Neil deGrasse Tyson hopes to put space exploration at the forefront of American interests again.
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the renowned astrophysicist, took the stage Wednesday night at Macky Auditorium to a sold out crowd wearing a formal suit and dress shoes.
However, he quickly shed the jacket and shoes, revealing a star pattern vest and black socks at the beginning of his animated talk entitled “America’s Past Present and Future in Space.”
That is, after he sent a tweet.
Tyson is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City and a regular on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher.
The speech, organized by the Distinguished Speakers Board, began with Tyson going through some “embarrassing quotes” from the past that spelled out the impossibility of scientific innovation.
One claimed that man would not be able to fly in the near future, just days before the Wright brothers succeeded in flight. Another argued that a manned mission to the Moon was at least 200 years away, only 20 years before men walked on the moon.
These were often met by laughter by the estimated audience of 1,950 students and community members, according to Associate Director of Macky Auditorium Angela Venturo.
Tyson continued by showing how human beings often have faulty memories. He accomplished this by pointing out that the popular idea of why the U.S. went to the moon was because President John F. Kennedy was a visionary. He countered this with a quote from 1962.
“I’m not that interested in space,” John F. Kennedy said to the current head of NASA, James Webb according to Tyson.
The astrophysicist argued that the motive for beating the Soviet Union to the moon was not driven by vision, but by military motives.
“Space is the new military high ground,” Tyson said.
After establishing that scientific innovations were not for solely scientific reasons Tyson warned that science in itself would not be enough to drive new exploration.
Kevin Murray, a Ph.D candidate in education, thought that Tyson’s realistic approach to science funding was accurate.
“He’s pragmatic,” Murray said of Tyson. “We all want science to be funded by itself but that isn’t always the case.”
Engaging the crowd, as he did all night, the astrophysicist then compared many classic technologies to what is seen today. These investigated the advances in skates, cell phones, cars, airplanes, televisions, and finally rockets.
The point of the comparisons was to show that although breakthroughs have been made in other technologies, space exploration is lagging.
“We have stopped innovating on the space frontier,” Tyson said. “Until I can look at a Saturn V rocket and not be amazed by it, we are behind.”
The astrophysicist then argued that a doubling of NASA’s budget could help America’s current financial crisis.
“Innovation drives the economy,” Tyson said.
He argued that a doubling of the budget and the mission of putting humans on Mars would inspire children to want to be astronauts again. This would in turn improve science education, put people to work planning a mission to Mars, as well as stimulate all sorts of other businesses. Basically, another space race, minus the threat of nuclear annihilation.
After Tyson’s speech concluded he received a standing ovation and stayed to answer questions.
Brian Williams, 36, of Kansas City, drove 10 hours to see Tyson speak.
“I like the question and answer part the best,” Williams said. “Especially the middle school teacher who read his student’s questions.”
The local teacher had compiled three questions to ask Tyson from his students and only requested an answer to the best one. Tyson answered all three fully while including the same humor that he had provided all night.
Contact CU Independent Visual Content Editor Robert R. Denton at Robert.Denton@Colorado.edu.