As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, people have had a lot of discussion about the value of a revitalized space program. But, some point out, there is value in the space program beyond space itself.
The British Independent newspaper talked to those who think that space programs make Earth a better place to be. While some, like The Climate Group's chief executive Dr Steve Howard, think that the cost of sending people into orbit may mean that more grounded initiatives could suffer, Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University's planetary sciences department, disagrees:
Every space mission has spin-offs which are unforeseeable. The Wellcome Trust funded Beagle 2 on the understanding that the team of highly talented people would look at ways the technology could be used for medicine. We have developed an instrument that can diagnose TB in a day. Our instrument, which is going to be tested in Malawi, could save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives.
James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia Theory, puts it more strongly:
It seems to me any environmentalist who opposes space travel has no imagination whatever. That gorgeous, inspirational image of the globe that we are now so familiar with came out of space travel. That image has perhaps been of the greatest value to the environmental movement. It gave me a great impetus.
There are the unmanned spacecraft, which are relatively inexpensive, that I certainly think should continue. The more we know about Mars, for example, the better we can understand our own planet. The second sort, the more personally adventurous sort of travel, offers great inspiration to humans. And, were it not for space travel we'd have no mobile phones, no internet, no weather forecasts of the sort we have now and so on. There's a lot of puritanical silliness about it.
2010: A new space odyssey beckons [Independent.co.uk]