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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Education and NASA
April 9, 2010 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Neil deGrasse Tyson : What NASA Means to America's Future. NdGT eloquently, passionately explains the essential importance that the nation have a strong education system driven by a national vision that excites children. He argues for the importance of NASA in capturing the imagination of American children, leading them to excel in the sciences — back in the day. SLYT.

I think "Save the Planet" could be an equally impressive driver. Some smart country is going to leap on that and make a pile of money the way the US did by commercialising the near earth orbit.
posted by five fresh fish (67 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
He reiterated some of this last night on Colbert. (flash, US only)
posted by birdherder at 7:06 PM on April 9, 2010


For some reason, I just ADORE NdGT, and want to pinch his cheeks off and think he's the best and most slammin' dude EVER.

I also use his name all the time as an answer for anything:

"Hey, do you know who ate the good cheese out of the fridge?"
"NeildeGrasseTyson?"

"Who's that dude you went to high school with who writes for Newsweek?"
"NeildeGrasseTyson?"

~sigh~
posted by tristeza at 7:11 PM on April 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have a man-crush on him, too.

The more I think about it, the more I think he's right that there needs to be a vision that appeals to children, helping them decide to “try real hard” to do the best in school to achieve their grand dreams.

It's the stuff that brings and binds a nation together, to work toward a greater common goal. Better that it be education than war.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:15 PM on April 9, 2010


Oh, right, I forgot to post this link in contrast. Damn that sexy Neil! It ended up being all about him!

Anyway, Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report.

Hiding the evidence of the problem does not fix the problem. What a depressing thing for Federal Advisory Committee to have done. It's so WTF.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:19 PM on April 9, 2010


Haha, wow. I came to post about how awesome he is too. Total hivemind over here.
posted by DoublePlus at 7:20 PM on April 9, 2010


NdGT? What's the matter with calling him "Neil" or "Tyson"?

("nid-gt"? Looks like an atomic formula with Neodymium in it)

Also, I saw him on Colbert. But I don't really think manned space exploration is very cost effective. I'd rather send robots all over everywhere then try to figure out how to send not just a human, but an entire self-contained environment capable of supporting a human for years, plus enough energy to send the whole contraption back home.

I don't think there's anything we could possibly do with a human that we can't do with a robot at this point.

In the past people claimed that humans can figure things out and repair things, while robots can't. But a human can't fix their broken arm, and they can't fix anything that damages their life support for more then a few seconds.

And furthermore, if we lose a few robots along the way, who cares? We just send some extras, and that drastically reduces the needed safety margins.
posted by delmoi at 7:23 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


aww jeah! it's neal to tha muthafuckin' degrasse tyson droppin space knowledge atcha!

i love all things space
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:23 PM on April 9, 2010


NdGT? What's the matter with calling him "Neil" or "Tyson"?

Because you ALWAYS have to say his whole name, DUH.
posted by tristeza at 7:28 PM on April 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


Yeah, man. If I had a time machine and I could go back to my 19 year old self and tell myself that, when I'm 40, one of my heroes would be an astrophysicist named Neil deGrasse Tyson and not, say, a guitarist named James Hetfield, the 19 year old me would probably give the 40 year old me a swirly. But there you go. Funny how life works.

Now, thanks to the Nova version of The Pluto Files, he's one of my son's heroes.
posted by bondcliff at 7:30 PM on April 9, 2010


the essential importance that the nation have a strong education system driven by a national vision that excites children
posted by Abiezer at 7:38 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Abiezer: yeah, some of the similarities between the ideologies of the two Great Enemies has always amused me. In a lot of cases only the style of delivery differed - the USSR went for great communal-social inspirational expression, the US went for great individual expression.

History seems to be still deciding who won that little part of the Cold War…
posted by Pinback at 7:48 PM on April 9, 2010


delmoi, what you say is true. Nevertheless, sending robots into space is as boring as fuck.

The pictures from Hubble and the Mars Rovers and whatever else we have up there are cool and all, and I'm sure all the data is really great, but none of it is half as awesome as knowing that some people are up there, in space right now, kicking it in zero gee.

