Neil Tyson sounds off NASA

By Phil Plait | April 14, 2010 8:00 am

My old friend Neil has something to say about NASA and inspiration.

I wonder how often he reads my blog? More likely, he and I just strongly agree on this topic. He is a very smart guy, after all.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind

Comments (57)

  1. Brett

    How true. I had already seen this, but can’t help but watch it again. A phenomenally simple explanation as to why NASA matters, but incredibly profound as well. I hope the right people are watching this. Maybe that’s you and I; maybe it’s children – the 8th graders he talks about; maybe it’s our representatives. But this message needs to be seen and heard!

  2. He is a very smart guy, after all.

    Yeah. And he was on Colbert recently. Again.

  3. Mr Ed

    An impressive enough speech that I almost forgive him for what he did to Pluto.

  4. LMR

    I was at that lecture at U.B. This was part of the QA at the end – and it was the most passionate part of his talk. You could tell he really cared about this – and he dropped his typical levity when hitting this point.

    I can’t remember if it was part of that question or somewhere else in the talk, but he also made the point about kids and motivation – what kid wants to grow up to make airplanes 10% more efficient or make something cost a little less to produce. That isn’t the stuff that dreams are made of. But if kids can dream about being the first pilot on Mars, that’s something to be inspired about.

  5. Thorne

    That’s what I like about Tyson, he makes complicated issues understandable. The imagery of crouching down, concentrating on the ground while the danger moves in from above is chilling. And “half-a-penny on the dollar” is so easy to visualize. Wonderful stuff.

  6. I love Dr. Tyson. He’s a fantastic orator and before hearing him, I never would have thought anyone could be as on fire for science as he is. You can tell that this man is absolutely and unequivocally in love with science.

  7. I was also at the lecture at UB, and it was excellent. I left it with a feeling of wanting to go out and explore the universe for myself; not exactly in my research area, as an Earth-based volcanologist, but a sure sign of an inspiring speaker. I’m glad we invited him to UB as a Distinguished Speaker – the slots for that series are often heavily weighted toward the political, and it was heartening to see a passionate advocate for science.

  8. Gary

    “How much would you pay for the universe”. Tyson is an inspiring an eloquent speaker, I was lucky to see and meet him in Cambridge, England earlier this year when he handed the Cosmos Award from the Planetary Society to Stephen Hawking.

  9. Lukester

    I like this one because it reminds us NASA and science should never be a political issue… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7Q8UvJ1wvk

  10. Inertially Guided

    I heard Mr. Tyson talk about it. Yes, I heard old Neil put it down.

    Lets hope America will wake up some day, and remember how to dream.

  11. Are you listening Katie Couric? Huh?
    He’s talking to you!

    Good one, Inertially Guided! :lol:
    NASA don’t need Katie around anyhow!

    But to answer the question he poses at the end, I’d gladly fork over 25% to 50% for NASA.
    .5% is a national embarrassment.
    Neil should be invited to be at the White House every other Tuesday night for dinner.
    I’m just sayin’…

  12. Evil Merodach

    For those of us who hadn’t seen this, thanks, BA. What an impassioned speech advocating something that too many Americans have forgotten or taken for granted! We need to set loose the fire of exploration in our land once again.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    He IS an amazingly effective and dynamic speaker.

    Wish we could clone him.

    Gary 7

  14. I like Tyson a lot; he’s one of the best. However, in regard to the practice of stating how NASA only receives a half-cent on the dollar, that is an appeal to fairness, and I’ve never known that to work at budgeting time. In other words, comparing your share to someone else’s share doesn’t mean that you’re going to get more.

    You have to have a convincing reason. There’s a lot of competition for the federal purse, and fairness is just not a criterion.

  15. I got to interview Tyson for Lablit magazine a couple of years ago (here). He is an awesome scientist and inspirational to talk to, even over the telephone!

  16. drow

    now, go forth and write. write your congressrats. write the obama. write anyone who will listen. write anyone who won’t, but needs to hear anyway. federal budgets are finite, and NASA isn’t given funding out of benevolence. its a darwinian process of competition with every chickenhawk, bleeding heart, and entitled retiree who screams louder than we do.

  17. Pi-needles

    Forces of nature: earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, wild animals & … NASA! WTHeck? ;-)

    NASA is a force of Humanity – that’s why it can go where nature can’t! ;-)

    Oh & the bit about “…the fastest trains made in Germany & now China” — Er, Tyson, love ya work (Pluto-bashing aside) but haven’t you heard of Japan’s Shinkansen or bullet trains that got there sooner than better than those other nations you mentioned there? ;-)

    Great speech though otherwise & sentiments I heartily agree with. 8)

  18. Matt

    SteveC: I don’t think he was really appealing for a larger piece of the pie, though certainly I think he would like one…he was addressing the commonly held belief of many American citizens that we spend too much money on NASA.

