I have just found this great video of an understandably irate Neil deGrasse Tyson (NdT) speaking the truth in this amazing video from 2012! The power of the innovation and inspiration gained from the NASA and our space program and its accomplishments is worth far more than the paltry 1 cent for each tax dollar that is spent on it. Our space program probably has a long term return on investment greater than anything else that the government spends money on because it:
- changes our perspective by seeing the world and the universe and everything else as connected – breaking down those walls the separate us from each other and the natural world;
- challenges us to think of what could be truly possible if only we dream of it;
- gets kids interested in space, STEM, galactic exploration, and its attendant problems and its awe inspiring potential – new technology, worlds, discoveries, and galaxies;
- challenges all of us to solve the technical obstacles the keep us from crossing the next challenging horizon of galactic exploration.
This gives me even more to think about for my policy page. I made some changes to it after finding out about the Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur while researching my post on the Kardashev Scale, but this video takes it to another level all together.
Perhaps, the single most important thing he does not cover is specifically why space progress stopped. I need the Notorious NdT to tell me!!
The core of his speech is about the first 37 minutes and then it gets into a Q&A session for the next 20 some minutes – some great stuff there too.
I have taken some liberties here in creating this transcript for this amazing video from Neil deGrasse Tyson.
- Created paragraphs
- Omitted some duplicate words
- Added punctuation
- Added a few lists
- Added headers
- Added images and links
- Added or adjusted other stuff
…all to make it easier to read and follow.
Let me make sure we’re all on the same page. Of course we are, but just to confirm it… Space, it’s a 300 billion dollar industry worldwide. NASA is actually a tiny percent of that. Interesting how small a percent NASA is to the total world spending of space. That little bit, however is what inspires dreams. Every corporation in here with representatives to this conference – if you ever even touched a science mission – you lead off with that. In Europe in your quarterly reports, in your annual reports, because it inspires.
It is the act of discovery that empowers nations and the world to undertake these activities. We know this. Here’s the problem. Here’s a problem. As best as I can judge the people outside of the space community view the space community by and large as a special interest group -special interest – and in the following way. Alright, so monies get distributed to districts so representatives fight for those monies so they can have the jobs in their district. How much fighting do other representatives do for NASA or for space industry if they don’t have space industry or a NASA Center in their district? Hardly at all. Hardly at all.
So, NASA is actually lucky that it’s got ten centers scattered across eight states. Lucky. It’s not clear how what NASA’s survival factor would have been over the decades if it didn’t have that breadth of representation not only that those states in which it’s represented which typically flip back in forth between Republican and Democrat typically, or if you look at the balance, if they don’t flip you look at the total balance between the parties among those eight states, it’s about 50/50 over the years. So, there is even part the partisan balance to the support for NASA when it’s there but nonetheless it’s by and large thought of as special interest and here’s what’s interesting.
I think there’s space tapped heavily in the service of the military, this space tapped heavily in the service of weather satellites communication, but – you know something – if you do your job perfectly it’s the kind of job where nobody notices. If we are protected by a web of space born military satellites and we are not attacked that gets unnoticed. We’re driving down the road running our GPS it is working we find our destination and nobody’s thinking about satellites. They’re just thinking did they get to their destination in time. It’s like shaving. No we’ll come up to you and say ‘Hey you shave real good today!”. The act of doing it perfectly is the measure of it going unnoticed. Mowing your lawn. You can mow your lawn perfectly and that means no one’s going to notice it. So, there’s a hidden dimension to the role that space plays in our culture. That when it’s done perfectly it goes unnoticed or, at best, is just taken for granted.
All right, I have more evidence of this. I recently delivered a testimony to the Senate the Subcommittee on Commerce Transportation and Science. It’s about NASA, really about space and our ambitions. That committee has two dozen senators. Three showed up. That’s in my expectations. I’m not… that’s not a complaint that I’m lodging here. It’s an observation I’m sharing with you, okay. Who are those three senators? Senators with important NASA properties in their states. We had representation from Texas. Representation from Florida. The two big ones right there. Sorry headquarters. We got Kennedy in Johnson’s, but with their senator from New Mexico I think trying to make sure New Mexico doesn’t miss out on something that could be happening in the future of space. That was it to me that’s a measure of the fact that the Senate thinks of space as special interest because only those senators that had direct interest in their states were there for the hearing.
The Real Audience to Lobby?
