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article imageOp-Ed: Leading astrophysicist worries shutting down NASA is a mistake Special

By Jonathan Farrell     May 8, 2012 in Science
The recent excitement of the "Super moon" this past May 4 is no surprise to astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. This type of enthusiasm is just what the nation needs, especially during a recession economy.
In his new book "Space Chronicles - Facing the Ultimate Frontier," Tyson emphasizes the importance of America keeping up the pace in space exploration by maintaining NASA funding and research. He fears the shutting down of the NASA program is a mistake.
His lecture this past April at the American Museum of Natural History was sold out. Reviews of "Space Chronicles" have been all–raves. Although, some people noted that some of his points expressed in the book through a series of essays are redundant. Yet, in an interview with this reporter by phone on April 30, he clarified that "each chapter lives as its own.” Edited by Avis Lang, some of the material in the book is from articles Tyson wrote for the "Universe" column in the 1990's, for Natural History magazine.
As director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, a monthly columnist for Natural History magazine, and an award-winning author, Tyson has been passionate about science, especially outer space. He will be hosting the "Cosmos" series, premiering in early 2013.
Tyson's popularity has been compared to that of “Cosmos” creator Carl Sagan. And, like Sagan, Dr. Tyson's enthusiasm for science has made the subject more approachable to the public.
Tyson who also like Sagan, grew up in New York City sees connections of the everyday to the realm of science and hopes that more people will realize this and reach for the stars.
As he told talk-show host Tavis Smiley the nation needs to get back to and continue its space program. Dr. Tyson's appearance on the Tavis Smiley Show got this reporter's attention and so wanted to learn more.
Taking a few moments from his busy schedule at his office in NYC, Tyson told this reporter that "the budget for NASA funding is much less than we might think," he said.
For example he pointed out, "the Dept. of Education is three times the amount for NASA's budget and for all the social programs that get Federal funding, those are 50 times the budget for NASA," said Tyson. Compared to other budgets our national tax dollars are spending half of one percent on NASA programs. "That averages out to half-a-penny's worth of tax dollars," said Tyson.
Putting that against the backdrop of the national budget and deficit that is really very small. Because, as Tyson noted, “that half-a-penny percent pays for everything in the NASA program.” "People need to keep dreaming about tomorrow, today," said Tyson. As Tyson also noted previous advances in space exploration was war-driven (via the Cold War years that is).
But to pursue science and space exploration as an innovative incentive would greatly enhance the economy. If one of our rivals was to take an interest in space exploration like China or India, Tyson believes the US Government would revive NASA funding and programs immediately.
Private enterprise is not excluded. In fact Tyson pointed out that even in the early days of space exploration private industry and enterprise was involved. He also noted that as far back as the expeditions of Christopher Columbus here on earth, once the parameters were set then private enterprise steps in. Private enterprise will never be in a position to advance in an expensive dangerous frontier until the maps have been drawn and the boundaries set. "Capital markets are not able to value that," said Tyson. This is why he is a bit skeptical about investors rushing to step into NASA’s shoes.
"Only when risks are assessed," (by a government) he said. That is when private enterprise and investors are able to follow. Tyson mentioned that much of the current technology we enjoy today, such as satellite TV, cell phones, etc. is due in part to space exploration. As our lives become more dependent upon technology, Tyson understands that continued space exploration and study is essential.
The use of satellites requires that we understand more about the sun, as solar activities in the form of flair ups, etc. can cause interference to transmit ion and reception of signals. An on-going space program would work to ensure current technology is safeguarded.
Tyson also talked about how all scientists and especially those in "the STEM fields" (that's an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) need major projects.
"Having a healthy NASA impacts everyone's culture not just the STEM fields," said Tyson. Space programs help get many people involved not just scientists in a lab – it includes everyone, even observers like this reporter. The enthusiasm and the effort is a great morale booster to any nation and it helps instill a sense of accomplishment that fosters more endeavors.
"I am making a case, he said, that goes beyond just one culture (in society be it political, social, religious, and so on), when NASA embarks on a project it does so in a big way, like a force of nature."
"Space Chronicles - Facing The Ultimate Frontier, By Neil DeGrasse Tyson is published by W.W. Norton and Company, NY.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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