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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 14:36 GMT
Should men and women still go into space?
The first crew of the International Space Station entered the platform on 2 November, 2000.

In all, 79 people have either visited or lived on the ISS, including the world's first space tourist, millionaire businessman Dennis Tito.

The American space agency is celebrating the first anniversary of the station's occupation as a milestone in space history.

But does it still make scientific and economic sense to put men and women into space? Is the $40bn plus it will cost to have this gleaming "star" above our heads money well spent? Tell us what you think.

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Our solar system which then by definition includes the earth has a finite life span. If humans want to survive beyond the death of our sun, we will by necessity have to travel through space to somewhere else. The ISS is setting the scene for our future survival.
Matt, South Africa

Not everything in space needs to be justified by science alone

Kevin Parkin, US/UK
I would like to think that people's desire to explore and understand the universe in which we live motivates us to continue a meaningful space effort. There will always be people so absorbed in their own individual world that they feel the infinitesimal cost is better spent elsewhere. Having said that, younger people are generally more aware of the wider world than their parents, and have higher aspirations for space. The burden falls on governments to realise this and revitalise their ailing programs. As for the space station, not everything in space needs to be justified by science alone. Because the cost of launch is so high, NASA will struggle to maintain the station and I fear budget cuts will reduce it to a symbolic gesture in space. We really need it to be more than that, and the first step to rectifying that situation is to invest in much cheaper ways of getting into space.
Kevin Parkin, US/UK

Those who think that the money should be spent on handouts to feed the people, need to remember that the people need "food" for their spirits as well. They also tend to forget that those $40 billionn plus eventually goes TO people, not just to the administrators, astronauts, and engineers, but also to the factory workers, security guards, and janitorial staff. And through all of them it gets distributed further into the economy, to the grocery stores, hair cutters, clothing stores, and so forth. Many of those people also volunteer their time and moneys to organizations providing food and shelter in their communities. Try "not" spending that money, and watch the poverty and hunger that ensues. The only way to raise the quality of life to the poorest of the poor, is to raise the quality of life of everybody else. Space does that.
K.C., Houston, USA

It's great to dream, but let's face it - we're not really going anywhere. Colonising other planets is a charmingly romantic notion, yet when the Sun goes, it will take all its planets with it, including the other two potentially inhabitable. Since we can't reach other planetary systems, the best we could do is float around in claustrophobic boxes - a pretty dire alternative to extinction. The fault - and the solution of our Earthly problems is, in the words of the Bard, "not in the stars, [...]but in ourselves".
Raymond Chisholm, UK

There is more money in space than people are aware of. The only problem is that if you bring back a "ship" filled with a metal/mineral that market would collapse. We live in a world that relies on a restricted supply. Why fund expensive space technology if it means money becomes worthless?
James D, U.K.

The "Sun's going to blow up" argument is an invalid one. The Sun is going to last roughly another 5 billion years. The dinosaurs didn't last even close to that, and we haven't been around anywhere near as long as the dinosaurs were. In 5 million years, when our Sun dies, humankind will be long gone (extinct), whether we colonised space or not. In the "short term", our technological expertise is going to either kill us or save us. The ISS is one small step towards saving us. It's the opposite end of the scale to improving the way we can kill people with science.
Steve Swallow, UK

They said it best in the line from the movie "The Matrix". "Human beings are a disease. A cancer of this planet. They move to an area and multiply, sucking up all the natural resources available" (or words to that effect) We should cure ourselves of cancers like war, hunger, poverty and evil before spreading out into the cosmos.
John, UK

It is not as if the money spent on the space station and human space flight is being burnt in space. The money is used to keep engineers and scientists employed and goes back to the economy. They money is also used for scientific research which eventually benefit us all. Even though everyone has a right to voice an opinion, I think that those who say that human space flight and the ISS is a waste of resources may need to adjust their perspective and look at "the Big Picture".
Richard D., Mauritius

