Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of the most passionate and eloquent proponents of space exploration and science education we have right now. He speaks about the importance of dreaming bigger, of keeping our eyes on the horizon, with a fervor and poetry that makes him the natural successor to Carl Sagan. Recently, Tyson appeared before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on Priorities, Plans and Progress of the Nation’s Space Program. Video of his appearance has popped up on YouTube, and you can watch it below. It’s a compelling call for us to remember a time when we, as a nation, still dreamt of things bigger than budget priorities and partisan politics. Here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
We’ve been talking for awhile here on this site about the United States government’s increasingly callous disinterest in funding space exploration. NASA is headed for big budget cuts from a budget which was already pretty miniscule. It’s happening because most voters don’t really understand why they should care. For those people, well here’s the answer.
Neil de Grasse Tyson is not only a brilliant Astrophysicist but a compelling public speaker. He’s talked before on the importance of funding space travel but I don’t think he’s ever made his case quite as simple and succinctly as he does here in this Fox interview. Make it a point to share this with your friends who just don’t get it. Onward to the edge!
There was a time when exploration was limited by the technology at our disposal to accomplish it. In the early days the distance explorers could go was limited by the kinds of ships they had to cross the ocean. In the 20th century man couldn’t make it to the moon until NASA developed the technology needed to take him there. But things have changed.
Today the limits of exploration are defined not by the technology at our disposal but by our willingness to invest resources in using it. The only thing keeping man from reaching Mars is the voting public’s general disinterest in exploration. The technology is there, the money to use it isn’t. NASA’s biggest challenge in the 21st century is in getting people to care about what they’re doing. So they’ve enlisted Optimus Prime to help bring people around.
They following inspirational video features Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, extolling the virtues of exploration. Watch it…
Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon and has the most potential inside our solar system to be a breeding ground for organic life. Roughly six years ago, water was discovered on the moon and has since been seen shooting into space from geysers on the body’s frozen surface. And, as we know, water could mean life.
With that in mind, NASA will be landing a drill on Enceladus’ surface to start digging for scientific gold. According to Space.com, the plan is to land the modestly sized drill, only 6” by 6” by 47” tall, a safe distance from one of the geysers, referred to in awesome fashion as “cryovolcanos,” and start digging in an attempt to reach liquid water 100-200 meters below the surface. Drilling and melting at about one meter per hour, IceMole will only take about a week or two to reach its depth and begin collecting samples.
Newt Gingrich may still be dreaming of that moonbase of his, but back here in the real world NASA is facing very real and immediate budget cuts that are hitting the agency’s Mars plans the hardest. According to the BBC, President Obama’s proposed 2013 NASA budget will, if approved by Congress, reduce funds for planetary science by around 21%. One of the biggest results of this is that the U.S. is pulling out of the joint Mars missions it had planned in collaboration with Europe. All is not lost, however; while Mars is on the losing end of this budget, the new figures would increase funds for human space exploration by 6% and space technology by 22%. The budget will allot around $17.7 billion to the space agency next year.
Some of that reallocated cash will be used to fund development of the Orion capsule, a new rocket system which is designed to replace the Space Shuttle program and carry astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. The Orion could, in theory, take us back to the Moon. The first manned Orion mission likely won’t occur until 2021, however, meaning U.S. astronauts are still stuck bumming rides to the International Space Station from the Russians in the mean time. That’s just got to be embarrassing.
Maybe it was the hubris of scientists who didn’t think that leaving their junk in space would cause issues. I mean, with all that space up there who could blame them? Unfortunately, that junk is going to become a bigger problem real soon if action isn’t taken.
The International Space Station had to be shifted last month in order to protect it from a piece of debris smaller than the palm of your hand. The ISS is roughly the size of a football field which you would think would be able to withstand a hit from a 4 inch object, but with the amount of vital systems exposed to outside interference, that one piece of debris, traveling faster than a speeding bullet, could essentially take the whole system down. Scary, huh?
And that’s not all. The chance that a launching rocket will collide with space junk is now at about 1% according to experts talking to NewsOK, with roughly 19,000 objects smaller than 4 inches and 500,000 objects between zero and ten centimeters taking up permanent residence in our atmosphere. That’s one out of every 100 launches that has potential to be taken down by a bolt or screw that has gotten left up there. With the prospect of human space flight rearing its head, this is something that could not only cost NASA millions of dollars in equipment, but also many human lives could easily be lost.