Was there any kid who didn't want to be an astronaut at some point? How many kids are going to want to be the person who pilots the robot? You can't play that during recess.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:54 PM on April 9, 2010


"I don't think there's anything we could possibly do with a human that we can't do with a robot at this point. "

Using robots to collect information is great, and cost effective. But it's basically remote sensing. And any geoscientist who works in the field will tell you that that can only get you some of the story. You really need to get samples. That gives you far more detail. Robots can get some samples, but they can't think. So they can't look around and change their locations for sampling based on what they're seeing on the ground. It takes a person with knowledge to make judgements on the fly, and to alter their plan based on what theyr'e seeing. There is a tremendous amount that humans can do that robots can't.
Also, sending robots out there doesn't capture the imagination of the general public the way sending people does. It seems to me that most people tune out what NASA does. Nobody was tuning out when human beings landed on the moon.
posted by Kaigiron at 8:00 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think making kids excited about science is a Good Thing. However, it isn't like there's some fuddy duddy squeezing pennies out of the space budget. Luna 16 cost 1/6 of Apollo 11 and I can only imagine the costs of robotic exploration have plummeted since the early 70s. When you don't have life support and all the associated facilities for keeping life alive in a vacuum you can do much, much more. And it is not as if we're able to do more when we get there, unless there's been some amazing advances in space suit mobility in the last quarter century.

Been there, done that, send robots. I'd rather have six times the missions that add to scientific knowledge than a couple of cowboys dancing on the moon ... as cool as that may be.
posted by geoff. at 8:10 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love you Neil deGrasse Tyson but a lot of kids grow up wanting to become NSF or NIH researchers, even if they might not know the acronyms. I don't know as an NSF funded researcher, that was just viscerally offensive to me.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:12 PM on April 9, 2010


Robots can get some samples, but they can't think.
What makes you say that? They just upgraded the mars rover with advanced AI which is getting better all the time. The AI they loaded on is specifically designed to help it pick out interesting rocks.

And modern rovers will have entire labs built in. Think of all the equipment you could ship en lieu of a human + life support. A probe with a lab will have far more ability to do experiments.

And on top of that the lag is bad, but you can still send commands to the rover, which again will have far more equipment then your average remote sensing bot. And probably much more equipment then a manned expidition would have. What exactly would a human do with those samples that a robot can't?
Also, sending robots out there doesn't capture the imagination of the general public the way sending people does. It seems to me that most people tune out what NASA does. Nobody was tuning out when human beings landed on the moon.
Yeah, but hardly anyone was tuning in when the shuttle launches people to the ISS. Manned space exploration doesn't have pull that it once did. And spending billions on to entertain and inspire students is a little ridiculous. Imagine what that money could do if it was invested directly in science education. Interactive teaching software development is one thing. Better equipment and labs for students. Etc.
posted by delmoi at 8:15 PM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't have taken the math and science classes I did if it weren't for NASA.

I grew up 20 minutes from the Johnson Space Center, in a town where the biggest employer was a medical school. Local culture dictated that science was pushed at every opportunity. I was never a particularly amazing science and math student. I was actually kind of a disaster in the lab. (When I handed down my white coat to my sister, she looked at it in horror as if its singes and tears and stains indicated some terrible battle that she had yet to fight for herself.) My mother strong-armed me into applying to be named a Texas Aerospace Scholar - a NASA program that was new when I was in high school. I got it, and spent a good deal of time at NASA that summer, working with people from various departments and talking to them about how they got their jobs.

I particularly remember a conversation with a mechanical engineer who worked in flight control, Holly, who helped me formulate a plan to get back on track with math after I had been thrown behind a year after an abrupt move across the country and back. I was happy to give up my career aspirations and simply declare them thwarted by some idiot guidance counselor in rural NY. At Holly's suggestion, I spent the rest of that summer studying pre-Cal, and at the beginning of the school year I tested out of it and was allowed to take calculus. Due to her urging, I was eligible for and won an engineering scholarship to college.

There's no real moral to this story. I was never and will never be a hero of modern science. I'm not an engineer despite NASA's best attempts. I gave it up for political science and then law school, which ultimately suited me better. But I'm proud of my scientific past. As silly as it sounds, I believe it makes me a better person. And for that, I have NASA to thank.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:16 PM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh and I was going to say. If you just want to Inspire kids, why not just spend 1/10th the money on propaganda to convince kids that Space Robots are awesome. Because frankly, Space Robots are kind of awesome.

