How much is the space race worth?

The pandemic, along with its impact on the global economy and our lifestyles, has not halted the everlasting aspiration we have to explore unknown territories outside our atmosphere.

On May 2, SpaceX, the spaceflight company owned by business magnate Elon Musk, safely returned four astronauts to Earth, making the first United States crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot in 1968, according to the Associated Press.

“After 167 days in space, the longest duration mission for a U.S. spacecraft since the final Skylab mission in 1974,” reads a tweet by SpaceX’s official account, “Dragon and the Crew-1 astronauts … returned to Earth this morning!” According to a report by Quilty Analytics, NASA awarded SpaceX with $1.75 billion to develop Crew Dragon.

However, the U.S. is not the only player in the current “space race” that began in the 1950s during the Cold War—far from that. In March, China and Russia agreed to build joint lunar space station, according to a statement by the China National Space Administration. Furthermore, China also began planning to launch crew missions to Mars and deploy a space-based, commercial-scale solar power plant by 2050, according to CNN.

Latin American countries such as Nicaragua have also joined the race amid corruption and economic crises. On Feb. 17, Nicaragua approved a law creating the “National Secretariat for the Affairs of Outer Space, the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” and, despite the skepticism, Nicaragua denied it was for spying on the region or the U.S., according to AP. Costa Rica did the same on Feb. 18.

The political and economic impact of the space race is undeniable. Experts are still investigating the effects space missions like Apollo had on their nations. However, what economists and scientists alike agree on is that societies must decide when and how to invest in such technologies. But when exactly is the right time? Perhaps not during a public health emergency.

Although it is too recent to pinpoint how investing in space exploration affects our current societies during the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing we know for sure: Our priorities should lie on solving the instability resulting from unemployment, mass migration, climate change and unequal access to health services.

To routinely deny the importance of the space industry, especially during the commercial space age, would be to refuse to acknowledge the long-term benefits that come with it, including the possibility to discover what has always captured our minds. However, we must acknowledge that, perhaps, there are more pressing matters to attend to in the meantime.

Why is “colonizing” Mars part of our to do list as we are in the midst of fighting climate change before it’s irreversible? Why are we discussing space hotels when people are forced to leave their homes and find refuge in uninviting borders? If the space race is worth not ending world hunger, improving our quality of life or stopping the impending consequences of our lavish living, then it is worth much more than we can afford.