Dear Mae Jemison,
As you know, the Biden-Harris administration has requested an annual budget of $26 billion for NASA in 2023 (with similar sums projected for the years ahead).  While this is less than 0.5 percent of yearly U.S. government spending, it is not an insignificant sum.  Part of which, I believe, is intended to fund the Artemis I mission to “enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.”  A laudable ambition for science and humanity indeed.
But while NASA’s spending today is a far cry from its colossal budgets during the Cold War, the agency’s spending has attracted discontent from my friends, family, and wider community—many of whom are tireless nurses and educators that feel that taxpayer resources should be put to more pressing issues on Earth. I myself am excited about Artemis, DART, Juno and related missions. But I do empathize with their sentiments, especially when I hear about the under-resourcing at the schools and hospitals they work for.
As the economist J.K. Galbraith pondered some four decades ago: “Once or twice I’ve found myself lacking in curiosity as to the precise chemical, physical, biological, or aesthetic content of the lesser gravel in the Saturn ring, wondering whether we should be spending some hundred of millions of dollars on this instead of reclaiming the worst areas of New York… I never dream of raising such questions; I know there would only be indignation over my anti-intellectual tendencies. I feel very brave mentioning it now.” 
Mae, as an engineer, physician, astronaut, and educator, I am most eager to hear your views about this. What do you say to people who believe that “taxpayer-funded spacefaring is a selfish scientific-pursuit”—that funds should go instead to disadvantaged schools, medical research, green energy, and whatnot first.
The Canadian Space Agency, for example, gives many reasons for space exploration. They include: “creating scientific and technical jobs”; “cooperating with countries around the world”; and “sparking youth's interest in science.” But surely there are cheaper ways to create jobs, cooperate with neighbours, and inspire the youth?
Of course, the obvious argument in favor of space exploration is in its positive externalities. Space travel has, for example, contributed to advances in camera technology, scratch-resistant lenses, CAT scans, water purification systems, home insulation, baby formula, artificial limbs, and portable laptops.  While I’m not privy to the details, I suspect NASA and others are making important contributions to communications, climate sciences, automation & robotics, medical devices, and other practical fields as we speak. The cynic will argue, however, that we can make similar advances via more affordable and direct means. And that the cost of space exploration does not offset the opportunity cost of investment in schools, hospitals, and elsewhere. While new technologies can be life changing, so too is helping families out of poverty.
The second argument that comes to my mind is that of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. For example, if China and Russia are tripling their budgets to pursue space-related technologies, resources, and missions, perhaps the United States and Europe will feel compelled to keep up in fear-of-missing-out. Under this lens, one argues that space exploration is not dissimilar to the agricultural, industrial, computer, and internet revolution. That is, when it comes to economic and military survival, empires cannot afford not to make the transition. Perhaps arms races of the space-faring sort are simply inescapable.
Mae, do any of these themes resonate with you? What have I missed?
Because in the end, I believe we cannot really say what is the “right” level of spending for space exploration. Nobody really knows because we cannot compare the lifetime value of alternatives. We cannot quantify the opportunity cost and intergenerational effects of what we might discover, and what we might spend. Such is the nature of science, technology, and economics. We are all guided by a vague sense of what we think is right and wrong. And hence the scope for disagreement. At the very least, I believe NASA and other agencies can do a better job of communicating their contributions to the general public.
Thanks for hearing me out.
 Biden requests $26 billion budget for NASA in 2023. <https://www.space.com/nasa-budget-request-26-billion-for-2023>
 Your Guide to NASA’s Budget. <https://www.planetary.org/space-policy/nasa-budget>
 Artemis I <https://www.nasa.gov/artemis-1>
 20 Inventions We Wouldn't Have Without Space Travel <https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/infographics/20-inventions-we-wouldnt-have-without-space-travel>
 Everyday benefits of space exploration <https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/about/everyday-benefits-of-space-exploration/default.asp>
 J.K. Galbraith and Nicole Salinger. (1978). Almost Everyone’s Guide to Economics