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The Case for Space

March 16, 2012

Rheanna Sand

In his first and only public speaking event to promote his new book "Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier," Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, native New Yorker and rare scientist-celebrity combo, made the case that most space enthusiasts are in his words, "delusional."

Not because of their love for cosmology - hearing him wax poetic about NASA, it is obvious he shares that passion to his core. And not because of the love of science, which he lauded, especially to the 8-year-old girl who told him she wants to go to Mars someday. No, space geeks are deluded because they believe that passion and curiosity are enough to push the boundaries of human knowledge to the edge of the solar system.

 

With views like this, why wouldn't we want to keep exploring? (Orion Nebula/NASA)

In his investigation into the grandest projects ever undertaken - like building the pyramids, discovering the New World, or walking on the Moon - Dr. Tyson boiled them down to three motivations. Large-scale projects were funded either to please a deity (the "afraid of an angry God" driver), for war or defense (the "afraid to die" driver), or for commercial gain (the "afraid to die poor" driver). Given that we no longer build things to please kings and gods, he posited that our only hope to reach the final frontier is to make it an economic necessity. Although he did admit that war, or competition with other countries (ahem, China) might also be the way to get it done. (He actually said there is no avoiding "space wars" - if we can't achieve peace on Earth, why would space be any different?)

The most brilliant idea he mentioned, in my opinion, was to convince a Chinese official to write a fake memo "leaking" information about a new space initiative that would leave the United States in the dust. How quickly would NASA's budget increase then?!

It's sad that pure scientific inquiry cannot get us to "boldly go" where no one has gone before. But to take another example of Dr. Tyson's, the Beagle wasn't funded so Darwin could go bird watching, was it?

We should all take Dr. Tyson's advice and write to our representatives in government to increase the funding for space exploration. Doubling NASA's budget from one-half of one percent to a mere one percent of tax dollars would get us to Mars in a few decades. And give the kids something big to dream about.

 

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