    Saying that NASA costs .5 percent of the federal budget doesn’t go far to persuade congress, but it does to a long way to convincing Joe Sixpack that NASA is not a massive drain on our government resources.

  19. Pi-needles

    @10. Inertially Guided Says:

    I heard Mr. Tyson talk about it. Yes, I heard old Neil put it down.

    Old? Well he’s not *that* old really is he? ;-)

    Lets hope America will wake up some day, and remember how to dream.

    Wake up and dream? Mixed message there – But I like it! :-D

    ******

    PS. What I said before about force of Nature Vs Humanity – okay, nature exists outside of Earth too I know, the whole cosmos is natural and so are we. But “natural” & “rockets” somehow just don’t quite go together! ;-)

  20. I love this guy. He’s funny and smart. Anyone that can take the heat of countless school children threatening you for demoting Pluto is awesome in my book. :)

    “How much would you pay for the Universe?

    Brilliant!

  21. Markle

    Old friend? Older clip. Seems that way, anyhow.
    Tyson certainly seems to like it well enough. He’s self-tweeted it often enough recently.

    I’d like to have seen the rest of the talk. Some Unis give out the press release and others (MIT, Harvard, Google, Stanford, UC) give the paper too.

  22. Charles Boyer

    @Gary7 “He IS an amazingly effective and dynamic speaker. Wish we could clone him.”

    We can, sort of…we can educate as many kids as possible in the best manner possible and hopefully some will turn out as well as Neil has.

    A fellow that reminds me strongly of Neil Tyson is Dr. Arlie O. Petters, who did some great work in gravitational lensing. Dr. Petters is from Belize, and pulled himself from the bootstraps up from a 3rd world country to become a leading mathematician. Guys like him I really admire on many levels.

  23. JohnB

    Great clip, good point about “sometimes you gotta look up”.

    Not to quibble about where the fastest trains are, but let’s not forget France:

    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/508521/worlds_fastest_rail_train_tgv_574_8_kph_inside_footage/

  24. Siege

    @Pi-needles If you can’t wake up and dream, then you’ll always be asleep, either dreaming without action, or living without a soul.

  25. On an unrelated topic, here’s an easy-to-understand demonstration of how black holes work: http://www.gocomics.com/closetohome/2010/04/14/

  26. BJN

    Tyson did his spiel on Colbert before the Bad Astronomy post. I wondered if Phil was inspired to blog by that appearance. Of course we’d never assume that astronomers have an emotional bias toward manned space exploration.

    I read this morning the the Obama administration reversed itself on Orion. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/14/obama-revives-orion-space_n_536667.html

  27. sam

    wow i wish i wouldve known this guy was in buffalo i wouldve went to see him

  28. ASFalcon13

    I must’ve been living in a cave or something for a while now. I hadn’t heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson until I saw this clip a few days ago. I’ve looked a bit more into him, listening to some more of his lectures on YouTube and such, and now I’m convinced that he tops my list of people I’d most like to have lunch with sometime.

  29. LuanneGraham

    I love this man….period. He is my hero.

  30. Bruno Domingues

    Well, the lack of objectives is starting to notice. Not only in NASA, but in other areas your country engages. NASA inspired me, even across the Atlantic. (Well, it still does, but I know you can do better)

    I couldn’t agree more with Tyson. You should return to your glorious days of being an inspiration to the rest of the world. Americans have always been good at going over the frontier, see what’s on the other side.

    Come on, quit you whining and take us to Mars.

  31. hackenkaus

    “He is a very smart guy, after all.”

    For an astronomer, perhaps. Astronomers are somewhere in between biologists and chemists on the IQ scale. His public act strikes me as being rather pretentious.

  32. Great inspirational talk.

    We also need to hear about Death From The Skies from another scientist. ;-)

  33. hackenkaus (#33): So are biologists smarter than chemists or the other way around? As an astronomer myself, I’m kinda stupid.

  34. Crudely Wrott

    “How much would you pay for the universe?”

    Forty two quatloos are bid.

  35. Crudely Wrott

    Upon abuse by a challenger, the bid has increased to one hundred thirty seven quatloos.

  36. Steve A

    @19. Matt

    You hit it right on the head. I’m having trouble tracking it down, but a poll I believe last year, maybe late 2008, found that when you inform people of everything NASA does with its budget and how much comes out of it, not to mention exactly how much NASA’s budget is, its approval ratings sees a dramatic boost. When asked, people often thought NASA had a much higher budget than it actually does.

  37. Jcf

    Wow! A half-a-penny on the dollar? How much is that? Like 20 billion dollars a year? The USA can probably buy like 20 stealth bombers with that . Less NASA, more bombers!!!

  38. Umesh Chauhan

    Human Beings has already sown the seed of its extinction, no matter what.

    Human being is fooling it self.
    Human being has no more importance than a mosquito, to the nature and vast universe.
    Human being is nothing.

    Good luck to you.

  39. Stanley H. Tweedle

    Up yours, JEW-S-A!

