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Episode 1: Spacerace

Here’s what happened in the 1960s. We were at war with the Soviet Union cold war and a little bit hot war over in Viet.. South-East Asia, so we fear them because they put up Sputnik. Which by the way people forget was an emptied out casing of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Sputnik itself means fellow traveler so it’s all peaceful, but it was a ballistic missile — without explosives. That was a signal and we freaked in America. 


NASA got founded on the fear factor of Sputnik alright— so we then go to the moon on the fear factor that Russia will control high ground. Then we go to the moon— space enthusiasts say “oh we’re on the moon by 1969, we’ll be on Mars in another 10 years…”. They completely did not understand why we got to the moon in the first place— we were at war. Once we saw that Russia was not ready to land on the moon we stopped going to the moon. That, that should not surprise anybody looking back on it. 


Meanwhile however that entire era galvanized the nation. “Forget the war as driver— it galvanized us all to dream about tomorrow, to think about the homes of tomorrow, the cities of tomorrow, the food of..”. Everything was future-world future-land the World’s Fair— all of this was focused on enabling people to make tomorrow come. That was a debt that was a cultural mindset the space program brought upon us. 


We reap the benefits of economic growth (that followed) because you had people wanting to become scientists and engineers. These are the people who enabled tomorrow to exist today. Even if you’re not a scientist or technologist you will value that activity. In the 21st century these are the foundations of tomorrow’s economies and “without these we might as well just “slide back to the caves— because that’s where we’re headed right now! Broke!”. 


“I’m tired of saying this but I’ll have to say it again the NASA budget is four tenths of one penny on a tax dollar. (æ: illustrating) If I held up the tax dollar and I cut horizontally into it: 4/10 of  1%  of its width; doesn’t even get you into the ink. “I will not accept a statement that says we can’t afford it (æ: applause). 


Do you realize that the 850 billion dollar bank bailout, that sum of money is greater than the entire 50 year running budget of NASA? When someone says we don’t have enough money for this space probe I’m asking: “no it’s not that you don’t have enough money it’s that the distribution of money that you’re spending is warped in some way…”. 


“You are removing the only thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow, the home of tomorrow the city of tomorrow, transportation of tomorrow all that ended in the middle in the 1970, after we stopped going to the moon. It all ended. We stopped dreaming. 


I worry that decisions Congress makes (don’t) factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. They (Congress) are playing for the quarterly report they’re playing for the next election cycle. That is mortgaging the actual future of this nation. Tomorrow’s gone. 


If you double NASA’s budget. Right now it’s a half a penny on a dollar and you make it a penny? Go ahead, make it a penny. Go ahead, be bold! That would be enough to go to Mars soon, with people and to go back to the moon and on to asteroids. 


NASA as best as I can judge is a force of nature like none other and so what worries me is that if you take away the manned program (a program in which if you advance frontiers, heroes are made) than you would remove a force operating on the educational pipeline stimulating the formation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists, You birth these people into society. They are the ones that make tomorrow come.


A half a penny… that buys the space station, the space shuttles, all the NASA centers, the Rovers, the Hubble telescope & all the astronauts. Nobody’s dreaming about tomorrow anymore… the most powerful agency on the dreams of a nation is currently underfunded to do what it needs to be doing: making dreams come true.

Episode 2: Perspective

How much would you pay for the universe? Space it’s a 300 billion dollar industry worldwide. NASA is actually a tiny percent of that. Interesting how small a percent NASA is to the total world spending of space. That little bit however is what inspires dreams.


Every corporation in here with representatives to this conference, if you ever even touched a science mission, you lead off with that in your quarterly reports, in your annual reports: because it inspires, it is the act of discovery. It empowers nations in the world to undertake these activities. We know this because Apollo 8 was the first time anybody ever left Earth with a destination in mind. Yeah, figure-eight-ed around the moon. 


Photo of Earth rising over the lunar landscape. We all know Earthrise over the moon. There was Earth. Seen not as the mapmaker would have you identify it. No, no, the countries were not color-coded with boundaries. It was seen as nature intended it to be viewed. We went to the moon and we discovered earth. I claimed we discovered Earth for the first time. 


How does that affect culture? I got a list. The instant that photo comes out that it is the identifying cover picture of the Whole Earth Catalog. Thinking about Earth as a whole. Not as a place where nation’s war. 


  • Comprehensive Clean Air Act (1970)
  • Earth Day (1970) 
  • Environmental Protection Agency (1970)
  • Doctors Without Borders (1971)
  • DDT banned (1972)
  • Clean Water Act (1971)
  • Endangered Species Act (1972)
  • The Catalytic Converter (1973)
  • Unleaded Gas (1973)


Doctors without borders. Where do you even get that phrase from? No one thought of that phrase before that photo was published because every globe in your classroom has countries painted on it. All the while, we’re still at war in Vietnam. There’s still campus unrest! 


Yet, we found the time to start thinking about Earth. That is space operating on our culture and you cannot even put a price on it. That is a nation, that is a world, reacting to a new perspective and pondering what it is to be alive on this planet. This planet that we all share. 


We need to look at NASA not as a handout but as an investment. Because as goes the health of our space-faring ambitions so too goes the spiritual, the emotion, the intellectual, the creative and the economic ambitions of a nation. So goes the future of America

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist from Harvard University. Tyson has been awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal and the Public Welfare Medal by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for his "extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science. Composition by Evan Schurr, a videographer from Cincinnati USA.