This one’s a touch heavy on rhetoric, but it’s also full of interesting questions, so bear with me. Watching NASA’s budget get slashed over the past few years invites a whole host of basic questions that seem worth asking. What are the ultimate aims of space exploration? What’s a reasonable amount of money or resources to allocate to NASA’s budget? How does our sense of national identity, our vision of the future, or our current economic situation tie into all this?
Personally, I’m fascinated by space exploration, and a part of me is inclined toward a fuzzy nostalgia for a time in our history when it seemed like discovery was only limited by how big we could dream. Another part of me is conflicted though. Conflicted like Gil Scott-Heron when we wrote “Whitey on the Moon”, or conflicted like any remotely reasonable person must’ve been when Reagan went all George Lucas on us back in the early ’80s. Needless to say, I’m not an expert.
Fortunately, Neil deGrasse Tyson actually is an expert. He’s one of those incredibly well-informed, personable experts in the mold of Carl Sagan– the kind of dude that pops up across the table from Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher every few months and manages to make astrophysics sound like something you could actually start to wrap your head around. The first episode of his latest project, We Stopped Dreaming, if a bit heavy-handed, is an informative look at the history of NASA and the circumstances leading up to the recent drop in funding. More importantly, it’s a plea for us to consider what we stand to lose as a result.