  40. LcNessie

    He almost sounds like a reverent or priest… But in the service of science and rationality, I guess that’s a good thing… ;)

  41. Josh

    I had never heard of Neil Tyson myself, either. There need to be more speakers like him, going to elementary schools nation-wide. The best way to do it is to volunteer your time as much as possible, because most elementary schools don’t have big budgets.

  42. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Nice speech by Tyson there – for once I actually agree with much of what he said. ;-)

    But if I was there then I would’ve asked him this question:

    Suppose you have two objects to choose from :

    Object A has three moons, an atmosphere that is in some respects like Earth’s*, a complex seasonal weather pattern, probably has active volcanoes & (maybe) has a set of rings too.

    Object B has no moons, no atmosphere, no rings, no volcanoes and no weather.

    One & _only_ one of these objects is a planet – but which one?

    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see
    scroll down further to see

    Answer :

    Object B – which is Mercury.

    Object A is Pluto & according to Neil DeGrasse Tyson & the IAU not a “proper” planet despite the facts mentioned in the question above.

    Does this really make any reasonable sort of sense? I don’t think so!

    Moreover, Mercury – & for that matter, Earth & even Jupiter too – would cease to be a planet if they orbited out where Pluto does.

    Does that really make sense either – that something is a planet if its close to its Sun but while remaining physically unchanged suddenly stops being one if it is moved into a much wider & more distant orbit? Not to me it doesn’t.

    I for one will never forget or forgive Neil Degrasse Tyson’s stupid anti-Pluto bigotry. :-(

    To paraphrase Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who :

    “A Planet’s a *PLANET* no matter how small!” ;-)

    ******

    * In that Pluto’s atmosphere’s like Earth’s is composed mostly of nitrogen.

  43. Grand Lunar

    @9. Lukester

    Thanks for posting that link. Surely breaks my preconceptions!
    Hope that this administration can break the trend.

    @27. BJN

    I wondered about whether or not that would happen. Makes sense.
    Now all we have to do is show them the existing plan that can match quite well with this idea!

  44. drow

    look, pluto’s feelings aren’t hurt or anything. move on.

  45. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @46. drow Says:

    look, Pluto’s feelings aren’t hurt or anything. move on.

    How do you know? ;-)

    Besides I note that you haven’t answered my questions there.

    Surely Pluto has more right to be called a planet than Mercury does?*

    Surely simply orbiting further out and thus having a vaster area to “clear” shouldn’t make something that is otherwise a planet (eg. Pluto – or, if they happened to orbit out in the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt region Earth or Jupiter too) suddenly NOT a planet based only on the region of the planetary system it inhabits?

    Well?

    Neil Tyson’s ridiculous notion that Pluto is not a planet is exactly that – ridiculous – and so is the IAU’s anti-Pluto definition. It doesn’t make sense scientifically, logically or in any other way & it needs to be changed. Period.

    ________________________________________

    Incidentally, I’m not saying that Mercury shouldn’t be considered a planet or, for that matter Eris or Makemake, Haumea or Ceres etc .. either. I have no issue with bodies that meet a reasonable criteria for planet being added to the list of planets – far as I’m concerned the more planets the merrier! But the definition of planet has to be logical and reasonable and I do not think the IAU’s third “orbital clearance ” criterion is that – not at all.

  46. SLC

    Had I been present at this presentation, I would have asked Dr. Tyson if he thinks that Bob Park and Steven Weinberg don’t know what they are talking about when they suggest scaling back the manned space program in favor of robotic missions.

  47. Childermass

    As for a program to put people beyond low-earth orbit there are in my mind two viable options:

    1) Don’t do it.
    2) Spend at least $10 billion a year over and above any other space spending and more likely a hell of a lot more. It also needs to be a long term commitment.

    A few million here and a billion there is not going to do the job.

  48. Halcyon Dayz

    #9 “I like this one because it reminds us NASA and science should never be a political issue… ”

    Everything that costs public money is a political issue.

  49. Andrew

    Tyson has always struck me as the heir to Carl Sagan. I am sure Sagan would be sickened if he were around today.

    If Obama inane plan is passed we will be watching this video again in a decade and saying to ourselves why didn’t we listen to people like Tyson.

  50. Lisa G.

    Dr. Tyson has an amazing way of reaching people in ways they can understand. Ok, so he pulled a fast one and snatched Pluto from our grasp, but in return, he placed the Universe in the palm of our hands.

    There is a lot to be said for the guys that are doing the hard work, as mentioned in this video, it isn’t that NIH isn’t doing great things, they just don’t have someone out their effectively promoting what they do in such fantastic way. We have lots of government agencies that do lots of phenomenal work with precious little fanfare. NASA has a friend in Dr. Tyson. He makes what they do interesting, inspiring, sexy but mostly, Known. He has probably done more to promote NASA than anyone within NASA.

    Keep up the good work, Mr. Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »