Here is a little history of missions from NASA.
Thanks for the history, Quesi. Putting events in perspective is always useful; we humans have such trouble keeping the long view.
Getting into space is hard
and has a corresponding cost: politically, economically; in terms of time, equipment designed and yes, human lives. The returns have been enormous, yet they are often overlooked. For those like LoriPinkAngel, who ask just what we've gained (and it's a valid question) to benefit humanity from exploring space, I offer this list as a start:
Global Positioning System: The mankind depends on the sea trade for transportation of food grains, fossil fuels, metal ores, etc. Global navigation system, GPS helps in timely delivery of these essential goods by providing the ships with essential navigation information. The GNS services are made available using networks of satellites which also enables satellite Internet and satellite phones.
Weather Forecast and Agriculture: Gone are the days, when we used to take an umbrella with us while going out if there were black clouds in the sky. Now we can rely on the weather reports updated on an hourly basis. The accurate weather forecast is possible only because of the satellites in the space. The satellites also help us in predicting the crop yields, pest infestation and the area under cultivation.
Natural Calamities: It is easy to predict natural calamities such as floods, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and to locate wildfires and their extent with the help of satellites.
Minerals and Mining: Minerals buried deep under the Earth's surface can be located using satellites. Precious fossil fuels can be found with the help of satellites.
Electronics: The field of electronics and computers have also benefited from the space exploration. The astronauts have manufactured miniature electronic parts that could only be produced in the space during their experiments in the space stations and space shuttles.
Asteroids: It is believed that an asteroid strike eliminated the dinosaurs on the Earth. One of the benefits of space exploration is that we know about the thousands of asteroids and we can also be vigilant about their "drifts". May be we could prevent 'dinosaurian death of mankind', if and when an asteroid is positioned to repeat history. If it happens, it would be because of the knowledge which is the direct benefit of space exploration.
Energy Source: The scientists and researchers all over the world are attempting to harness the power of nuclear fusion. The process which enables the Sun to produce energy in abundance. It is believed that quantity of electricity generated using 1kg of hydrogen would be equivalent to that of 11,000 metric tons of coal.
Medicine: Another field to glean the benefits of the satellite exploration is that of medicine. Metal alloys that are manufactured to be used in spacecraft and space shuttles are also used in the health care industry. Nitinol, an alloy is used to make braces. The miniature electronic components which were developed for the space program can be used in electronic pain-control device that some patients need to use. The implantable insulin pump is based on the mechanical robot arm developed for the Mars Voyager probe.
And the cost of space exploration / exploitation is still a pittance compared to what we spend killing
each other over political and economic issues. It drives me a little crazy, sometimes.