And I kept thinking to myself really that’s not who I should be speaking to. I want to speak to what you guys stay home. Bring me everybody else who doesn’t understand what the role of this epic adventure is. I was hoping C-Span would be there to film it. They were not. So, I said you mean this testimony is just going to get deposited in the congressional record and, but there was a camera there, and it, in fact, was filmed and somebody posted it on YouTube. It’s there it’s there. Fortunately, it is reaching the people for whom the Senate, Congress, and the President work. Okay, the president works for us. Congress works for us. So, when people say oh do you want access to a senator so you can try to convince him or her of something. Might I want to I want access to the people in a democracy. That’s supposed to matter. And however delusional I might be I still think it does matter a little bit more about this special interest bit.
We all remember the exact instant, you might even remember where you were in your life when Newt Gingrich said he wants to put moon colonies on the moon. He’s in Florida. He said I want moon colonies. Okay, by the way, that ambition is not as ambitious as Kennedy in 1961 saying let’s walk on the moon. We didn’t yet have a vehicle that wouldn’t kill an astronaut for being launched, so I found it curious that certain sectors criticized Gingrich for wanting a moon colony. In fact, it was a partisan divide because I got interviewed when he made that statement. So, I analyzed it. I said moon colony… it’s alright. I think is his plan to enable that need some work I might have chosen different words for that, but his plan could use them, but basically he’s trying to jump-start our space ambitions. The liberal press reported on my commentary by saying Tyson shoots down Gingrich’s moon proposal. The conservative Press reported on the same words that I had spoken and reported Tyson sympathetic with Gingrich’s moon proposal. So there’s a lens that has split, a partisan lens split into two parts that, in my judgment, and from my view is interfering with the consensus that needs to be driven to make real decisions happen.
Space Research Driving a Culture of Exploration, Innovation, and Environmentalism
So, that’s actually not what I came here to talk to you about. I just wanted to, just put us all on the same page. I want to talk about space not as spin-offs, not as industry, not as whether sad. No no. I want to talk to you about space as culture, space as culture.
You know the first hunk of hardware that had the power to exit Earth’s atmosphere as the V2 Rocket. Of course everybody knew Verner von Braun. All the way down everybody knew that if we have any future in space it’s going to have to borrow some of that technology. If not all of it. The 1950s descends upon us you remember the V2 Rocket? It was kind of bullet shaped, had these huge fins, fins. Cars had fins in the 1950s. What do you think those fins came from? All right, I propose the experiment… if you could probably dig up the designers of those cars and, let’s say well fins just kind of look cool, they’re probably not even thinking about the fins of the V2 rocket they’re probably not even thinking about it all, right. And if it’s there maybe it’s just not in their frontal lobe. But our cars had fins.
When did the fins go away? After we learned that the V2 shape and those fins… that’s not quite the rocket we’re going to need to get to the moon. A rocket start looking like the Saturn 5 rather than the V2. By the way, that V2 rocket shape. That if that was the rocket and every science fiction story told in the 1950s. Just go back rent any movie on Netflix from that era. Their rockets got fins. I have two books Babar Goes to the Moon and Tintin Goes to the Moon. They’re in rockets with fins. I collect stuff like. That Saturn 5 emerges and then the Finns go away. what happened to those fins on the Bel Air and on the 57 Chevy? All gone. Oh, so maybe the designer just felt oh it’s played itself out or maybe deep down inside space was operating on their creativity.
So, what happens? The 60s are underway . We’re going to the moon in a big way. Everybody knows it. We are innovating. We have an innovative culture, you know. It’s an innovative culture because every week and every month a new advance in space garners the headlines because a space frontier is being breached, a space frontier, and when you breach a space frontier there’s something new to talk about in that day’s paper, something new to talk about.
Every next Gemini mission’s more ambitious than the previous one – typically redoing what did before then and went a little extra – a little farther, a little extra docking maneuver. We’re ready to transition out of Gemini to Apollo. Let’s do… let’s launch the Apollo Rocket minus one of the stages. Now let’s put in all three stages. Let’s actually go to the moon, don’t land yet because we would still work on that. Well, when was? That that was 1968. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
What else was going on in the 60s? Everybody was dreaming about tomorrow. Everybody that’s what the World’s Fair was all about. It wasn’t about yesterday. It wasn’t about today. It was about tomorrow. The kind of tomorrow that could only be brought into the present by the ingenuity of scientists and engineers. And people knew this. How else is space influencing… Okay how about the Unisphere – gorgeous steel earth sitting there. It’s got three rings around it. Okay, go to the designer and they’ll say well I just put on the ring. Well did the three orbits of John Glenn influence? Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think so. But it’s got three rings. Not two. Not four. And the Rings are not going polar. They are going equatorial. Hmm… three rings around an Earth. 1964 New York World’s Fair.
