For more than a year, my best friend Erin and I have been the two opposing factors in a long-standing argument: Which is more important to explore, the ocean or outer space?
She is a firm believer that escapism is a relevant issue that should be on the forefront of scientists’ agendas, considering our planet is treated like dirt—ha, dirt—and will eventually become unlivable, therefore we must be prepared to leave. I, on the other hand, have faith in our great Earth.
I believe that we can find answers to escapists’ queries right below our feet.
The ocean covers more than 70 percent of our planet, housing and supporting many of our living organisms and life forms over the entire planet.
The ocean affects weather patterns, provides entertainment and impacts human activity in so many ways.
It is the anchor of our very existence, yet we are killing it off each day.
Humans need to be held accountable for their role in global demolition in some way, and righting the wrongs we’ve done by our ocean is a much better option than running off to the stars to kill them too.
Our ocean is depressingly neglected.
Less than 5 percent of the ocean has been explored, leaving 65 percent of our Earth unknown.
We prioritize mapping out completely uninhabitable celestial bodies like Venus and Mercury, but continue to keep our ocean as an afterthought.
According to Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Marine Science and Coastal Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, it is a commitment issue.
“We could map the entire deep ocean for $3 billion—no more than a single Mars mission,” Mayer said in an interview with BBC.
The sea floor has technically been mapped out, but at a quarter of the resolution of other astronomical objects like Mars.
This information is hardly useful because it is neither detailed nor does it contain any information on the life that inhabits the deep sea.
Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, coined the ocean as the “Fruitful Frontier” in a contributing article for Issues in Science and Technology.
With this phrase, Etzioni makes a great point.
The ocean is home to organisms that will help increase medicinary advancements; it is a sink for carbon dioxide, which can be a viable solution to climate change; it is a viable catalyst for developing safer, cleaner energy.
These are only a few items that demonstrate what our ocean has to offer.
The ocean is brimming with potential, yet we refuse to acknowledge its power.
Space is a place for dreamers; the doers look toward the seas.
From Etzioni’s article:
“The ocean has absorbed almost one-third of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emitted since the advent of the industrial revolution and have the potential to continue absorbing a large share of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Researchers are exploring a variety of chemical, biological and physical geoengineering projects to increase the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made a statement on their website that they are working to increase oceanic research.
However, as actions continue to speak louder than words, space still takes priority.
Whether it be because it seems more mystifying than the seas or because it is a way out of a dying planet, oceanic ignorance will ultimately be the downfall of humanity before anything else.
So, say this ignorance lasts forever and we eventually obtain the knowledge and technology to venture off to Mars.
Say we find a way to colonize the red planet and live full, healthy lives with little complication.
There is no doubt that we will eventually kill Mars just like we let Earth down.
We will take our vices and keep polluting planets until spaceships are our only options left, and have you seen “WALL-E”?
It does not work.
In no way should we just halt space exploration altogether; that would be ridiculous.
It is just so obvious that the government’s money should be allocated to more necessary and relevant projects.
Even if funding was cut from space exploration, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would not go out of business; corners would just have to be cut.
This means humans would most likely be cut from the big picture, for the moment.
But never fear, for we have robots!
Robots do not require the same accommodations like humans do: Food, radiation shields, armor against prolonged weightlessness and airlessness and—most importantly—a return ticket.
On the economic side of things as well, it costs much less money to send a robot into space than it costs to send a human.
Not to mention, it is much safer than throwing a human out into such uncharted territory; we can’t stand to have failed attempts when human lives are taken out of the picture.
Theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, in an interview for CNN, said manned missions are “an incredible waste of money.”
Weinberg continued, “[F]or the cost of putting a few people on a very limited set of locations on Mars we could have dozens of unmanned, robotic missions roving all over Mars.”
All in all, robots are disposable machines (sorry, “WALL-E”) that we can (and do) use as guinea pigs to do the dirty work humans cannot yet do in space.
So it would not even be a big surprise or change; NASA will not lose much.
While NASA will not lose much as far as human exploration, they are losing federal funding that, while it may seem small, will cause a great deal of suffering, especially in the current political climate.
President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget amendment, “America First: a Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” takes significant stabs at NASA’s agenda that is ultimately detrimental to the Earth.
Trump wants to allocate $19 billion to NASA, which is a 0.8 percent decrease from former president Barack Obama’s 2016 budget.
Trump wants to prioritize commercial flights and partnerships between private and public corporations to make this happen.
That sounds great and all, but the seemingly harmless decrease is where the problem lies.
