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The Stars That Guide Our Dreams: Dr. Neil DeGrass Tyson's Advocacy for Continued Space Exploration

Updated on March 3, 2013

Achieving the impossible. We believe we can do it. We want to do it. We desire to transcend beyond the limitations we put upon ourselves by our physical attributes or more likely by our own self-doubts. We fear failure or we are intimidated by the steps required to achieve our success. And yet how do we hope to achieve anything if we do not take those risks in the first place? And how large are those risks anyway when one considers the benefits that would come from it?

How do we know what we can’t do or what we are capable of doing unless we actually try?

For many years, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of the country’s most prominent astrophysicists, has challenged the world to take on risks. Dr. Tyson currently serves as the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, which is part of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

In 2001, Dr. Tyson was appointed by President Bush to serve on a 12-member commission focused on the study of the future of US aerospace industry. Since that time, Dr. Tyson has been actively pushing for more government and general public support for space exploration, feeling such investments would better stabilize our economic future and further advance the achievements of our society as a whole.

Dr. Tyson’s advocacy for space exploration has earned him a large following across the country. Recently, a fan-made video was posted with sound bites of Dr. Tyson’s public lectures and testimonies, including one before the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee of the US Congress on March 7, 2012. Below is the clip in its entirety:

We Stopped Dreaming

Here below is another clip, showing Dr. Tyson’s testimony before the Congressional Committee:

Dr. Tyson's Testimony

I don’t pretend to be an expert on space exploration. However, like anyone else with an inquiring mind, I do like to read about things I don’t know about and try to determine the value of the knowledge I seek to obtain. Space exploration is a fascinating topic. There are things out there that we simply don’t see here on our planet. The largest explosion we could ever possibly conceive even with all the military and scientific resources from across the globe would be a cherry bomb when compared to the destructive nature of a supernova. The mere idea that a force as powerful as a black hole that can bend and even capture a passing beam of light leaves me nothing short of dumbfounded and thunderstruck.

But there's more to pushing for continued space exploration than satisfying our curiosity of what's out there. Consider also some of the financial and societal benefits.

According to an article published by CNN on October 20, 2012, space exploration has benefited human kind on several fronts including the following:

-On Health: At the time that Apollo missions focused on going to the moon, the 1960’s saw the creation of digital image processing. The technology was developed by NASA to study images of the moon’s surface. Today, that technology can found in MRIs and CT scans.

-On Transportation: When the Vikings landers were sent to Mars, parachutes were designed to help the machines land safely on the Mars surface. The material was developed by Goodyear, which used the same material that can found in today’s “radial tires.” These tires are known to have a longer tread life than conventional tires by at least 10,000 miles.

-On Communications: During the 1960’s, NASA partnered with technologically inclined companies like AT&T and RCA to develop stable and reliable satellites that now orbit the earth. Through this work, this has lead to the creation of numerous communication technologies that are shared by most of the world’s population, including GPS tracking and cell phone communications.

How do these innovations and incredible discoveries we enjoy today come about? In Dr. Tyson’s testimony, he answers that question on many fronts. However, I believe one line in particular answers that question the best:

“Innovations attract smart, clever people.”

Such people are worth attracting. We may think it takes too much money to gather the talent or the technology. However, if you look at the numbers, you’ll realize that is simply not the case. On the day Dr. Tyson gave his testimony, he also submitted a written statement to the Congressional Committee that stated the following:

“The 2008 bank bailout of $750 billion was greater than all the money NASA had received in its half-century history; two years’ U.S. military spending exceeds it as well.”

We’ve spent so much more on defense and business bailouts than we have on space exploration, yet even today we are struggling to find stable work and getting the national debt under control. Conversely, NASA’s shoestring budget has enabled us to discover so many great things that help us as human beings. Imagine what space exploration could do if that financial support was increased?

So if financial feasibility is still a tipping point for you on whether or not space exploration is worth the investment, consider this point from Dr. Tyson:

“The spending portfolio of the United States currently allocates fifty times as much money to social programs and education than it does to NASA…the half a penny budget that NASA receives, if you double it….I assert that we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”

The dream of being among the stars calls for more than just money and resources. It requires a drive. We have to want to do this! Without that passion, we won’t get that investment back. We won’t have the will or the might to achieve what we really want.

If you’ve read my works over the past year, you know that I’m a strong supporter of good charitable works and support programs. I believe the assistance that society provides to people in need within their communities is a major step we need to help people who struggle just to live. However, we cannot stop our efforts there. We need to dream big and provide opportunities for everyone to succeed and be happy. Without big dreams, we will never improve our lives because we won’t be willing to take risks. We won’t feel that we are capable of doing more than what we are doing now. Without dreaming big, we cannot promise new career paths for our generation, cleaner homes for our future homeowners, or happier lives for those who feel there’s no hope left for their future.

Perhaps space exploration isn’t the only solution we need to keep in mind when it comes to securing the future for our generation as well as the generations to follow ours. However, considering what it has helped us to gain so far since its founding, it’s a step we are barely taking right now…and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t!

So how much are you willing to “pay for the universe?” When you think about the facts of the costs, that shouldn’t even be a question to ponder. In fact, we already are a part of the universe. We just don’t understand it. So the better question to ponder is how much are you willing to dream to find out what the universe is really all about?


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    • gmaoli profile image

      Gianandrea Maoli 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Many thanks! My brother introduced me to his lectures about 5 months ago and I recently came across his "StarTalk" podcast program. I'm pretty fascinated by his information and admire his charisma. I feel the same when it comes to get in touch with DC. I think their issue is that devoting money to programs towards research and exploration of outer space takes away our focus of helping us down here. But as you can see, these "bailouts" are the ones that are taking our focus further away from finding the solutions of helping our crippling economy and low morale...something that space exploration would help us find better focus on solving. There's a lot of us, I feel, that are of the same opinion as Dr. Tyson on the value of this kind of research...we just need to be as energetic and as loud as he is! Thanks so much for sharing this and the compliments!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Well-written and marvelous essay with an important message. Neil De Grasse Tyson has been someone I have listened to and followed for some years now. He is brilliant, personable, convincing -- if anyone can influence Washington, he can, but he needs our help. We need to be contacting the president and our representatives and reminding them that we know the size of the recent "bailout" versus the NASA annual budget. 4/10's of one percent. Unbelievable! Thank you for writing this. SHARING.