The 1960s is the bloodiest decade in American history since the Civil War, since the 1860s. Servicemen killed weekly reported in the weekly papers, campus unrest. Civil rights movement playing out in the weekly news. That’s the 1960s, the bloodiest year in that bloodiest decade. 1968, the Tet Offensive. In February of that year Martin Luther King assassinated. RFK assassinated. Yet somehow we managed to still dream about tomorrow it was still in us. It still mattered.
It’s what birthed the Star Trek television series. In my measure it is one of the greatest television shows ever. The Twilight Zone was heavily influenced by space themes. Every third episode there’s some space concept being delivered to you telling another story through the lens of a space story.
Our presence in space is affecting not only the engineers and the mathematicians and the scientists. It’s affecting the creative dimension of that which we call culture. We are living it at every turn. Hardly what I call a special interest. What happens… December 1968… How do you cap off that year? Apollo 8. An underappreciated Apollo mission. Not by this audience, but by anybody else. Most people never heard of it. Apollo 8. What’s that?
Excuse me. That was the first time anybody ever left Earth with a destination in mind. Yet figure eight it around the moon – photo of Earth rising over the lunar landscape. The photo is really misnamed because the moon is tidally locked to earth so earth is always in the sky on the near side of the moon, always so it only was rising because in fact they were figure eating around the moon and earth rose up that photo. We all know it. Earth rise over the moon. There was earth seen not as the mapmaker would have you identify it, know the countries were not color coded with boundaries. It was seen as nature intended it to be viewed – oceans, land, clouds. We went to the moon and we discovered Earth. I claim we discovered Earth for the first time.
How does that affect culture? I got a list. You could you could take apart this list and come up with an explanation that does not directly reference space for everything on this list. You could probably do that, but I take a step back and I look at that list and I say “Wait a minute. Wait a minute.” How is it, it’s back up to 1962 briefly… Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring. The green movement typically credits that as the birth of birth of ecology, the birth of caring about the environment. It was a best-selling book. I have a different view. Maybe it planted some seeds. Maybe it tilled the landscape.
But stuff didn’t really start happening until after that photo of Earth rise over the moon was published. 1968 The Whole Earth Catalog is published. There’s a version before that photo is printed. The instant that photo comes out that is the identifying cover picture of the Whole Earth Catalog. Thinking about Earth as a whole. Not as a place where a nation’s war. As a whole. Seven months later, 1969 we land on the moon. 1970 we’re still going to the moon. We go until 1972, so watch this sequence of events:
- 1970 the Comprehensive Clean Air Act is passed. There were two other versions of that in the 60s – 1963 and 1967, but the most important rendering of that act came in 1970.
- Earth Day was birthed March 1970.
- The Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970
- There was a film called the Hellström Chronicle. It was one of the first documentary – pseudo documentaries – to actually get first run in the theaters. It was all about insects kind of. It was a scare movie about insects and what role they might play on our food supply as we go forward, but it got us thinking about nature.
- The organization Doctors Without Borders was founded in 1971. Where do you even get that phrase from? No one thought of that phrase before that photo was published because every globe in your classroom has countries painted on it. Doctors Without Borders 1971.
- DDT gets banned not right after Rachel Carson’s book, get banned in 1972. Were still go into the moon we’re still looking back to Earth.
- Clean Water Act 1971.
- 1972 Endangered Species Act two versions of that in the 1960s The most comprehensive version 1973.
- The catalytic converter gets put in in 1973
- Unleaded gas 1973.
We’re still at war in Vietnam. There’s still campus unrest yet we found the time to start thinking about Earth. That is space operating on our culture and you cannot even put a price on that. That is that is a nation. That is a world reacting to a new perspective on what it is to be alive on this planet that we all share, and out of that era an entire generation of people they think they feel the intellectualize about space. We see it in the art. We see it in Hollywood. We see it in television productions, storytellers. That’s because the space frontier was crossed weekly.
