Importance of Space Exploration

Why is space exploration important? Is the money invested in space programs worth it? What purpose do space missions serve? In this article, I have tried to answer these questions, by expounding the importance of space exploration in finding new habitable worlds for future generations.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." - Neil Armstrong

As the first man on the Moon put it, space exploration is indeed one of human kind's greatest achievements. We have broken the shackles of gravity to explore worlds beyond our home planet. While the space race between USSR and USA which ultimately ended some decades ago with the landing of man on Moon, space exploration of our solar system continues through the activities of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ESA (European Space Agency) and other space agencies all over the world. Every space mission launch costs a substantial amount of money, that is paid through the taxpayer's pocket. In times of economic recession, it is but natural for anybody to question whether these expenses made on space exploration missions are justified, when large problems remain unsolved on Earth itself, that need attention.

Man on Moon during Nasa's Apollo 11 Mission (Image Credit: NASA)

Importance of Human Space Exploration Programs

Hundreds of missions have been launched till date to explore extraterrestrial bodies from the Moon to Mars and the very periphery of our solar system. From every one of them, mankind has learned something more about the kind of universe we inhabit in and what lies beyond the comfortable cocoon of planet Earth. Here are the prime factors which underline the need and importance of space exploration.

Understanding Our Solar System & its Formation
Through space exploration of planets including Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and other planets, we have gathered a wealth of data that has helped scientists unravel the mystery of the formation of our solar system and the question of why life only emerged on Earth. Recent space exploration missions have finally put to rest all imaginative ideas of life on Mars, while confirming the finding of water on the red planet. The knowledge of our solar system's structure, nature of planets and their gravitational dynamics can be taken as a template, which helps us in identifying extrasolar planets revolving around other stars, that may be harboring life.

Exploring Planets as Potential Future Habitable Worlds
One motive behind the exploration of planets including Mars and Moon in particular is their study as potential future habitable worlds. To develop technologies which will enable mankind to settle into these hostile worlds, the knowledge of their material resources, atmosphere, composition and surface conditions is essential.

Technological Spin-offs
Space exploration poses challenges to the human mind, like never before and the leap of genius required to accomplish the goal of a space flight, has led to the development of several technological spin-offs, which make our life on Earth simpler and more comfortable. Examples of technological spin-offs that have emerged from space exploration research include solar cells, artificial limbs, water purifiers that can provide clean water from contaminated sources, memory foam, strong radial tires, air-craft anti-icing systems, cochlear implants, space blankets and many more such inventions. The wealth of technologies that have emerged as spin-offs, out of space exploration research, justify the investment made in space research.

Mineral Exploration
One of the prime reasons for exploration of Moon and planets like Mars is the mapping of extraterrestrial worlds for minerals. In the future, as humankind exhausts the planet's store of minerals, we will have to look elsewhere for them. Our space exploration data of these world's will come in handy in the future, when we develop technologies that can actually make mining these worlds possible.

Studying of Asteroids as Potential Threats
Space exploration also involves the study of the asteroid belt, which contains thousands of asteroids that are potential threats for planet Earth. Large asteroid impacts have happened on Earth before, causing mass extinctions and there is a looming future possibility of another such collision. Ergo, studying these asteroids is an important task, that is a part of space exploration. From the composition of these small planetoids, a lot of data can be gathered, which can help us understand the formation of our solar system.

Future Space Colonization
All space exploration efforts, including the building of International Space Station (ISS) are going to help contribute to future colonization of extraterrestrial worlds like the Moon and Mars. Through experiments aboard the ISS, we are learning what life in a zero gravity environment is like. The findings of these experiments will go a long way in helping devise strategies for long distance manned space flights in the future.

At some point of time in the future, moving out of planet Earth and colonizing other worlds may not be a choice, but an inevitability and our space exploration projects help us prepare for that future mission. It is a contribution we make for the betterment of future generations. More than all these reasons, a simple motive that justifies our space exploration is the need to 'Know', to know what's beyond, know what's possible and know who we are and where we come from!