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Fergus: Good evening and welcome to Newsnight with me- Fergus Jeffrey James. I’ve been joined in the studio tonight by Elison Parker- researcher for NASA and Alice Thomson- ex ISS astronaut and human rights journalist. With space exploration being mentioned left, right and centre in the news, the question on everybody’s lips is: is it actually worth the cost? Alice- can you tell me your thoughts?

Alice: Well, Fergus, as you can imagine I strongly believe that space exploration is a colossal waste of time and money. Think about the number of lives here on Earth that could be improved if we were to invest our money closer to home. $150 billion dollars on the ISS alone is a lot of money, after all…

Elison: Let me stop you there, Alice. Space exploration has improved lives and will continue to do so.

Fergus: Where’s your evidence for that, Elison? Are you actually saying that travelling to space is more beneficial that providing food for the 795 million- not thousand, but million- people who are currently going hungry?

Elison: Of course that’s not what I’m saying, Fergus. I’m simply asking you to consider the positives of space exploration.

Fergus: Go on…

Elison: Well for one thing, breakthroughs in medicine. The LVAD, for example.

Fergus: Can you explain what that is?

Elison: It’s an artificial pump that can be used to support the hearts of patients waiting for a heart transplant.

Fergus: But how does that have anything to do with space?!

Elison: It’s based on a space shuttle’s fuel pump and was developed by engineers at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. There’s also a type of light technology that has been trialled in the reduction of pain caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients. The development of this was funded by NASA with the original goal of being used in plant experiments on space shuttles. Should I go on?

Fergus: No, Elison. I can see how space exploration has been beneficial. Come on, Alice. What do you have to say?

Alice: That’s all well and good, Elison, but it still comes back to the sheer cost! Compare the $150 billion dollars I mentioned previously with the $2 billion annual funding it would take to eradicate malaria, a disease that impacts the lives of so many around the world. Isn’t that more worthy of funding than simply satisfying our curiosity. Yes, we’ve made discoveries but isn’t it time to stop now and focus on what we already have?

Elison: But what we have might not be around forever. Don’t you think it’s our responsibility to plan for the future of the human race.

Alice: The future lies here, Elison. On planet Earth!

Fergus: There are certainly people who would agree with that statement. If we focused more on our lives here, wouldn’t that eradicate the need to search elsewhere?

Elison: It’s all about extraterrestrial ethics, Fergus. The question of whether we should care about the universe beyond how it immediately affects us at this specific moment in time.

Fergus: And how would you answer that?

Elison: Well of course we should care. We have a duty to access resources that are scarce here on Earth, as well as thinking about where humans could go if Earth one day became uninhabitable.

Alice: But Elison, Earth will only become uninhabitable if we stop caring. Invest in it now, and it will last for a long time.

Elison: Nothing lasts forever, Alice. Not even Earth. We have a responsibility to make sure our own race doesn’t die out, and the answer to our future lies somewhere in space.

Fergus: So there we have it. The debate goes on but unfortunately we’ve run out of time on this programme. If you’d like to share your thoughts on whether space exploration is worth the cost, you can contact us on the usual email address. For now, thank you to both our guests for joining Newsnight’s big debate. From them- and from me- goodnight.

Comments (1)

  • Olivia-Avatar.jpg Olivia @ the BNC
    05 Dec 2019

    Thanks for posting your final piece! You're using the speaking-up skill brilliantly in this video and confidently sharing your opinions, which are supported by excellent reasons and examples. Well done. I like your point about extraterrestrial ethics! Can you expand on this further and explain some other points that might come up regarding colonising or exploring space, other than the point about resources?

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