You know, back then you didn’t need special programs to convince people that science was a good thing in school. You didn’t need special programs to show people that engineering and math, the STEM fields, that these are useful to society, to our identity as a nation, because the headlines that were writ large over that era. Had built into them the fact that innovation created those headlines, innovation brought to you by an ambitious community of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.
When the Progress Stopped?
So, what happens mid-1970s come. It all ends. By the way, I have a collection of magazines – look, Life, Time, even Colliers going back into the 1950s – they all talked about tomorrow. How many, how many issues did you have to wait to before there was an article about the city of tomorrow, the home of tomorrow, transportation of tomorrow. It was in our culture, was in our mindset. It was in our zeitgeist. 1970s come around that all ended. The space frontier stopped being breached.
We did other things by the way. There was an engineering frontier that we took on. How do you make a reusable spacecraft? How do you build something in zero-g, something big like a space station? All this comes in the next 10 to 20 years. That’s advancing an engineering frontier. It’s not advancing a space frontier.
And, if I may put some of this in perspective – remember that school room globe I was telling you about? Take Earth, shrink it to a school moon globe and ask how far away is Mars on that scale? It’s a mile away. How far away is the moon? 30 feet away. Most people get that distance wrong because in textbooks they have to fit the moon on the same page as the earth so you think moon is much closer than it actually is. We’ve been lied to over all those years. If you do earth as a natural three-inch size circle on a textbook page the moon would have to be several pages back from that. You need a fold out to check it out. Mars is a mile away. The moon 30 feet away. The International Space Station Space Shuttle orbiting Earth 3/8 of an inch above its surface. That’s not advancing a space frontier. Some other kind of frontier, not a space frontier, I assert.
By the way the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere on that scale, it’s the thickness of the lacquer on the globe. That’s how thin this air is that we breathe that we think of as an ocean of air. It is as thin to the earth as the skin of an apple is to an apple, as the lacquer is to a schoolroom globe. So, you got to love the space entrepreneurs who were taken tourists up above the atmosphere. but we’re kind of telling them that that’s space. And I look at Earth and I come to it as an astrophysicist and I see the rest of the cosmos and I say you got some more work to do on that one. Okay, keep at it guys.
A National Space Mission to Drive the National Economy
I get just a couple, no I’m almost done here. sorry taking so long plus if we have time for Q&A I’d love to hear what’s coursing in your minds, especially this audience.
All right, so what are the current problems here in America, not other parts of the world, here in America, what are … Our economy is in the toilet. Hardly anybody’s interested in the STEM fields. Our jobs are going overseas and you have politicians that are pretty sure they have a solution to that. Oh, you need more science kids in the school let’s make better science teachers. There’s a Band-Aid for you. Put that right there. Throw a couple of dollars on that one. That ought to fix that. How about our jobs going overseas? Okay, let me think about that. All right. How about put in some tariffs and make some tax incentives in the community. We’ll keep the factory right there. Another Band-Aid.
People aren’t innovating, so we have to so we put money in sort of innovation businesses. Okay, these are all Band-Aids people. They’re Band-Aids. Here’s what we got to do. And I said this a billion times. You double NASA’s budget right now. It’s a half a penny on a dollar. Half a penny that pays for everything. Space Station debate, you know every … this astronauts, all the centers, the Hubble Telescope, the James Webb Telescope, the rover, the Keppler. Everybody is out of that half a penny. You double it. Double it to a penny, that’s all I’m going to say. Double it, and here’s what you do…
I’m a little unorthodox in this vision statement. I’m not going to twist people’s arms. Let me just put it out there. I don’t want to be driven by one destination or another. I don’t want to say our next thing we’re going to do in space – we’re going to go to Mars It’s like excuse me! How about all the rest of space. You know what I want to do when you double the budget? Let’s create a suite of launch vehicles. We’re kind of sort of doing that now, but let’s do that as the focus a suite of warren’s vehicles with strap-ons. Whatever you need :
- one configuration will get you to the moon
- another will get you to a Lagrangian point
- another will get you to Mars
- another will get you to the earth-sun L2, another Lagrangian point
- maybe there’s an asteroid headed our way we want to do something about that. We got another special configuration of rockets that will get us there.
So. we create a suite of vehicles that gives us access to space.
