Space spending

by Ed Sawicki

Earthrise from Apollo 17
Earthrise from Apollo 17

In 1970, Black poet, jazz musician, and novelist Gil Scott-Heron released a poem titled “Whitey on the Moon” that protested spending on the space program when many Americans, especially minorities, struggled to pay their bills. He recites his poem to an audience here:

Americans today have mixed feelings about space exploration. Many were awed and thrilled over the James Webb Space Telescope, but some see little value in space exploration and want the money spent here on Earth.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) responds to this criticism with, “NASA spends its money on Earth, not in space. NASA employs about 17,000 people and supports the employment of tens of thousands more through contracts and grants made in every state of the union.”

Over 151,000 people worked in the space industry in 2021, which grows at about 18 percent per year. These jobs pay salaries that are higher than average. SpaceX is a good example. The average SpaceX salary is $109,000 (including $11,000 average annual bonuses). This is significantly higher than the national average of all workers at $59,428.

Worker salaries and benefits at space companies are worlds apart from the wages of Amazon warehouse workers and Uber gig workers.

NASA missions inspire students to pursue STEM careers, which benefits all industries. You only have to look at the job postings at major U.S. corporations to know that skilled labor is in high demand. Check out Lockheed Martin, for example. Recruiters know that the skilled workers who designed and built high technology items in the past are retiring and there's a shortfall in skilled labor.

Multinational space missions inspire cooperation amongst countries that may be adversaries in other areas. Space spending fosters peace. It also fosters economic opportunities. Here's NASA's video describing why we're going back to the moon, and they're focusing on economics:

Lastly, we're destined to be explorers. Here's Carl Sagan's take on this:

NASA's portion of the federal budget is about 0.3% of the total. You'd have difficulty seeing it on a pie chart. It's not space exploration that's raising the costs of drugs, gasoline, food, etc., causing homelessness, and contributing to our massive social inequality.