicity. Seeing Earth from outer space unites humans in a way that nothing else can. It reminds us of the planet we all share and the many things we have in common, not what separates us. From outer space, Russians saw the United States for the first time, and Americans saw Russia for the first time. And suddenly, neither could remember why the countries had such conflict when they were really not that different. “We were flying over America and suddenly I saw snow, the first snow we ever saw from orbit. I have never visited America, but I imagined that the arrival of autumn and winter is the same there as in other places. And then it struck me that we are all children of our Earth,” cosmonaut Aleksandr Aleksandrov reflected.
When Apollo astronauts brought home images of Earth from the orbit of the moon, humans were amazed by the fragility and beauty of our planet. James Lovell, an Apollo 8 and 13 astronaut, recalled his awe when he gazed upon Earth from thousands of miles away: “Everything that I ever knew – my life, my loved ones, the Navy – everything, the whole world was behind my thumb.” Similarly, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong remarked, “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
From outer space, Earth seems so insignificant compared to the vastness of the galaxy. Suddenly, we remember that we are one people sharing one planet, and that our planet is only one of billions. When we realize the magnificence and the magnitude of the unexplored, our problems on Earth seem less significant. I believe that as we delve further into outer space, humans will become more united and will strive to evolve into a better people. As science writer Willy Ley put it, “a giant leap into space can be a giant leap toward peace down below.”
Opponents think the resources we put into exploring the universe could be better spent fixing the problems on Earth. But what they don’t realize is that space holds answers to many of these problems. While we are running out of resources on Earth, space holds infinite resources. Energy from the Sun or fuels from other planets could become new sources of energy, ones that don’t require vast amounts of fossil fuel or produce nuclear radiation. As our population expands, Earth is becoming too small for us. Confined to this world, we will constantly run into dead ends trying to fix our problems. In space, we will evolve past worrying about the problems of today.
Opponents of space exploration also say that the risk of sending humans into outer space is too great. They suggest we satisfy our curiosity using unmanned probes and satellites. But probes and satellites cannot do the work of humans. Centuries ago, European sailors risked their lives to explore the unknown. Today we must do the same in outer space. Although traveling into space is risky, one day it will be as safe as crossing the Atlantic is today.
We take risks every day. If we are not willing to take risks, we will never reach our full potential. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy firmly committed the nation to the goals of space exploration. He declared, “But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask; why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? … We choose to go to the moon and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” The measure of our capacity is the measure of our will to challenge ourselves to climb the next highest mountain and to be better than we are today. Using the same spirit in which John F. Kennedy encouraged travel to the moon, we must venture into deep space, setting our sights for Mars and beyond.
When I look at the stars, I dream of the future space exploration will bring. I believe it will usher in an era of peaceful cooperation. By expanding our minds and horizons, we can achieve anything we dream of. Humanity has done more than reach for the stars; we have flown among them. The future that space exploration will bring us holds great possibilities for humanity.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.