When Eisenhower came back from Europe after he saw the Autobahn and how it survived heavy climactic variation and troop maneuvers he said I want some of those in my country. All right, so he gets everyone to agree to build the interstate system. Did he say, you know, I just want to build it from New York to LA because that’s where you should go. No! The interstate system connects everybody in whatever way you want. That’s how you grow a system.
And I’m not going to discriminate. If there’s a military reason to do something on the moon? We got the launch vehicles to do it. If there’s a tourist reason to go to the back side of the moon? Well, that’s another configuration. You want to mine the moon? That’s another one. Scientists want to study see if there’s life on Mars? We’ll do that too. Everybody’s space interest gets served by this capacity and when you do this you guarantee that you are advancing a space frontier every week. And I can guarantee you every week there’s going to be a new headline. Astronauts, engineers found a way to extract the water from the soils of Mars, separate the hydrogen and oxygen we now have a supply of rocket fuel on Mars, a filling station so you’ll have to carry all your fuel with you. We’re mining helium-3 on the lunar surface. I don’t know if it’s cheap enough to bring it back here to Earth. Set up some other nuclear reactor somewhere else in space.
Whatever are the needs or urges being a geopolitical military economic – space becomes that frontier and you know, you know every week some new invention is going to be granted, some new patent is going to be offered because space is hard. Space is dangerous. Space is exciting. Not only do you innovate. These innovations make headlines and those headlines work their way down the educational pipeline and everybody in school knows about it. You don’t have to set up a program to convince people that being an engineer is cool they’ll know it just by the cultural presence of those activities you do that it’ll jumpstart our dreams. That’s what it’ll do and you know innovation drives economies. It’s especially been true since the Industrial Revolution. You double masses.
Space Exploration is a Driver for Innovation and the Global Economy
But, it’s not a handout. That’s what it is today. That’s what everyone thinks it is. It’s a handout for special interest. You know Mitt Romney got wrong when he criticized Newt Gingrich for pandering to Florida, the Florida constituency , by saying he’ll do all these nice things for NASA. Romney said you’re just pandering to Florida. If you go to, you go to New Hampshire, you’ll tell them something else about some bridge that they want there’s a deep misunderstanding there, the very statement that talking about NASA is pandering omits the fact that NASA drives our economy. That the culture of NASA drives the culture of innovation and it’s the culture of innovation that drives of the economies of the 21st century. That’s what it’s missing. Even if there’s pork spending on NASA even if there’s pork. What comes out of that spending benefits the nation in ways that a power plant or a bridge or a local road does not.
I’m just, I can be honest about that even if some of you can’t because you’re in it, you’re too close, you got… I can say it and I’m saying it and you know what happens the jobs do not go overseas? You don’t have to set up tax benefits. It’ll go overseas because we’re innovating and haven’t figured out how to do it yet. It has to stay here in America and you have to keep innovating. You’ll eventually catch up. I hand it to him you can’t simultaneously assert that we are a global economy and then cry foul if a corporation takes a plant overseas with a labor’s cheaper. That’s kind of part of the how that works, so the solution is not trying to just prevent that with laws. You innovate so that it doesn’t happen in the first place. Teacher training we need. That it is a necessary but insufficient condition to make this happen. You can have an awesome teacher in middle school, high school. Now you want to become a scientist. You come out the other end of that educational pipeline then what do you do? We lost the entire generation of these smart people. They became like investment bankers or lawyers out of the 1980s and 90s. There’s no place for them to take their interest in science. You have big bold ambitious projects then you get them all, especially since the NASA science portfolio involves biologists. We’re looking for life, it’s got chemists, geologists, astrophysicists physicists. The NASA portfolio touches all of these not only that, we need the electrical engineers, the mechanical engineers, the structural engineers. NASA is a one agency showdown. If we have an innovation then culture will resurrect some of that attitude we all had in 1960s except this time it’ll be without the tandem expensive war that was conducted.
By the way, if China wants to put military bases on Mars, on Mars in ten months… you know that, okay, did you have to leak that memo, then even have to be true, we’ll take one month to fund design and build the craft in nine months to get to Mars we’ll be on Mars in ten months. We already understand our resolve when we feel threatened that aspect will remain that capacity to react will remain the difference is we need to look at NASA not as a handout but as an investment, because I can tell you that as the health, as goes the health of space varying ambitions so to goes the spiritual, the emotional, the intellectual, the creative, and the economic ambitions of a nation, so goes the future of America thank you all. Pleasure.