Do Aliens Even Matter in this Economy?

By Dana Zoutman

This February, Elon Musk launched a super rocket to send a Tesla car into orbit around Mars. Bowie’s “Space Oddity” will be playing throughout its journey [1]. When someone on Twitter asked him why he was planning to undertake this seemingly useless mission, his response was simply that he loved “the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future” [2].

Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has also started investing in the space industry with his company Blue Origin. The competition between Blue Origin and Musk’s company SpaceX has been referred to as the “race for space tourism”. Why did Bezos decide to invest billions of dollars in the space industry? “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel. That is basically it,” Bezos explained in an interview [3]. There was not a single thing on our Earth that he could have possibly invested in. Therefore, the logical move was to turn to space travel, right?

Not necessarily. I remember being thirteen years old and asking my father what the point of science was these days. We had already discovered and invented everything, right? He laughed and replied that we didn’t know anything yet, and he was right; so many things on this Earth remain undiscovered. Because of this lack of knowledge, not only are we withheld from further research, but more importantly, we are putting our Earth and the conditions under which humanity is able to survive at risk.

NASA reports that hurricanes will become stronger and more intense, there will be more droughts and heat waves, sea levels will continue to rise, and the Arctic Ocean is expected to be free of any ice before we’re halfway through the 21st Century [4]. All this might sound unrelated to Bezos investing in space tourism. And there would not necessarily be a connection, were it not for his statement that Blue Origin was the only possible way that he could deploy his financial resources. Yet there are other options, much closer to home and a lot more profitable for most people, as well as all future generations, than space tourism: sustainable alternatives and large-scale projects in order to slow down (or ideally stop) global warming.

Of course, this issue also has another side to it. Accusing Elon Musk, the brains behind Tesla, of not doing enough for sustainability would be far-fetched. And while his investment in sending a Tesla playing “Space Oddity” into Mars’ orbit might not have served a greater good, this does not automatically apply to all space exploration-related missions. In most instances, space exploration isn’t directly related to sustainability. However, the research that has been done in order to send rockets and satellites into space has contributed immensely to innovations in technology and scientific research in other fields, including sustainability.

Besides, we have to acknowledge that space exploration is very exciting regardless of its potential benefits. Writing this as the daughter of an engineer in the space industry, I might be disowned if I fail to mention simply how incredible space is. But even then, some space exploration expeditions have been financially wasteful and unnecessary when there are much more pressing matters right here on Earth that need to be solved first. Sometimes, it can be easy to forget that our Earth is also a part of the universe we are so eager to explore.







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Dana Zoutman, Class of 2020, is a Literature, Art History, and Art & Design Major from The Hague, the Netherlands.


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