Prioritization in Funding Among Competing Projects
Selen Çetin shares her ethics & society case study, which she completed as part of our Young Scientist Program.
Given a fixed amount of funding and a series of problems to solve that are related to our future life as human beings; such as the need to explore space, millions of cancer patients awaiting to get cured, or billions of people that cannot afford getting a proper education, suffering from poverty. Which one of them should be of top priority?
With a fixed amount of funding and the choice of space exploration versus alleviating poverty, most of the people would probably tend to choose to alleviate poverty. According to a poll on debate.org , 56% of people think that governments should not prioritize spending on space exploration, which actually makes sense when we consider the number of lives that we can save instead.
But how would you choose between alleviating poverty and reducing a population’s risk of cancer knowing the fact that noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) create a vicious cycle together? NCDs are the leading global causes of death, causing more deaths than all other causes combined, and they strike hardest at the world’s low- and middle-income populations. Poverty causes people to be open to behavioral risk factors for NCDs whereas the resulting NCDs may become an important driver that leads families towards poverty.  So there shouldn’t be a reason to choose between these two options; the answer need not be all or none.
Our planet keeps changing; struggling with human-induced climate change, pollution, NCDs, poverty and many more issues. We need to think responsibly about future generations and the world that we are leaving to them. To this end, space research is much more useful than it looks, because it investigates not only the space, but also the human body, how resistant it is to radiation, how to secure astronauts’ health. Moreover, there might be cure in space for the diseases existing in our own world.
On the other hand, space exploration includes finding new technologies. A simple example is the issue of producing energy in outer space and using it in the most efficient way, which means originating tools that require the least energy in return of the most efficiency. This kind of technologies would definitely be of use in our own world as well, especially for reducing the bad effects of climate change and also making it more affordable. Mike Ewert, a thermal and life support system engineer at Johnson Space Center, says: “The NASA battery-free solar technology could be used to cool milk, produce or other consumer products in under-developed regions around the world, thus creating economic opportunities and improving lives on Earth.” 
NASA’s 2017 budget request of $19 billion promises encouraging scientific research, enabling technologies to be of use for industry besides NASA and other government agencies, development of high-powered solar electric propulsion, advancing aeronautics research bringing transformational advances in the safety, capacity and efficiency of the air transportation system while minimizing impacts on the environment, validating new technologies that reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise, supporting research and development for low carbon emission aircraft which might enable clean transportation system and a lot of others. 
Last but not least, a similar rivalry can be seen between basic research and applied research, i.e. the one that explains the world we live in, that does not change our lives immediately, and the one that involves practical application of science, that might give immediate results. For example, while some people argue that the money spent on discovering the Higgs boson could have been allocated to eradicating HIV/AIDS, while others argue that the findings of basic research may have unexpected practical implications. 
Having healthier and wealthier population might not be enough in the long term. At some point, the world capacity might not be enough to sustain all the human beings and we might need to colonize in another planet. This is where the space research will show up, and it might be too late. Giving the priority to cancer research or poverty might be better in the short term, save millions of people’s lives, however, in the long term, space research might save more lives in total, by providing us a better world to live in, or even somewhere else.