Then again, I grew up to be a computer scientist...
posted by delmoi at 8:17 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


NASA has actually done a great job of sponsoring (and even being part of the founding of) the FIRST robotics competition, which is doing a lot to get kids into science and engineering. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, realized by the time I was in high school my terrible vision would make that impossible, and once I joined a FIRST team instead I was totally hooked on robots. I've even had a chance to build robots for NASA -- it's surprisingly accessible.

Yeah, the astronaut program is inspiring and provides heroes to look up to, but let's face it, most kids have a way better chance of building robots to go to the Moon, Mars, and beyond than they do being an astronaut. I think there are ways to leverage this that can be almost, if not just as successful as the astronaut program.

And if you'll notice, NASA purposely went to young kids to have a naming contest for the MER robots (Spirit and Opportunity), and whatever they're doing, they've managed to make the robots anthropomorphic enough that we want to give them hugs.
posted by olinerd at 8:26 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


He's saying that NASA is a great motivator for the young to pursue a scientific education. A great motivator for the young to push their brains toward understanding what it will take to explore the universe.

I think he's right; NASA (with the help of NOVA and COSMOS PBS shows) and Star Wars got me excited enough to go into engineering. I was so excited that I ignored all the teachers and anyone else who told me I was better fit for a different career path that didn't require an engineering degree. NASA was definitely the main attractor for me to push myself.
posted by Increase at 8:26 PM on April 9, 2010


Delmoi, if you're suggesting that a computer with AI can "think" then you and I have very different understandings of that word. Doing field science requires a lot of knowledge and experience, and putting those to decision making. It requires getting up close and looking at shit and deciding what and where to sample. It requires breaking things with a rock hammer (something a person, even in a space suit, can do) and then making judgements based on that. Sending remote commands is unweildy at best, and you can't get those robots to do all the things a person would. There is just no way to get as much information from a robot as from a person.
I understand that there's only so much that will get funded. And robot missions are cheaper. I'm just pointing out that there really is a scientific reason to want to use people.

And the shuttle missions no one paid attention to didn't land people on another planet or satellite. I do think there's a difference, in that people get more excited about having other people walk around on another planet. It's hard not to get inspired by that.
posted by Kaigiron at 8:29 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


And the shuttle missions no one paid attention to didn't land people on another planet or satellite. I do think there's a difference, in that people get more excited about having other people walk around on another planet. It's hard not to get inspired by that.

More to the point, I think it relates to what NdGT said was in NASA's charter - to push the frontier. People get excited about any new milestone, any new first. I'm pretty sure people would get just as excited at the first mission to a LaGrange point, or the first mission to refine a chunk of asteroid.
posted by heathkit at 8:38 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's amazing is how cheap it is. What did he quote, 2% of the national budget? Between an inspiring program and access to a quality education, the future is secured. Or at least one hell of a lot more secure than it is with cutbacks and creationists.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:51 PM on April 9, 2010


Dr. Tyson is totally my favourite non-dead, non-fictional astrophysicist. I went to a book signing of his a few months back with the intent of attempting to argue string theory with him, but was unable to do anything other than flail and meeble in an embarrassingly fangirlish manner. HE IS JUST THAT AWESOME.
posted by elizardbits at 8:53 PM on April 9, 2010


FFF - NASA is substantially less than 1% of the federal budget.
posted by Riemann at 9:11 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"To what purpose should I trouble myself in searching out the secrets of the stars, having death or slavery continually before my eyes?"
— A question put to Pythagoras by Anaxinenes (c. 600 B.C.)

"There are thousands and thousands of stars in the sky, but we don't have enough fingers to count them"- Capucine.
posted by water bear at 9:25 PM on April 9, 2010


Neil deGrasse Tyson can wrestle with the sun… and win.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is so smart, that he could be an intelligent designer.

Neil deGrasse Tyson thoughts are so big, that when he writes them down they collapse to singularities.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:33 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


It requires breaking things with a rock hammer (something a person, even in a space suit, can do) and then making judgements based on that.

