Is space exploration necessary?

Mason Hickok, Editor-in-Chief

The Eagle has landed,” uttered Neil Armstrong as the lunar vehicle touched down on the surface of the moon. The date was July 20, 1969, and America just made history: Humans stepped foot on the moon. President John F. Kennedy’s goal was achieved. The Apollo 11 mission was by all accounts a success; however, a human footprint on the moon’s surface was seized in December 1972. 

But now, the most powerful rocket ever built — The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Space Launch System (SLS) — began humanity’s journey back to the moon last week. The leadup to the Artemis 1 mission was muddled by an array of issues that delayed the vehicle’s previous two scheduled launches in August and September. SLS is the launch vehicle, the Orion spacecraft will be the vehicle humans will occupy and Artemis is the new Apollo. The Artemis program aims to bring humans out from low-Earth orbit and onto the moon. But the launch of SLS signals the fast approach humanity has taken to exploring the moon and deep space, an urgency that has been bolstered by the private sector. 

Much of NASA’s recent successes can be attributed to the private sector. Aerospace companies such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have spearheaded these efforts — the latter being arguably the most successful. But is all the money, time and effort worth it in the long run? 

To some, space is seen as an escape for billionaires — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have dominated the private sector of space travel. Companies such as Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Bezos’s Blue Origin have revolutionized the idea of “space tourism.” As mentioned, Musk and SpaceX have seen more of the, let’s say, plausible success when it comes to space travel in the private sector. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been the recent vehicle of choice for crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and the delivery of Starlink satellites. Recently, NASA awarded SpaceX a second contract to “further develop its Starship human landing system to meet agency requirements for long-term human exploration of the Moon under Artemis,” according to an article from Aerotech News. SpaceX has been a critical figure in NASA’s corner — the company has changed how rockets are reused and launched astronauts from the United States to space for the first time since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. The commercial space industry is booming. According to The Washington Post, “Morgan Stanley projects that the sector will rocket to more than $1 trillion by 2040, with growth concentrated in the commercial space sector.” While companies like SpaceX make space more accessible, NASA is allowed the time to focus research elsewhere. 

One venture that the organization has tirelessly worked to address is combating climate change. NASA’s Climate & Resilience Program “uses Earth observations to help communities adapt to our changing climate and inform public and private sector decision-making.” Climate change is one of our most formidable challenges. NASA has proven to be an entity the public can rely on. Sure, science occurs on the ISS, and the view of Earth from orbit helps, but work is also happening here on the surface. NASA scientists have participated in fieldwork in Alaska as part of the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). Scientists have “been studying the impacts of climate change on Earth’s far northern regions and how those changes are intertwined.” Additionally, NASA leaders participated in the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which ended on Nov. 18.

NASA is many things to many people. Although the organization has stood the test of time, seen history made several times and experienced a new age of travel, one thing is sure: We need space, and we need NASA.

To the future and to hearing, “Starship has landed.”