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.

  • Brandon

    deGrasse is the absolute man

  • Fourth World

    The greatest human voyage since Cristobol Colon crossed the Atlantic to introduce the “Old World” to the “New World” must be John Glenn’s extraordinary circumnavigation of the world.

    Until we take to heart the lesson of that journey all other voyages into space are minor footnotes. John Glenn’s voyage really made it clear that we are one people living in one home. John glenn turned the arms race into the space race which led quickly to cooperation in space. We need to think in terms of cooperation on Earth.

    We need to solve our problems here before we export hate, or other infectuous diseases, to the Moon or Mars. Lets focus our attention and investment on slowing, managing and reversing (a bit) global warming. Let’s stop mining uranium and raising cancer rates at the same time. Let’s stop spreading mercury in the biosphere – it comes from burning coal, releasing chlorine from salt in outdated factories and mining gold illegally or processing the ore in outdated plants.

    And yes let’s tax all fuels that release GHG’s and use the proceeds to promote investment in a new energy and transportation infrastructure – built around windpower, solar power, geothermal energy, electric mass transit, electric automobiles and delivery vans and electric rail transportation. The U.S. is one of the best position countries to lead in wind and solar power. We have great wind resources offshore on two coasts and inland on the great plains stretching from Texas to North Dakota. Insolation is excellent in the desert Southwest adn pretty good across much of the south. The island nations of Hawai’i and Puerto Rico can probably produce renewable energy more cheaply than the oil or coal fired power that predominates now, if compared on an equal, new-building basis.

    We have plenty of places to boldly go right here on the surface. Let’s figure this place out first. Before we mess up anything else.