You don't think robots can break shit? That seems like the most obvious use.

Anyway, like I said. If a robot can't make a decision, it's only a few hours round trip to tell it what to do. But you can pack a hell of a lot more instruments and send it much more cheaply then you can by sending a person. Life support, and a ticket home.

So even if a person can pick out rocks, what are they going to do with it? With a robot, you can pack a whole laboratory loaded with gear for far less space then you could with a person. And you could send tons of probes all over the surface.

The "you need human intelligence to decide what to do" thing just seems silly. If a robot were only 10% as effective as a person, you could send 100 times as many robots and be ten times as effective.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


FYI Somafm is doing a live feed of mission control over ambient music during this mission. It is all sorts of awesome. Plays in VLC.
posted by asockpuppet at 9:48 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


NASA is $18 billion in 2010, ½% percent of the federal budget.

Basically, chump change. A lot of commercialized technology came out of NASA that lead to industry, weaponary, and technical superiority for a good long time. A half-percent is a pissant investment in the nation's space future.

Plus there's that whole dealing with the inevitable asteroid problem. That's going to take a global effort, or at least should. And it is something we must do at some point, or suffer one hell of a disaster.

What is really scary is that education is rapidly going embarrassingly substandard. I really fear that our children are going to inherit inferior nations. Is it okay for a nation to have broad swathes of poorly educated citizens?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:07 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think you're missing my point delmoi. A person will choose to go to places that he/she didn't initially intend to, based on what they see on the ground. You can look around with a camera on a robot, but it's not the same as a person being there up close and really seeing what is there and what it means. Remote sensing is never as informative as actually being there (and I'm someone who uses remote sensing for my job, so I'm not exactly biased against it). I don't mean to get in a big argument about it. I just know that there is a lot that a person can do that a robot can't, even with a person looking at remote sensing data and guiding it. A person can look around, look up close at things, and let his/her understanding of the geology guide them to where next to look. That's much harder to do through a camera. I don't think any field scientist would disagree with this.
Whether this extra knowledge is worth the money of sending people is up for debate. But the probes are always going to miss some things that a geologist would have known to go look at. So it's not necassarily a matter of sending so many robots that you make up for what they miss. You can't cover an entire planet. The more intelligently you do a search the more effective it will be.
And I just think that *some* manned missions are worth it. Of course that should be combined with robotic missions. There needs to be a mix. And I don't think you'll ever get people as excited about space as seeing another human being standing on another surface.
posted by Kaigiron at 10:08 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think highly of Neil deGrasse Tyson -- he's one of the few people still carrying on the vital tradition of Carl Sagan, and while nobody can really replace Sagan, Neil Tyson has arguably done more than anyone except Sagan to promote science (particularly astronomy) to the public.

But I gotta say, he's TOTALLY wrong about Pluto.
posted by chimaera at 10:11 PM on April 9, 2010


Sorry in advance - I wrote a killer essay about why investing in space travel is not a good use of the earth's resources, but after watching the video, all I can do is snark. (And if I lived in the US, I'd totally support giving NASA more money, just not because of this talk.)

"...I think about looking down, and one day the asteroid's coming, you know?" (Where exactly is he pointing?)

That sounds a lot like an appeal to fears. Good one! Look out above! Because when the asteroids come, anything could happen. Ok, it makes sense to look up and find out when and where the next killer asteroid is coming from.

Is that why

"Without a plan to go somewhere outside of low earth orbit, we've got no force operating on the education pipeline of America."

Wow. That's some extremely high-priced nonsense right there.

No, but "NASA is a force of nature like none other."

So, like Katrina? How's all that physical and social engineering stuff working out for you? Who writes this stuff?

"With all due respect, I've never seen a bunch of eighth graders sit up and say, 'I want to be a NSF researcher', or 'I want to be an NIH researcher'". With all due respect, I've never heard such a patronizing statement about eighth graders.

It wouldn't be because of NASA's role in maintaining America's Cold War stance, or the grand adventure of going to the moon and the accompanying public exposure, would it? Or the shuttle launches and the endless media coverage? Pretty much all I can remember from eighth grade is Viet Nam and endless launches and re-entries (which was all totally cool, btw).

