Space Chronicles

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve been a big fan of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson for a long time. I caught him on The Daily Show the other night (he is a somewhat frequent and very entertaining guest) speaking about his new book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. After hearing him speak about what he covers in the book, and then listening to an NPR interview on the same topic, I can’t wait for a chance to get to my favorite book store (Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, if you’re curious) to pick up a copy.

Neil has been vocal about the recent cuts to NASA and the shuttle program while countries like Russia and China continue to advance their programs. He claims that what we really need to do is double the funding and push for a surge in research and exploration. He rarely forgets to point out in interviews that the one year budget for the U.S.’s military is equal to the entire 50-year running budget of NASA. This is why I love this guy. He is able to put shocking stats like this, things we never hear from largely science-illiterate politicians, in perspective. He makes convincing and even inspiring points about the history of the space program and its roots in the Cold War and a race to innovate and be a leader and the world superpower. He talks about how this research and exploration led to so many innovations and technologies that fueled the economy for decades. It worked once before. Why won’t we give it a chance today?

One of the commenters on the NPR story (link below) pointed out, “Your children and grandchildren cannot grow up to be astronauts.” Good point. For four decades kids grew up dreaming of being an astronaut. Most of us didn’t end up pursuing that dream, but some lesser version of it. Exploration and research inspired kids like me to go into science. Sure, it was war that propelled us into the space age, but look at all that came from that race, from that sense of wonder. How do we get kids excited about space now when we’re cutting funding to science at every opportunity and sending the message that success is a measure of how much money you can squander?

So… China, eh? Doing anything exciting over there that we should be aware of and angry about and want to beat you at? I’m not saying we want to be like China any more than Cold War U.S. wanted to be like the Soviet Union, but… Sputnik?

The links:

Neil on NPR

And Neil on The Daily Show (love his point about the set at the end…)

 

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Comments
  1. Doug says:

    Ha ha! I love his last comment at the end of the show! As much as he’s an awesome speaker and I’m sure his books are just fascinating, I think the world view has changed from exploring up there to exploring down here. Economically, we have switched from a space program to a conservation and environmental program. That’s where the science is progressing and the technology is attracting new blood. Perhaps in the future, when and if our economy mends a bit, we can explore beyond our own dwindling atmosphere.

    • Hey Doug! Sorry, haven’t had a chance to get back on here to reply until now…

      I see your point, but I argue that politics actively represses science and discourages progress and new blood from getting in the game, not only in the cosmos, but down here on the pale blue dot too. Watch ‘Who Killed the Electric Car’ (http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com/) or read Chris Mooney’s ‘The Republican War on Science’ (http://www.waronscience.com/home.php). Embryonic stem cell research shouldn’t be a moral or political issue, but it is because it is fundamentally misunderstood by people in power who answer to people with money. Ask 10 politicians to define evolution and you’ll get 10 different answers, 9.5 of which are wrong because they can’t even define what a scientific theory is.

      Consider this… 540 members of congress: 1 physicist, 1 chemist, 6 engineers, and 1 microbiologist… (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41647.pdf) Makes me feel ill.

      Oh yeah, 47% of Congress are millionaires. Okay, maybe that’s not completely relevant here, but it’s another sickening fact about the people who are supposed to represent us in Washington

      I could go on and on of course, but I’ll let this Onion article speak for me: http://www.theonion.com/articles/scientists-ask-congress-to-fund-50-billion-science,2291/ I find it hilarious, but I fear that some politicians would be oblivious to the fact that it’s a joke.

  2. Wow, this clip kinda made my night: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/03/07/neil_degrasse_tyson_s_most_astounding_fact_will_turn_your_universe_inside_out.html

    (And I did LOL at the author’s bio on Tyson: “Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s official jobs might include things like serving as a research scientist for the American Museum of Natural History and as director of the Hayden Planetarium, but it seems his real work is to turn your mind inside out. Tyson is a science communicator—meaning that a major part of his work is to make science understandable and interesting to stoners.”)

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