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Fareed speaks with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, about the importance of space exploration – and whether Americans have fallen out of love with space.
What is the Orion spacecraft that NASA is talking about doing?
All of these efforts are trying to get us back into space, with the goal of possibly sending humans to the Mars system, Mars and the moons and the like. And if you have that capacity, then you'll have the capacity to go many other places. You could visit comets. You could go to the Moon easily once you've configured that.
So these are the things that have been discussed. But I don't see it happening in a real tangible way. In the 1960s, we were going to the Moon and every couple of months you saw the next spacecraft ready on the launch pad.
You led off with the ending of the shuttle program. For many people, that was sad. And it shouldn’t have been sad because had the cards been played right, on the next launch pad would have been the next vehicle to continue this adventure in space. And you say, OK, it served us well. Mothball it, but here's what's next. No one was sad at the end of the Mercury program, because the Gemini rockets were ready right there on the launch pad. And no one was sad when Gemini ended because the mighty Saturn 5 was ready to go.
But we've fallen out of love with space in that sense.
Perhaps. I think it's because when you stop moving a frontier, you forget what's on the other side of that frontier that could titillate explorers, the explorer gene built within us. But on top of that, that can actually transform how we live and what we know of the physical world.
And it's the fact that we’ve explored since we've left the cave that has enabled civilization to be what it is. The people talking on their cellphone and following GPS instructions for where grandma's house saying I don't need space. Excuse me – that's how you know where grandma lives and when to make the left turn. There's DirecTV, there's satellite radio. There's all these things that involve space. And you're going to say now that we don't need any more space, there's nothing else I need?
There's a whole universe. And I, as an astrophysicist, see the universe, feel the universe, smell the universe every day. And for people to say I'm cool. I'm right here. This is all I need. Now, let's live – I say that's how to die.