Happy Birthday, Story Musgrave

By Chris Mooney | August 19, 2010 10:01 am

This is a guest post by Darlene Cavalier, a writer and senior adviser at Discover Magazine. Darlene holds a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. She founded ScienceCheerleader.com and cofounded ScienceForCitizens.net to make it possible for lay people to contribute to science.

“We’re going nowhere, doing nothing.”

— NASA astronaut Story Musgrave (pictured below repairing the Hubble).

story_spacewalkToday is Story Musgrave‘s birthday. As a young boy, he repaired farm equipment; a fundamental experience he carried with him when he later fixed the Hubble Telescope. Story is a good friend and colleague. He’s also, hands-down, the smartest, straightest-talker I’ve ever met. We first worked together back when I ran the Discover Magazine Awards at Disney and Story was a (favorite) presenter. Since then, we’ve worked together in various capacities.

Earlier this year, the White House made several (at times contradictory) reports about the future of NASA. I needed clarity so I turned to Story who granted me this interview in late April. I knew he’d cut straight through the BS and deliver the facts framed by his years of experience and knowledge.

Story has 7 graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. Story was an NASA astronaut for over 30 years, a portion of which he spent as a part-time trauma surgeon, and flew on six spaceflights. He performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, was a pilot on an astronomy mission, conducted two classified DOD missions, was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble Telescope repair mission and on his last flight, he operated an electronic chip manufacturing satellite on Columbia.

He’s not shy about sharing his informed opinions when invited to do so. So I did, in this recorded interview.

I asked him what he thought about President Obama’s space policies:

“We’re going nowhere, we’re going to launch nothing, we’re going to do nothing. It takes us 15 years to do what we did in 5 years, 50 years ago.”

I pushed him to help explain why the public is no longer enthused about space. His response:

“Space holds a mirror up for what it means to be a human being. The public IS excited about space but we have to give them something. The Space Station was a massive strategic error. For the cost of that […] the entire solar system would have been covered. Instead, we’re giving the public nothing.”

Here’s the full interview. Story’s willing to do a follow-up so leave a comment if you have additional questions you’d like me to ask him. (Special thanks to Mike Lucek for his technical assistance.)


Comments (7)

  1. What a great interview – thank you, so much Darlene for setting this up, and special thanks to Dr. Musgrave for this advice, and for making such a great example to us all. Thank you and Happy Birthday.

  2. As the Director for the Southern California Science CafĂ©, I see a huge interest in all things astronomy still! The public still loves the images and the idea of exploring beyond our own world. It’s the responsibility of our government to keep the space missions viable and growing- it’s just as important to learn about the world outside as it is to learn about the world within! Sometimes, the strong voice is needed to stir the complacent bureaucracy into remembering this! Happy birthday Story and keep speaking your mind about what we, the public, really want and need to grow as a society!

  3. Melissa Greene-Bennae

    Great to hear Dr. Musgrave today on his birthday enjoyed the interview!!

  4. BD

    Space exploration is perceived to be expensive because we launch all this complex, shiny hardware hundreds or millions or billions of miles into space. It’s not 25% of the budget, as some have speculated. It’s not 10%, it’s not even 1%. It’s more like 0.5%. And for that, we get telescopes, orbiters, rovers, satellites, an inhabited space station, and rockets that can send people up to it. We were also in the process of building rockets to go beyond Earth orbit, but someone decided that the “wow” factor on that wasn’t worth the cost, so we’ll most likely get a watered down version of exploration. We’re going to miss the Shuttle, we’re going to pay dearly and through the nose for Russian launches once the Shuttle is officially retired and the workforce disbanded. I hope these commercial guys manage to make it happen, or the next human voice heard from the Moon will not be speaking English as a first language.

    Q for Dr. Musgrave: what political lever are advocates for human exploration missing? What hasn’t been tried yet?


  5. Unfortunately, because the money for space comes from the Congress, people look to the Congress for the vision and that has not worked and will not work. We the people and visionaries within the NASA need to independently create visions that are so beautiful, evocative, compelling, exciting and feasible and communicate them with great art including graphic arts such that the public will run with them and give them political life.


  6. It’s sad. If someone can convince the elite with money for toilet paper to invest in space exploration much like Richard Branson has somewhat, they can have first dibs on what planets they want to build their vacation homes on first.

  7. Thanks for weighing in, Story.
    Fred, BD, Melissa, Brett, and Paul: thanks for the comments.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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