Consider the Australian analogy. In the era of James Cook the British government funded his expeditions for both scientific curiosity and to discover resources in case known supplies and routes became unavailable. The result was the colonization of the Australian continent even though the economic necessity was at the time not apparent. Establishment of infrastructure in that remote part of the "world" provided new opportunities. The slow and often poorly directed technocratic expansion into space today is the best that can be expected until some sort of burst of private initiative such as lower cost transport systems, tourist business and material resources market development for unique commodities. The social impact of "space colonization" governance will be determined by those who are probably today's anti-space sceptics.
John Sved, Germany

Does it make sense to send men into outer space? ABSOLUTELY!! There are a multitude of discoveries, and advances due to this effort over the short span of 40 years. The point is to create a safe mode of exploration of space and other planets, with discoveries paying dividends well into the future. The "lucky" few will be replaced by the many; its just a matter of time.
Matthew DeRosier, USA

Space exploration is essential for the future of humanity. Exploration, discovery, and knowledge will be the fuel that powers future generations. Every nation needs space resources to create a higher living standard for its peoples and a strong industrial base. From ATM transactions to weather forecasts and communication, space is a inescapable part of our everyday world.
Frank Sietzen, USA

In an earlier comment, someone gave the old argument - How can we invest in space when there are so many problems in the world, and so many hungry people? Haven't there always been problems in the world? Should we have sacrificed technological advances in a futile effort to create utopia? On the contrary! Exploration has improved the lives of billions of people around the world. The impact of space exploration will be far greater. The question should be - How can we solve the problems of the world without investing in the human exploration of space? ANSWER: We Can't!
Chris, Boston, USA

How refreshing to see the views so far on this forum. Whilst I agree that the money in the short term could be spent on the issues today, a better understanding of space will allow us to live and survive as a race for longer, and satisfy the human instinct to explore and discover. The benefits of space research are benefiting mankind already - medicinal research in space, crop research, material research, and so on.
Graham, UK

With all that's happening on Earth at present, space is increasingly looking the preferred option.
Helen, UK

The survival of the human race depends on our ability to keep planet earth fit for human habitation. That's where the effort should go. Not towards a means of escape for a lucky few.
Ben, Netherlands

Having a space programme could encourage kids to become scientists

Ahmed Raja, UK
Going into space and having a space programme could be useful in encouraging kids to become scientists. It seems that everyone wants to become businessmen, and lawyers, but the problems of global warming, renewable energy sources etc will only be solved if people are encouraged to take interest in science.
Ahmed Raja, UK

Manned space exploration has given us better non-stick pans and ballpoint pens that work upside-down. What a bargain!
Susan Marshall, UK

Space flight is an inspiring endeavour

Brian O'Halloran, Ireland
Of course manned space flight should continue. However, NASA's goal should be that of exploration rather than sticking around in low Earth orbit. In the overall scheme of things, the budget for ISS is a pittance; calls for the winding up of the space programme 'to feed the starving millions' have been around since the days of Apollo. The budget is a fraction of what was spent on Apollo and guess what, there are still starving millions! Space flight is an inspiring endeavour, so much so that it guided me into my current line of work (professional astronomer).
Brian O'Halloran, Ireland

The space station is a complete waste of money. As an astrophysicist, I can say with confidence that very few people in the scientific community find any scientific value in the project (and we wish we could!). Everything that might be learned Mir has already taught us. The ISS exists for two reasons: to justify the shuttle programme given that rockets are cheaper and as a PR exercise that congressmen can relate to. Mankind may have to seek a future in space, but the ISS is a monetary black hole that will draw funds away from truly innovative programmes that could actually pull that future closer.
James Wadsley, Canada/Australia

Space endeavours have paid many dividends

Carlos Grodsinsky, USA

Manned exploration of space is and will be the pioneering form bringing the world together - it transcends individual political agendas. Now, more than ever in our planet's history, things that bring us together only strengthen our future prosperity. The historical record shows how space endeavours and manned exploration of space have paid many economic, humanitarian, and world community dividends to those that have dreamed its reality.
Carlos Grodsinsky, USA

