August 12th, 2014
01:39 PM ET

Have Americans given up on space?

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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.

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Topics: GPS Show • Space • Technology

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Allan Kinsman©

    To my mind the greatest importance to space travel is in the perspective received. We benefit from the basic science also but to see ourselves through the a distant lens can help.. We begin to understand the rarity of our world and how it protects us. Also interesting how many of the foreys into space are powered by solar. It seems we could learn yet more.

    August 12, 2014 at 1:50 pm |
  2. hammerclawpc

    No, we haven't given upon space. We have given up on a do-nothing President, whose operative words seem to be "America Can't".

    August 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm |
    • c1c2c3c4c

      E haven't given up we have just realized how terrible NASA is at its job. The Private sector is heading to mars and colonizing at projected dates that are years before nasa can even send a probe on top of that NASA will do it all for a few billion more tax dollars than even the least conservative estimates given by the private sector. And these projects are not by crackpot companies, several already have delivery methods built and certified and are just designing final stages in preparation for launch. Just defund NASA its no longer needed besides all of that DARPA has more space capability than the agency who's sole purpose is space.

      August 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm |
    • Paul Vondra

      Yes we've given up on space just as we've given up on any kind of national unity or purpose. As your comment amply demonstrates, space is just one more arena for hyperpartisan Americans –who never gave a hoot about space, don't now, and never will in the future– to take cheap shots at "THE OTHER SIDE."

      Anyone genuinely concerned about our space program knows that NASA has been increasingly short-changed by uncaring Presidents and uncaring Congresses for at least the last 50 years– aided and abetted by the uncaring American people. Occasionally it is good for a bagful of unfunded Election Year "visions" that disappear once the votes are counted.

      August 12, 2014 at 8:14 pm |
      • Paul Vondra

        CORRECTION: That should have read at least the last 30–30 years in my above post. Thank you.

        August 12, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
    • rascal262

      Forgetting the fact that is was Bush I that decided the end-date of the shuttles, and neither Clinton nor Bush II did anything to get ready to replace it. Remember in GWB's State of the Union address where he announced he was directing NASA to plan for a Mars mission? That's why the space agency is where it is today.
      But I'm guessing yours was more of a partisan rant or something you read off of a bumper sticker.

      August 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
  3. c1c2c3c4c

    Nasas new launch system is also questionable at best, many of the teams engineers disagreed with the final design but the administration over ruled them. Safety and cost were both brought into question and many left the agency rather than contribute to the system.

    August 12, 2014 at 2:53 pm |
    • Sean

      THE SENATE over-rode them. NOT the administration. Specifically the "honorable" Senators Landrieu and Vitter. It's a jobs program for Michoud Assembly. NASA didn't want the Senate Launch System. Even the Augustine commission implied such a vehicle was unnecessary and prohibitively expensive. F-9H and D-IVH have the upmass we need to assemble projects in space like the Nautilus-X concept. Don't make it political, blame the system.

      August 12, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
  4. Ferhat Balkan

    During the 60s, the space program was a race between the Soviet Union and the US. Every event was politicized and followed very closely by the media. Huge amounts of money and talent were poured onto NASA and the same was true of the Soviets to be the "first" in anything that had to do with space. The first satellite, the first dog followed by the first human and finally, the most ambitious race of them all, the first landing on the moon. With the advent of the space shuttle, the objectives changed and the space race took on a more civilian and scientific role. Politics were set aside and Soviet astronauts found themselves going on joint ventures with the US. Over time, economics rather than politics took precedence over the space program. More sattelites, probes and robots were sent into space to achieve science and answer questions. The human element was slowly and gradually taken out of the equation. This added with the space shuttle disasters of Challenger and Columbia sealed the last nail on the coffin.
    Since economics took precedence over politics, business entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson who have hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars at their disposal saw an opportunity to privatize space with SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. The trent has been going towards privatization and finding more cost effective ways to sending humans as well as probes/satellites into space seems to be the challenge of exploring the new frontier. We'll soon see first space tourists going up into space and eventually asteroid mining may become a reality as we dwindle our own precious supply of resources on Earth. As time goes on, governments will play a less and less role in space and companies will take over. At lest, that seems to be the direction we're headed. I don't believe humans lost interest in space, they are simply seeking the answers and exploring it in a different way. Our future and our survival depends on space exploration.

