Beginning with the first landing on the moon forty years ago by American astronauts, several NASA space flights followed with accounts of tragedies. Santucci (2005) narrates that since the United States started to send space shuttles with men in them (not robots), several astronauts lost their lives either on land or in the air. The Challenger exploded in the 1980s killing all of its crew. In 2003, the most recent one, the Columbia craft burned before it made its entrance to the earth’s atmosphere; all crew died. Lives were lost; bereaved families grieved; and enormous money was lost. If NASA of the United States (US singly mentioned because no reports were disclosed about the Russian cosmonauts casualties if ever) is bent on pursuing its space programs for their own motivations, it is highly recommended that robots should be put on board instead of men to go into the explorations. After all, robots are cheaper than the lives of humans and they can prove useful for some observation tasks (Whittington, 2006). Only money will be lost and the cherished lives of men are not put to waste.
The earth is consistently beset with numerous problems causing peacelessness: poverty, hunger, diseases, natural calamities, unpredictable catastrophies. Time and again, the various media carry the news about hungered people dominating the earth. The outbreak of flu pandemic is not a new phenomenon and can claim millions of lives as did almost a century ago in 1918-1919 in the case of a new H1N1 pandemic called the “Spanish flu” (WebMD, 2009). The recession in the United States did not only dramatically affect the Americans but generally affected the whole world economy.
Undoubtedly, science has advanced by leaps and bounds to the comfortable advantage of man in so many ways. On the other hand, although science has taken astronomical strides in technology to the benefit of man without undermining the accompanying apparent disadvantages to civilization, it is the belief of this discourse that man should not explore outer space.
At the apex of this counterargument to explore outer space is the safety of the astronauts followed by the unimaginable huge amount of money that each exploration requires. Money is what is needed to fire the engines of development on earth, not outside of it. Earthlings have more urgent needs of money for survival and peace. Sending astronauts to the outer space does not only make them the observers and experimenters, but they also become the objects of experiments and put at risk being the observed (Tort, 2005). The issue whether man should explore outer space is a matter of ethical relevance rather than any other subject of concern. The standpoint of Stephen Dick, the Chief historian of NASA, (Tort, 2005) which points to the ethical consideration of outer space exploration undergirds the stance of this paper. He poses his point, thus, “is it ethical to explore [outer space] when there is so much that needs to be done on earth?” Tort (2005) contends that if exploring outer space is directed at national or world security, then the lives of the astronauts at risk, risked, or lost in exchange for the exploration may become worth sacrificing because of the nobility of purpose.
There are always two sides to a coin. Arguments that favor exploration of the outer space are many. One of the strongest stance in favor of firstly, space exploration and secondly, by human astronauts is Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society led by physicist Frank Close. He concluded after the Society’s commissioned study that it is no substitute for human exploration as compared to a robot exploration stating thus, “profound scientific questions relating to the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond Earth can best – perhaps only – be achieved by human exploration on the Moon or Mars, supported by appropriate automated systems” (Whittington, 2006). Other arguments will be presented as much as possible along with the counterarguments that this discourse can cover and space considered. The paper of Tort (2005) has mainly served as reference for the arguments for his attention-grabbing examination of the issue viewing it from a rational and humane dimension.
Some quarters especially among scientists contend that space exploration has definite justifications beneficial to civilization. Tort (2005) has classified the rationales of outer space exploration into the utilitarian and non-utilitarian rationales. Directly, space exploration particularly the satellites make many things excitingly possible like “communication, earth observation, disaster management, positioning systems, environment monitoring, telemedicine and research facilities.” Through space exploration science could possibly construct, if not reconstruct, the origins of life from evidences that may be found in the process. In addition, either Mars or the Moon could be fit for human habitation or else a dumping ground for human wastes.
The studies and researches conducted by scientists are meant to explore aiming to explain and unearth more knowledge. However, these studies and researches do not pose as risks to human life; and that if ever, it is to the minimum risk. Exploration of the outer space, it must be understood, is not much in the position of using or sending robots and that any exploration makes use of human beings for obvious reasons. Since man feels, observes, analyzes, and experiments, it is still people who are preferred to be sent to man the spaceships and not robots. As Tort says, “if the only goal of the Apollo program had been science, would it have been acceptable to expose astronauts to a 50% chance of not returning?” Risking the lives of astronauts is too much expense.
The indirect rationale of the utilitarian view theorizes that some minerals or gases useful to man could create industries and corporations expanded, thereby create employment, and stimulate economy. The same belief is supported by Scarlato (2009) stating that “Space exploration can both increase civilizational resilience and yield important discoveries, furthering scientific understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.” The counterargument to this stance is plain: There was no concrete gain from the first space shuttle when it went to the moon forty years ago except man’s claimed “success” to have landed and set foot on the moon after expending real huge amount of money. The other gain from that space adventure is the calling of the return to the moon and now, including a possible exploration to Mars. In addition, it is claimed that it is through space exploration that developed “computers, textile, optics or mechanics” (Tort, 2005). The counterargument lies not just on the financial side of the exploration but that the options have not been exhausted on earth.
Tort (2005) continues that the non-utilitarian point of view looks at space exploration from four areas: fascination of space, cultural impact of natural resources, cultural impact and exotic cultures, and strategic rationale. First, the wildest imagination of man is triggered by exploring the outer space. Then businesses are vying for space activities in the name of prestige. People interested in the exploration have exciting thoughts of exotic cultures somewhere out there. Finally, the country in the world particularly from among the rich ones who may succeed in the exploration will put themselves as the most powerful country among countries of the world.
On the other hand, man’s fascination and prestige do not necessarily find their fulfillment in outer space exploration. Also, there is no certainty as to the availability of natural resources either on the moon or in Mars that may only result into the dismay of ambitious corporations and businesses such as Rutan and Musk. It is most dangerous to go for adventure in the search for exotic cultures by going into outer space exploration. To vie for the “most powerful” country through exploration is extremely non-sensible and only serving irrational scientific whims and desires.
All the arguments and justifications to continue the exploration of the outer space by human is downgrading man’s intellect and surely serving man’s overwhelming greed and pride. For those among the people who believe in God, man should intellectually reflect that the world’s great religions talk of the past, the present, and foretold the future. If at all, there is something out in space, on the moon or in Mars, they could have been told in the Holy Books of God. The conflict between science and religion is surely going beyond bounds. Man’s adventurism and pride can only be resolved through the persistent questions of religion and ethics. Science is within the realm of religion but science when directed to dwell beyond religion becomes a dangerous adventurism.
European Science Foundation (November 7, 2008) News Retrieved July 26, 2009, from <http://www.esf.org/research-areas/humanities/news/ext-news-singleview/article/esf-launches-humans-in-outer-space-book-focusing-on-humans-520.html>.
Santucci, P. (July 31, 2005) Exploring outer space Retrieved, July 26, 2009, from <
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Scarlato, B. (July 24, 2009) Ethical technology Retrieved, July 26, 2009, from <http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/scarlato20090724/>.
Tort, J. (April 21, 2005) Rationale of space exploration. Paper proposed to the Ethical Working Group on Planetary Protection and Exobiology of the European Space Agency Retrieved, July 25, 2009, from <http://portal.unesco.org/shs/en/files/8460/ 11223752131RationalesSpaceExplor.pdf/RationalesSpaceExplor.pdf> .
WebMD (2009) Flu guide Retrieved July 26, 2009, from <http://www.webmed.com/cold-and-flu/flu-guide/default.htm>.
Whittington, M. R. (March 10, 2006) On the human exploration of space Retrieved July 26, 2009, from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/20977/on_the_human_exploration_of_space.html?cat=9.