And yet, in spite of that, people actually did become NSF and NIH and lots of other kinds of researchers. Some even took up teaching at universities.

"America is fading..." Too bad - there probably won't be anything left by the time the asteroids get here. They'll be so disappointed.

"The most powerful agency on the dreams of a nation... Is currently underfunded."

Yikes! Somebody call James Cameron!
posted by sneebler at 10:14 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think you're missing my point delmoi. A person will choose to go to places that he/she didn't initially intend to, based on what they see on the ground.

The problem is that your argument is entirely subjective. There are no quantifiable variables. You can say "A person can do this better" but how much better? What are we trying to achieve here?

If our goal is to maximize the amount of "Science" we can do, and our budget is fixed, we want to optimize the Science/$$ ratio. It might be true that a person would make better choices on which rocks to look at, but how much better?

To simplify this. Imagine that rocks are either entirely interesting, or entirely not. A robot can choose to investigate a rock, or not based on a program. Lets say the human is 90% effective and a robot is 10% effective. As long as the robot is less then 1/9th as expensive, it's better to send a robot.

I also think you're way underestimating how effective AI can be for things like this.
posted by delmoi at 10:17 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Nevertheless, sending robots into space is as boring as fuck."

And human beings immolating on re-entry is tragic as fuck. And much more expensive.

There's so much sentimental nostalgia masquerading as "We must save the children!" bullshit. First off, having taught in an American high-school, one of the most popular clubs was for robotics. Kids today (yes, not using this phrase ironically) can be turned on to science and math through robotics and computers given a good science teacher and curriculum. To think of it another way, it's insulting to the people who worked on the successful Mars Rovers to suggest that their work was somehow existentially inferior to anything that could have done on a manned mission.

To put it another way, robotic exploration of space might be boring for you Mr. Over-the-Age of 40 (fwiw I'm 35), who can still remember vague bits of the space race and so on, but it's unfair to young people today to apply your standards and biases to what they care about and want to study.

And as long as I'm ranting, let's not forget what the race to the moon was really about. No, it wasn't grainy footage of a human being on the surface (that was nice propaganda, I'll admit) but about who could build the biggest fucking delivery system for nuke payloads before the other. And no doubt there were many successes and advancements, but getting a person to the moon was a military goal first, a scientific one second, and a humanitarian one a distant third.
posted by bardic at 10:22 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


"inevitable asteroid problem."

Wut?
posted by bardic at 10:27 PM on April 9, 2010


Cool guy, but that was just weak. And strikes me as kind of sleazy, too. It seems the goal is to make America great (again). Not because America is actually getting left behind. But because other countries are catching up. Countries with more modest, or even non existent manned space flight programs, I might add. Apparently, those fat, lazy American kids need special help that other kids around the world don't.

If you want to inspire kids, get them to read science fiction. Because that is what NASA sells to kids with manned missions. This is a bait and switch job, literally selling kids the moon and stars so they'll create the bullet trains and particle accelerators of the future, and staff the NIH and NSF of tomorrow, when they realize the pointlessness and futility of actual space travel. It's hard to justify, even when it costs so little money (that we don't actually have).
posted by 2N2222 at 10:33 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually delmoi, I don't think that I'm underestimating how effective AI can be at all. I work with remote sensing data, and sometimes with actual field samples, and data from robotic vehicles as well (ROVs and AUVs). So I know the difference in what you can get first hand. I know the limitations I have with not being able to actually walk around the area I'm trying to understand (because it's at the bottom of a water body in deep water), compared to what I can understand if I do a land-based survey and can actually look around myself. There is no way to get the kind of understanding with remote sensing that you can by actually being there. And no AI currently available will allow a robot to look around a planet surface, understand the geology, and then let that understanding guide it to where best to look for whatever it's looking for.
You're trying to quantify things based on how much science you can do. That's a fuzzy thing you're quantifying. My point is that if what you're trying to do is understand another planet, you may not find out the things you need by not going to the right places. A person can help decide where those places are. If you are searching for water, either you find it or you don't. If a probe doesnt' find it, maybe it just didn't look in the right place. If a person did the looking, they would have a much better idea of whether or not they had exhausted the possibilities. They would at least have a much better chance of finding it if it's there.
posted by Kaigiron at 10:37 PM on April 9, 2010


"That's a fuzzy thing you're quantifying."