The budget states, “The Budget terminates four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR 241-916, Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduces funding for Earth science research grants.”
The budget will also completely defund the Office of Education, a program created by NASA to guide youth to STEM careers and make NASA a more prominent role in science and math education.
If the Office of Education cut is not bad enough, consider the Earth science missions that would die too.
DSCOVR 241-916 would work with the upkeep of solar wind monitoring capabilities, which is critical in detecting space weather alerts and creating forecasts.
According to NOAA, “[w]ithout timely and accurate warnings, space weather events like the geomagnetic storms caused by changes in solar wind have the potential to disrupt nearly every major public infrastructure system, including power grids, telecommunications, aviation and GPS.”
OCO-3 is an asset to the International Space Station that would detect levels of carbon dioxide with the sharpest precision NASA has crafted thus far, and it has been a great opportunity for partnership between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The Earth-viewing instruments would give us more developed imaging of the Earth from space.
In addition to these, PACE “will provide unprecedented insight into Earth’s ocean and atmosphere, which impact our everyday lives by regulating climate and making our planet habitable.”
And finally CLARREO Pathfinder “will monitor the pulse of the Earth to better understand climate change.”
Trump wants to cut the few things that NASA has planned to monitor Earth and detect patterns, which means we will miss out on possible significant understandings of climate change and what affects it.
Not to mention, the one mission that solely has to do with oceanic exploration will be cut as well, making Americans (and ultimately all humans) more ignorant to climate change and what it will take to restore the damage done to our planet.
It’s kind of a big deal.
And on top of all that, the Environmental Protection Agency would get a 31 percent decrease if Trump’s budget ever gets enacted.
Aside from economics, pro-space explorers argue that colonizing other planets, and at the very least, gaining traction with getting more humans into space, will bring countries together to work for a common good.
This cannot be more wrong.
Since the 1960s, getting people to the Moon became a manhood competition between the United States and Russia.
The Space Race tore countries’s relationships down more than they were built up.
Nowadays the United States has worked with Japan on efforts to improve the International Space Station, and in the movie The Martian, U.S. astrophysicists called on China to help bring Matt Damon home from Mars.
But we cannot rely on Hollywood and singular events to fuel hope for global harmony.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, lord of the cosmos, believes that astronauts are inspirations to children.
Many do agree with Tyson: There is at least one moment in every young child’s life that they wish to become an astronaut.
This is not a bad thing by any means; inspiring children to go into science and math fields provides a sense of hope for future generations.
However, the same thing can be done, and can be done more effectively, with ocean exploration.
With the little that we know about the ocean, it means we have so much to discover.
Children should be inspired by what is right here on Earth, rather than something they likely will never reach.
If that sounds insensitive, consider the required qualifications for astronauts, besides a relevant degree:
“[The] ability to pass a NASA space physical, which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical; … 20/20 or better uncorrected [vision], correctable to 20/20 [in] each eye; blood pressure [of] 140/90 measured in a sitting position; height between 58.5 and 76 inches.”
This is all on top of obtaining an impressive enough STEM degree and at least three years of continuing studies or professional experience.
Yet none of this matters at all if there is no money or technology to safely put a human in space.
Aeronautics may sound really cool, but it is not a field for which all our children should strive.
Quite literally, we should really stop teaching kids to shoot for the stars, because getting there can be nearly impossible.
Instead, direct them to the nearest beach and let them imagine all of those possibilities!
We need oceanographers more than ever, so the next generations of scientists should align their priorities properly as soon as they are in grade school.
Space enthusiasts and ocean lovers can agree: There is work to be done in all aspects of science, and it is up to future generations to answer all our questions.
They just need to see where the priorities lie.
Don’t get me wrong, NASA is an amazing program that has done so much for humanity and the advancement of technology.
NASA works as a two-way technology transfer; much of the discoveries NASA makes can be used in other scientific fields.
NASA helped give us personal computers and solar-powered refrigeration.
They even helped show us the beauty of Tang.
However, space should not be our first priority when it comes to scientific research.
There are so many answers in the ocean that are waiting to be found.
There is so much life to discover, so many materials to utilize.
We can make great progress for our entire planet if we just looked down instead of up.
Space may be the Final Frontier, but we should pay attention to the keyword “final.”
We cannot and should not give up on our ocean just because of heavenly possibilities.
We need to preserve and restore what we have and do our planet a service that is long overdue.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.
Cover Photo Credit: popofatticus/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)