As the title suggests you guys are getting some bang for your buck today! Another post for you, this one is another of my MSN UK Space Blogs. I really enjoyed writing this one and it has one of my favourite ‘factoids’ regarding science funding in the UK. This was originally posted back on the 18 November, but the content is still relevant. Enjoy!
UK Science gets Bang! for it’s buck.
On Tuesday 15 November 2011 we saw Dr. James Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, present a statement of concern to the White House. In his discussion he spoke of the success of the space program to date, ‘NASA spacecraft have visited every planet in our solar system, as well as many of the variety of small bodies such as comets and asteroids that have much to tell us about the solar system’s formation.’, but urged the committee that continued investment was imperative to future success’, especially when considering the ambitious plans to return material from other planets for analysis.
In the recent global economic downturn a request for more funding often seems misguided and provokes questioning surrounding the ‘value’ of particular areas of funding. One area that often suffers harsh critique and questioning is the one of science research, specifically the field of space exploration. This could be a result of it being seen as a luxury and the general public can sometimes feel that there are more important areas that should receive increased funding.
While avoiding the debate as to what areas deserve the most funding I would like to take the opportunity to investigate and postulate some reasons as to why space exploration is given the funding it is. One thing to note is the total cost of space exploration; here in the UK we spend around £270million pounds a year on our involvement in space. Now this seems like a huge sum of money especially when you compare it to the value of your house, but these sums of money are relative. So if we instead compare the bill to something more significant, say healthcare, the numbers become a lot more revealing. Many people agree that the NHS is pretty good and deserves its funding, and I have on several occasions faced the argument, “What’s the point in going into space when we can’t even keep people well on earth?”, so let’s consider diverting all the money from space research and exploration in the UK to healthcare. TheUKspace programme’s funding would run the NHS for less than a day! If we compare it to something else, space funding in theUKwould pay approximately 4% of the unemployment benefit paid out each year in this country.
The point I would like to reinforce here is not one about government spending, I mentioned before that I am not questioning the funding in any of these areas; it’s important that all areas get some degree of funding. It is important to note that the UK is very efficient with its funding of the space industry. As a country we stand as one of the forerunners in many areas of space research, yet we achieve this on a very tiny budget. This is something to be very proud of as a nation.
[NigeraiSat-2, Built by UK engineers at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. Image Credit: www.sstl.co.uk]
Another point I would like to raise is that space exploration is often seen as being done just because we can. While I think this fact, coupled with an inbuilt curiosity, does drive us to investigate and explore space, science research can have a major impact on areas not directly related to that being investigated. Examples of this include robotic surgery, the artificial heart pump and imaging methods used to decipher ancient artefacts, all of these have come almost directly from technology developed by NASA. Even the World Wide Web as we know it originally began life as a method for sharing scientific data generated at CERN, this was augmented by a project Tim Berners-Lee was developing and we get the point-and-click experience that we are now familiar with.
In summary it should be reiterated that the purpose of this article is not to try to convince the reader that science should be funded above all else, as mentioned previously, funding for all areas is important. The goal is to highlight that space research can have some unexpected offshoots as well as helping us pursue mankind’s curiosity and desire for exploration and knowledge. The UK space industry generates over £7.5 billion and employs close to 100,000 people in direct and related jobs. As an industry it is incredibly efficient, taking a very small income and turning it into world leading knowledge, opportunities and products. We are the world’s experts in satellite technology, and compete very highly in many other areas of space research and exploration. We should appreciate and be proud of the fact that even on a tiny budget theUKspace industry is one of the best in the world.