Neil Tyson Pounds The Table, Demanding A Future, Now!

NPR | By ROBERT KRULWICH | March 06, 2013 11:54 AM

Neil deGrasse Tyson is stepping up his game, roaring, cajoling, stomping his big, considerable, eloquent self to say we have got to, got to, GOT TO, step off this planet and go places, back to the moon, on to Mars, that we can't afford not to, that if we don't, if we don't support a manned space program, we are robbing ourselves, we are stepping on "the foundations of tomorrow's economies," without which, "we might as well slide back to the cave, because that's where we're headed now, broke!"

He's serious. Crazy (as usual), passionate (always), smart (no doubt). Just listen to him in this montage, taken from his speeches, TV appearances, assembled by Evan Shurr, apparently to support more funding for NASA.

I remember those days, when you could grow up in the "Skyview" apartments (as Neil did in the Bronx) and dream of being up there with Glenn and Aldrin and Armstrong, feel like you were living in an explorer's age, that you could ride with your heroes and cheer from the bleachers (your living room in front of the TV) as your nation tumbled into space. It was amazing. And like Neil, I want those days back.

The Question

But here's my question: Do we need NASA (or the Chinese, Russian, Japanese, European, Indian space agencies) to get there anymore? Neil seems to think we do. NASA's greatest, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, went to Congress early in the Obama Administration to say that the new president is wrong to support (and direct NASA to support) private commercial efforts. Business folks won't do it safely, said Cernan. But businesses are doing it anyway. Just last week a commercially-built rocket (from Elon Musk's California company, SpaceX) traveled to the space station, docked, and delivered cargo — so NASA no longer has to rely on Russian rockets to make deliveries. It was a thrilling, entrepreneurial, bootstrap performance (with, yes, a $1.6 billion contract from NASA), but where were the cheers?