From The Big Think's "Bill Nye: How Finding E.T. Will Change the World":
It would change the world for a price of a cup of coffee and wait, there's more. It wouldn't be the work of a guy like Galileo or Copernicus or Kepler, these are famous names in astronomy, or Isaac Newton or Einstein. It would be the work of all of us. It would be the work of all of us taxpayers and citizens of the earth who participate in this. Now it might be U.S. taxpayers nominally, but guarantee you the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, almost certainly the Indian Space Research Organization, the Roscosmos, everybody would have a small part on this mission. Everybody would be involved. And if we were to find evidence of life it would change the world. Change the world.
The argument here is little more than the government funding science as a religion. This isn't an argument about the material benefits of science; rather, it's an argument about how finding life on another planet will help us understand our place in the universe. That's not funding science, that's funding religion.
From times primordial, space has always attracted mankind’s spiritual energies. Whether it’s the Mayan astronomers’ use of astronomy to precisely express what they thought was the cyclical nature of time or the builders of Stonehenge aligning points of the monument with the solstice and the equinox, human nature has been attracted time and time again to the celestial heavens in mystical wonder.
That same wonder continues today to such an extent that Apollo 11’s landing on the moon attracts widespread commendation as the greatest human feat to date. Forget feats as the creation of a communications network enabling people in Beijing and Tokyo to speak in close to real time, forget the exponential rising of the living standards of nations across the world over the past two decades, forget that over seven billion human beings now live, Armstrong walking on a piece of rock around two hundred thousand miles from another human being is the seminal accomplishment of the human race. Really, the Apollo program was the most expensive photo op in history. Washington DC needed proof of liberal democracy’s superiority over communism, and NASA happily provided that.
We can certainly wonder at the universe, yet that wonder should be informed by philosophy, and Σοφία tells us that there is all too little meaning to be found in distant rocks or distant molecules, even if they may be living. Moreover, if there is any meaning to be found in nature, it can be found here on Earth.
Wonder is something that we can experience in our daily lives, and something that we shouldn’t save massively expensive expeditions across the solar system. We don’t need to spend other people’s money in order to show that humanity is a small part is a wider cosmos. All we need to do for that is to watch BBC’s Planet Earth from the comfort of our living rooms.