Dateline 1492: Is the cost of equipping the Santa Maria for Christopher Columbus to sail out into the Atlantic money well spent? What possible good will come of it? Everyone knows there's nothing there except the edge of the world.
Bryan, UK

It's amazing how many people are obsessed with the human species outliving the planet on which it evolved. What ego humanity has! By all means, explore space, ultimately colonise it. It won't make much difference in the long run. The Universe will be around for a long time after that fleeting, insignificant blip called humanity is long gone: be that still on Earth, or further afield. We're mortal - get over it!
RF, England

If the human race exists in multiple locations it becomes much harder for us to wipe ourselves out

Mark Dodsworth, Australia
There's always the old arguments about 'Because its there' and 'What if they'd said the same about America'. I prefer the 'eggs in one basket' argument; if the human race exists in multiple locations it becomes much harder for us to wipe ourselves out or be subjected to natural disasters. The sun won't last forever you know, even if we escape everything else. As Woody Allen said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve immortality through not dying!"
Mark Dodsworth, Australia

Of course we should! The benefit to society outweighs the cost now in the long run. Eventually, the cost to operate in space will go down when the industry includes the common person. Think of today's space explorers as modern day Lewis & Clarks. For them it was difficult to go west, but at time progressed and as new technologies arose, travel to the west became routine and inexpensive.
Benjamin Courteau, USA

In the short term manned space exploration is a waste of money, as all we use space for really is satellites and scientific exploration, neither of which require human presence. Manned space exploration is basically an investment into the future. Eventually humans will live off the Earth permanently and the practice we get now will be invaluable later. The only problem is that this later could be many hundreds of years away. Personally I believe that humanity could well outlast the Earth. If so we must eventually have manned space travel!
Olly, UK

The survival of the human race will depend on our ability to flee the dying destruction of our Sun

John McNulty, UK
It is an inescapable fact that at some point in our future, the survival of the human race will depend on our ability to flee the dying destruction of our Sun. The first steps of that journey are the tentative expeditions we make today.
John McNulty, UK

I wonder if Columbus had the same problem when he set of to discover the New World.
Paul Stancer, Hong Kong

Space research and exploration trails a lot of technological and scientific development along with it. It is this progress, which is far more important than the station itself.
Jake Benilov, UK

As a former NASA employee, I know about information that has come from space research. Most of our medical advances are related to the space program. While NASA did not do the research, NASA's dollars were given for the research. The moneys are well spent and who knows what they will discover tomorrow.
Thomas may, USA

For the human spirit to grow humanity must expand into space

Joel Kearns, USA
Yes, but not for scientific or short-term economic reasons. For the human spirit to grow and to provide new homes for our future descendants, humanity must expand into space. We have to leave our cradle sometime, and there is no reason to shrink from this challenge today. It is also a good substitute for war making to allow many aspects of technology to advance.
Joel Kearns, USA

What next for UK Luddites? "Was it a bad idea to come down from the trees?" Of course we need a wide-ranging future vision, that will have unforseen pay-offs. Who would have thought that particle physics at CERN would have given us the WWW! As for the cost of the space station its only 8USD per person if you view things from a global perspective as the space station undoubtedly does.
Rob Read, U.K.

Stephen Hawking recently pointed out that mankind has a choice: colonise space or die. Technology has advanced to a stage where this concept is rapidly evolving beyond the pipe dreams of sci-fi enthusiasts. An international coalition of nations is, via the ISS, making tentative steps toward colonising space, whilst on the other hand, we have an unprecedented ability to self destruct, most likely through a virus of our own making. In the long term, the ISS can be seen as a staging post towards the human colonisation of space. However, one of our greatest problems is our inability to see things in the long term; the lack of decisive action on global warming is a typical example of this failing. If Stephen Hawking is right, then the ISS is part of a process that is critical for the survival of mankind; if there is a more important cause than that, I'd like to know what it is.
Jon, Basingstoke, UK

There is so much intolerance on the ground, perhaps space and the ISS represents a level of co-operation and tolerance