Not at all. He put it right to you -- if we hypothetically could fund a four-person mission to Mars, replete with life support and radiation shielding, and barring a (quite likely) total system failure, what would be the equivalent number of un-manned missions we could fund?

I won't give you an exact number, but proponents of manned expeditions are under the burden of trying to justify the cost and the deaths that will inevitably occur until a new generation of propulsion and life-support systems come along.

As of 2010, robots do it better and cheaper. Trying to force your nostalgia for manned flight on children of today who grow up in a technological environment of instant communication and varying degrees of virtual reality is short-sighted. You miss the days of manned space exploration, and they don't. Honestly, they don't even remember them very well -- just a series of useless SS flights that got a lot of good astronauts killed and a leaky Russian ISS that's sole purpose was to make sure we could fix it when it inevitably broke down.

I can't stress this enough -- fucking guided robots doing cool shit on Mars and even further out in space? That's your ticket NASA, and given that your only successes over the past two decades have come precisely from unmanned exploration, it's kind of ridiculous that a layman like me should have to tell you this.
posted by bardic at 10:47 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did you know Maxis almost made a game called SimMars in the late 90s based on the idea of a manned Mars mission?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:49 PM on April 9, 2010


"If you are searching for water, either you find it or you don't. If a probe doesnt' find it, maybe it just didn't look in the right place. If a person did the looking, they would have a much better idea of whether or not they had exhausted the possibilities. They would at least have a much better chance of finding it if it's there."

OK, now you're just pulling our legs, right? Because discoveries of water or the past presence of water on the Moon and Mars came from unmanned missions.

Water on the moon.

Evidence of water on Mars.
posted by bardic at 10:51 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have no nostalgia whatsoever as regards science or the space program. I was merely trying to put in my two cents as someone who, you know, actually works in the geoscience field. But thanks to Bardic's tremendous wisdom, I'll inform all the geologists and geophysicists around the world that they're wasting their time -- robots can do a *much* better job. I am surprised the companies that fund geologic surveys haven't figured that out, however.
posted by Kaigiron at 11:01 PM on April 9, 2010


As mentioned, the burden is on proponents of manned flight to tell us what the benefits are. Cost? Nope. Safety? Not by a long shot. "Humans can think?" Maybe a little, but humans can't think when they're dead, either.

Hazy, misguided nostalgia that doesn't even jibe with the experience of young Americans today? That's what bothers me about most (certainly not all) arguments for manned space exploration.
posted by bardic at 11:07 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is just a little depressing that we are debating about whether we should send people or robots to crack open rocks.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:23 PM on April 9, 2010


Fools! If history has taught us anything, it's that a duumvirate of human AND robotic talents is required for the conquest of the celestial realm. Dwell upon the precedents:

- would William Robinson ever have survived the continual proximity of danger without his Model Luke H, Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot?

- could Lieutenant Commander Data have ever understood the subtle intricacies of human emotion without the patient guidance of Chief Engineer Geordi De La Forge?

- would Han Solo have been saved from the clutches of Jabba the Hut without the interdependent skill-set of Luke Skywalker AND C-3PO?

Those of you who seek to advance the cause of interplanetary exploration must surely understand that biological and artifical entities are the twin pillars of our success: yay, the swift logic of our android brethren complements at all times the intuition and passion of man. Let us therefore allow BOTH these entities to crew our star-vessels without prejudice or discrimination!

But no girls, ok? - 'cause they'll only get pregnant or something and they have spacecooties. Gross.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:31 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


You're trying to quantify things based on how much science you can do. That's a fuzzy thing you're quantifying.
It's fuzzy, but that doesn't mean we can't use a simplified model to reason about it.
My point is that if what you're trying to do is understand another planet, you may not find out the things you need by not going to the right places. A person can help decide where those places are. If you are searching for water, either you find it or you don't.
Yes, but people are still going to be in control, it will just take some time to send commands. Basically you have a 6hr window, or whatever between when the command center sees something on the screen and the probe gets something back (depending on where in the period of rotation the two planets are. It can be longer IIRC)

But a person can see a rock, with a very high resolution image, with spectrums they can't see with their own eyes and think "hey, that might be interesting" and then have the robot go look at it. Of course, that's far slower then being there, but it still might be a lot more cost effective. And as you're waiting for the message to get there, the robot can do experiments on it's own.