    August 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm |
  5. chri§§y

    Lol @ Sean, dont you know by now that everything wrong is Obama's fault? Lmao

    August 12, 2014 at 7:50 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Hi. @ chrissy.
      I was surprised that you agreed with me about inheritance taxes.
      As for the "Blame Obama" industry, I think that he was responsible for very little that failed to work in his presidency, and he did many wonderful things.

      August 12, 2014 at 9:06 pm |
  6. chri§§y

    Lol and AGAIN..i agree @ Joey! Im puzzled though, why are you surprised that i agree on inheritence taxes? I am very much all about kids! And it just seems to me that leaving your money to your children, that youve ALREADY paid taxes on, should NOT be taxed again!

    August 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ chrissy, that position of one's earthly possessions' passing easily to his children is rational to you and me.
      You know that sometimes I feel that I am more conservative than you on a few issues. In the past, many of my friends had heated opposition to my position on inheritance tax. They were much more swayed by Marx and Mao than I could ever be, and many dinner parties ended loudly. Interestingly, they had rich parents.

      August 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm |
  7. Dennis Berube

    Just ask Elon Musk if we have given up. He plans a Mars base in the future........ As to our politicians, well they would rather spend a Trillion dollars on a war jet, and pocket the rest........

    August 13, 2014 at 6:44 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      We could have both war jets and spacecraft with the elimination of ecessive butter from the budget and rational family planning for all.

      August 13, 2014 at 6:58 am |
  8. chri§§y

    Lololol and once AGAIN @ Joey i agree! And yea i suspect you are alot more conservative than I.

    August 13, 2014 at 11:06 am |
  9. chri§§y

    And yea excessive anything should be eliminated! A good place to start might be excessive tax breaks for the rich! Lol i bet youre cringing reading that one huh? Lol @ Joey...sorry i just couldnt resist! Lol

    August 13, 2014 at 11:14 am |
  10. O'Maolchaithaigh

    I wholeheartedly agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson: "...for people to say I'm cool. I'm right here. This is all I need. ... I say that's how to die."

    August 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
  11. chri§§y

    And what exactly is WRONG with people being happy with what they have? Why must it only be ok for people to always want more than they have?? Sounds like a member of congress to me!

    August 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm |
  12. Lance Elliott

    Neil's talked about this before. One of the biggest problems is NASA's funding and direction change with the presidencies.

    Bush was setting NASA up to go back to the moon, and that would have been fine. Obama's pointed NASA to Mars instead, which is better but it meant NASA had to scrap all the progress on a new lunar program for this new one.

    NASA gets half a penny of your tax dollar. The entirety of NASA's funding is on par with what it takes just to air condition our military. If it was brought up to just one penny on a tax dollar, NASA would be able to go to the moon and Mars both with easy, with money to spare for extra missions.

    By the way guys, space exploration is actually one field Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together on. Both have differing interests up there but all the same, interest on both parties.

    August 13, 2014 at 10:12 pm |
  13. chri§§y

    Lol @ Joey, you know im not a material person so the only thing i want more peace!

    August 14, 2014 at 12:27 am |
  14. George patton

    It now appears that the right-wing thugs in Washington feel that they'd rather control all of Ukraine than to continue cooperating with the Russians in the current space program. Eastern Ukraine must be of great value to them!!!

    August 14, 2014 at 8:29 am |
  15. Ncwriter

    No, America's "leader" has given up on space. Americans wonder why.

    August 14, 2014 at 11:19 pm |
  16. Bill

    The biggest problem we have right now is return on investment. It costs a lot of money to go, but not much is gained anymore. We can't get out far enough yet to do any real exploring. When the economics make space travel profitable we will see a huge surge of interest in space from the private sector. It will start with robotic mining of asteroids or the moon, and that technology will trickle down and make it cheaper and easier for other missions. Eventually we will have the technology to leave our solar system, but only when it is profitable to do so. Unfortunately right now we are at a stage we can go to space, but just don't have the technology to go anywhere worth exploring yet. The technology will come around when it is profitable for it to be researched.

    August 15, 2014 at 1:43 am |
  17. the bystander

    The most profitable space objects in space right now are communication satellites everyone wants and needs them for personal ,business, government and military use ,these privet companies generate billions from world wide users on the planet ,the modern world can't live with out them any more and with more playful technological gadget linked to them ,it's like a drug addiction that drains our money. The Bystander roure

    August 16, 2014 at 11:17 am |

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