Leah Moynihan makes the case that the greatest discoveries can be made here, on our own planet.
We are searching for oceans underneath Jupiter’s moon, yet only 5% of our deep seas are explored. Debate about whether space exploration resources should instead be put into investigating our deep seas has been ongoing for the last half-century. An excessive amount of money is pumped into space programmes, while the deep seas are neglected. The world seems to have forgotten the beauty that lies beneath the still surface. We are searching for extraterrestrial life when our oceans are the place where life on earth originated. We have marine creatures that look more alien than anything we can imagine in science fiction. Hydrothermal vents are teeming with strange creatures that we have only recently discovered. Giant crustaceans and amphipods dart through the darkness like shooting stars, while translucent squid float like asteroids.
Sadly, one frontier is prioritised over the other. NASA’s budget is roughly 150 times more than that of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA). When the moon mission began, there was mass discontent, as Americans were living in poor conditions, while the government got its moment of glory. This is a global issue as Pakistan has put $43 million towards its space programme, while 1/3 of its citizens live in poverty. This will prevent the nation from taking any significant strides toward helping its people. The space race has always been a political game, with countries competing to see who can conquer space first. It is purely a show of strength, while ordinary citizens do not benefit. In a time of shrinking budgets, can the taxpayer afford to put people into space for the pride of their country?
People argue that space exploration has given us new technologies, however, this statement is misleading. Technologies such as GPS and mobile phones were not found in space, they were developed here on earth, from resources that came from earth. They were made by people determined to explore. If more money was invested into ocean exploration, we could develop new technologies, but also find more natural resources and species that could benefit all of humanity. Furthermore, space exploration has a negative impact on the environment. The amount of emissions put into the atmosphere during a single launch is immense. Moreover, space junk is left abandoned in space and on the moon, as if hiding our planet under a carpet of litter was not enough. On the other hand, exploring our oceans is an exciting quest that will increase the health of our world.
Unlike space, the ocean can provide many essential resources. For example, the Japanese black sponge produces a substance that can block tumour cells at the late stage of breast cancer. Additionally, chemicals were discovered in our oceans that help with asthma, inflammation, and skin irritation. Scientists have also found bacteria in the Bahamas that have antibiotic properties. However, we have only identified 1/3 of all marine life, which means the oceans have a lot more potential for solving our problems. Therefore, ocean research helps with medicine far more than space exploration. Furthermore, the oceans are our single largest source of protein. If properly managed, the oceans will help with food security, while there are no plants on mars. Most importantly, temperatures are rising on our planet and species are disappearing. The ocean stores carbon and is extremely important in the fight against climate change. It provides half of the oxygen that we breathe. Thus, more money should be invested into geoengineering research that examines the oceans’ carbon absorption capacity. There are no solutions to climate change in space, however, our entire carbon cycle is controlled by our oceans. Entire ecosystems will collapse if this problem is not solved, and while our oceans can help, fumes from space exploration only exacerbate the issue. Therefore, it is essential that we broaden our understanding of our oceans.
Of course, we should not entirely neglect space exploration. The two fields can work together as they operate in similar environments. Research in our oceans can increase our knowledge of outer space. The organisms that live in the deep sea thrive in an extreme environment with no light and little food. These conditions are like those that exist on other planets. The deep sea is similar to Europa, Jupiter’s moon, which has a salt-water ocean with no light due to thick ice cover. The organisms that live in the deep sea can show us how life can thrive in such a harsh environment. We can send experiments and equipment to the deep sea to test if they are suitable for space exploration. In this way, space research can be performed while ocean data is also collected.
Perhaps the reason why there is more attention and attraction toward space is because it is available to everyone. Anyone can step outside and gaze up at the stars, dreaming of different universes. However, not everyone lives near the waves and can fully appreciate the beauty that lies beneath the moonlit surface. We must have better education about our oceans, and we need to highlight how essential ocean exploration is. People need to get excited about the deep sea through media publicity. The Hadal zone extends 11km down and translates to the ‘underworld’. This leads people to believe that the deep sea is a lifeless place when the opposite is true. New species are constantly being discovered. Programmes such as Blue Planet need to be funded so that new breakthroughs are made, and people are inspired. The research vessel used for the programme caught images of a giant squid, which was an amazing discovery.
Much remains unknown about our oceans. The deep seas have more alien-like creatures than space. Unusual high-frequency noises from the bottom of the sea were detected in 1997, known as ‘the bloop’. Similarly, giant specimens from shrimp to sharks were found in the deep sea, leading to the theory that the extinct Megalodon is still around. Our oceans are full of secrets that need to be uncovered. Exploring new parts of our deep seas can be even more breath-taking than space exploration. We could gain important insights into our planet’s geological history, and we could even learn about the evolution of our species. Wouldn’t finding a new organism that offers incredible health benefits be more rewarding than space domination? The money would yield results and humanity would benefit. The entire world is in trouble if we look to the sky instead of acknowledging what is in front of us. It is irresponsible to attempt to colonize another planet when we have the resources to fix the one that we have.