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August 8, 2012 / Tobin Craig

NASA can change everything!!!

So everybody loves Neil deGrasse Tyson, he’s a one man pep-rally for capital S science. And e’rebody knows I love NASA and manned space exploration. But this is a bit much.  The video clip is fine — actually rather B- version of the standard NdGT spiel (he looks pretty tired — probably from late night star-gazing) — but the quoted excerpt from an interview is standard-issue nonsense.  And I’m not talking about the utterly laughable attempt to categorize the human motivations of everyone who has ever done anything difficult and costly… no, wait, I can’t resist.

Seriously?  “Praise of deity or royalty,” war and money?  An exhaustive list of human motivations?  Love?  Glory?  And what are we supposed to make of that first one?  “That’s what got you the pyramids. They’re basically expensive tombstones. That’s what got the cathedral and church-building of Europe.”  Of course, we ‘big thinkers’ are beyond all that silliness.  I don’t know what is more impressive, his condescension or his self-deception.

But that’s just by the way.  The real gem comes after he has set aside the first two of the three (and only three) motivations humans do costly and difficult things:

“What’s left? The promise of economic return.

“You can go into space, transform society, change the zeitgeist of your culture, turn everyone into people who embrace and value science, technology, engineering and math, the stem field. Whether or not people go into space or serve the space industry they will have the sensitivity to those fields necessary to stimulate unending innovation in the technological fields and it’s that innovation in the 21st century that will drive tomorrow’s economies.

“Any frontier in space now involves biologists. We’re looking for life. Chemists, geologists, physicists, mechanical engineering, electrical engineers, aerospace engineers, astrophysicists, all the traditional sciences and engineering frontiers are captured in any ambitious goal to explore space. We can recapture those times and reinvent America. We’ve already invented America once before. It’s ripe. It’s ready and it’s willing I think, to be invented again.”

NASA will totally change everything, reinvent America, and save us from the recession.  How?  By inspiring kids to become scientists.  Because it doesn’t matter if they don’t go into space, these children of NASA “will have the sensitivity to those fields necessary to stimulate unending innovation in the technological fields… that will drive tomorrow’s economies.”

So… the reason we are in a recession is because we don’t have enough scientists(?!),  and since more scientists always means more innovation (?!), and since more innovation always means economic yield (?!), and since economic yield is the only measure of improvement or progress (?!), going to space is brilliant.

Now as I said, I am all about NASA funding (as opposed to funding political scientists — on that I’m with the Tea Partiers), and manned space exploration in particular, I just wish we would make the argument more straightforwardly: we should go out into space because it would be a great and grand thing to do, something befitting the wealthiest and most technologically powerful nation that has ever existed.  What the hell else are we going to spend all our money and brainpower on?  Living our otherwise meaningless and empty lives for a few more years thanks to the latest life-extension technology?  As LEVI’s tells us:  GO FORTH!

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One Comment

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  1. abarton89 / Aug 11 2012 10:32 pm

    “We’ve already invented America once before. It’s ripe. It’s ready and it’s willing I think, to be invented again.” What on earth does this mean (aside from some banal and silly notion to the effect that “scientific and technological innovation sure will bring about innovation”—and, of course, economic growth)? I’m almost afraid to ask.

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