Greg Turner, London UK
Of course, the conquest of space is critical to our whole future albeit, a future that none of us, nor many generations of our children will ever live to see. But for the present, the most important aspect of ISS is that it transcends boarders and so hopefully cultures, religions and differences. While there is so much intolerance on the ground, perhaps space and the ISS represents a level of co-operation and tolerance that will be critical more to our immediate survival.
Greg Turner, London UK

Not in the current climate and while countries around the world, and those sponsoring space ventures, are having problems themselves. There are millions of people starving in the world, or living in poverty. This includes the so-called "modern" nations too. Our Governments need to concentrate on the problems at home before figuring out how to spend billions on disposable rockets and rocket fuel. That money would be better spent on a new permanent hospital and teaching fuel, for example.
Nadia, UK

We as materialistic humans will never be able to control our insatiable urge to search for the next new and brighter experience. Space and all its mystery is in full view every time we look at the night sky and will always prove irresistible. We do occasionally come to our senses and realise that our resources would be better spent on existing matters here on our own planet. But that thought is brief. Every day children look upwards and realise the sheer size and complexity of what they see and the dream starts all over again.
Mark Powell, Stafford UK

Space travel is essential to the long-term survival of the human race. Unfortunately NASA have become little more than a space trucking company that delivers equipment into orbit. You can bet the $40bn spent on the ISS is nothing compared to what the US Government spends on black budget projects which will never benefit the public. If all the world's leaders could be taken into space to see our planet the way astronauts do there would be no more wars on Earth.
James, UK

Without exploration and our ingenuity we wouldn't be here today. Besides, we spend a lot more on military hardware; I think we can afford a $40bn project that we work together on as an international community.
Joel Laird, England

Financially it doesn't make any sense - going into space is astronomically expensive. However, the bigger picture is that we must get off this planet if the human race is to survive. All our eggs are in one basket whilst we remain confined here. It is only a matter of time before an ELE (Extinction Level Event) occurs - either natural or manmade. There is no greater price to pay than this.
Paul Fairhurst, UK

I'm surprised the question is asked at all. Of course it's money well spent - the scientific advances we've made from trying to get into space and those we've made as a result of being there, not to mention the things we learn about our own planet by studying others makes it worthwhile. One day it is entirely possible that the human race will be saved from a global catastrophe simply because we're out there in space, watching, learning and discovering.
Bill, UK

Bringing space travel into the public domain is not a luxury, it is a duty

Andrew Gould, Australia
No cost is too high for the ultimate goal of colonisation of space. The human race, if it is to have a future at all, must look skyward to expand. Bringing space travel into the public domain is not a luxury, it is a duty.
Andrew Gould, Australia

I believe that it does make sense in the long term. As the world's population increases and the natural resources of this planet diminish the only way humanity will be able to survive is by moving out to other worlds. It will take many years before an "off-world" settlement could ever be a possibility but it's the men and women who are going into space now that are helping to make that happen. Mankind has always had a need to expand, to explore new territories and space is no different.
Len, Finland (ex UK)

Shall we live on Earth until our eventual extinction? This is what its all about. We must become a space faring race or we will die out. It's that simple. Our hearts ache to explore for a reason! Everything we learn about living aboard spacecraft apply to improving life on Earth, after all Earth is a spacecraft as well carrying our whole human race through the cosmos. Space flight can teach us how to take care of our own world as well. We can learn so much. Exploration in search of knowledge is never a mistake.
Marc Z., USA

Yes! It still makes scientific and economic sense. Space exploration will eventually provide more work, more space to live and more and better development on all fronts. Investments made now will certainly pay off in the future once we can establish bases on the moon and Mars to extract resources. Who knows, there may even be a habitable planet out door to provide an outlet for our burgeoning population. More than ever do we need to look and find alternatives for our population and other problems.
Victor D., Amsterdam, Netherlands

See also:

01 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Happy birthday space station
08 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Space tourist hopes to blaze trail
02 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Crew enters historic home
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