I really don’t understand the argument that “we shouldn’t go into space without fixing earth’s problems first.” Why do people think that aerospace engineers have a duty to eradicate poverty, or create world peace?
People have a misconception that money we spend on anything space-related simply burns up. On the contrary: that money goes to pay for engineers and scientists and technicians and goods and all sorts of things, all of which goes back into the economy. Not to mention the added benefits of the research that organizations such as NASA do, which bring about (directly or indirectly) technology that impacts our everyday lives: see NASA-spinoffs.
To understand the economics of spaceflight, first we must understand Keynesian economics. This is the idea that spending a single dollar can have a ripple effect and can expand the economy by either more or less than the value of that dollar.
If you have a dollar and spend it on, say, a pizza and eat it, you’ve given the dollar back to the economy for the pizza maker to resell. But the pizza itself does not create any value. If you spend it on a bridge, the bridge maker gets the dollar. In contrast to the pizza, a bridge does have value, and can stimulate the economy by helping various other parts of the economy, e.g. people who want to get to work on the other side of the river. So maybe that spending is worth twice as much.
Moreover, if the pizza maker is a billionaire that sits on his money like Smaug, him having money isn’t helping anyone since it is stationary, and the economy is nothing more than the movement of money. If the bridge maker is poor, they’ll spend the dollar on lunch the next day, the money being released to the economy immediately. This is great for money movement yay.
So how does this apply to building rockets? Is it a waste of money? Where is the cost of launch going? Maybe 2% goes on fuel: burnt fuel is not super useful to the economy, and neither are oil barons, but that isn’t a huge percentage. Conversely, a large chunk of that money is going into technology development: this is great for the economy! The new technology isn’t going to go stale and can be used for tons of things many times.
Spending money on building rockets instead of on consumable goods allows the development of new technologies which will in turn spawn new markets and economies. Similar arguments were used during the Apollo program – which later estimates showed that for each dollar spent, the US economy gained at least 7 dollars.
When asked how his Government can justify spending millions on a Mars probe when poverty is so widespread, an Indian journalist replied “You can’t bring the 400 million people who live in poverty in India out of poverty with this £60 million.” Sharing £60 million in cash out between those people would amount to just 15 pennies each. In contrast, if the government wants to bring people out of poverty, the best way is to grow the economy. What is the best way to grow the economy? Heavily invest in industries with a strong return on investment, such as development of high-tech goods. The money will recirculate, and the populace will receive far more money this way than they would’ve from direct handouts.
What people need to realize is that a HUGE portion of GDP is non-investment expenses. Entertainment, services, travel, etc. is, for the most part, non-investment, and are on the order of trillions of dollars per year. One could argue that if we all stopped drinking, smoking, watching movies, travelling, eating out, or just generally enjoying life at all, that poverty globally could be eliminated. But that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it?