The problem is when you say "A person can do X" you really have to make the argument that the value of X is greater then the cost of sending, and retrieving, a person compared to the value of Y which is a robot could do given the same amount of money/resources.
I'll inform all the geologists and geophysicists around the world that they're wasting their time -- robots can do a *much* better job.
The cost of sending a person to a random location on earth is far less then the cost of sending them to MARS. And in particular you don't need life support. Even under water you have pressure, and it's just a quick swim back to the surface for more air.
But no girls, ok? - 'cause they'll only get pregnant or something and they have spacecooties. Gross.
It's cool as long as they're wearing one of these
posted by delmoi at 11:35 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyway, Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report.

Hiding the evidence of the problem does not fix the problem. What a depressing thing for Federal Advisory Committee to have done. It's so WTF.


Bush holdovers.
posted by jamjam at 11:51 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


they've managed to make the robots anthropomorphic enough that we want to give them hugs.

Holy shit. That was as depressing as the Futurama dog episode.

I'm glad the XKCD people aren't in charge of NASA, because I'd have probably slit my wrists instead of become a scientist.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:56 PM on April 9, 2010


There's so much to love about Tyson, but there's something about him that just annoys me and I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's over-saturation*... It seems like he often shows up as an "expert" talking head in TV documentaries about subjects outside of his field.

I should just get over it, though. The world is a better place with him in it.

*For a scientist, that is. Of course it's wonderful to have a scientist to have any level of saturation.
posted by brundlefly at 12:28 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


bardic wrote: "As mentioned, the burden is on proponents of manned flight to tell us what the benefits are. Cost? Nope. Safety? Not by a long shot. "Humans can think?" Maybe a little, but humans can't think when they're dead, either."

You seem to be harping quite a lot on the "dead" thing. Exploration carries risk. Those choosing to embark upon a dangerous voyage would not do so were they not prepared to accept the risk. People die; get over it.

I, for one, would be perfectly happy taking the risk that I might not survive a journey to Mars to have the chance of finding out, presuming the expected failure rate is similar to our current manned spaceflight record.

A mix is appropriate here. It makes no more sense to can manned spaceflight entirely than it does to eliminate unmanned probes.
posted by wierdo at 1:33 AM on April 10, 2010


I don't think there's anything we could possibly do with a human that we can't do with a robot at this point.

Three words, Delmoi, three words: Zero Gravity Sex. There's an entire new frontier of porn up there, and we're missing out on it.
posted by happyroach at 2:19 AM on April 10, 2010


Exploration carries risk. Those choosing to embark upon a dangerous voyage would not do so were they not prepared to accept the risk. People die; get over it.

You make it sound as if manned space exploration seeks human sacrifices rather than astronauts. The problem isn't lack of people willing to engage in dangerous exploration. Or even lack of people willing to aid others in dangerous exploration. The problem is human life support systems vastly complicate and overwhelm what would otherwise be an unmanned mission, just in the cause of keeping the astronauts alive, piled on top of the mission's goals. All to do exploration that really doesn't need a human's warm body to perform.

Furthermore, choosing to embark on a dangerous voyage in space is not like choosing to cross the Atlantic in solo in a canoe. Space travel as advocated by Tyson is a collective effort. You're free to partake of whatever risky activity you choose. But if you want to do it on our dime, then we get to dictate the parameters, or nix the whole project as we see fit.

The bottom line is that manned space flight is pretty weakly justified. Tyson's argument isn't even based on the scientific knowledge to be gained from exploration. It's based on the Tang Factor: that the wake of such endeavors will produce neat side effects, which will return America to it's rightful place as world leader in science and technology. He attempts to support this argument by citing countries exhibiting increasingly impressive scientific and technological prowess, despite those countries not being nearly invested in manned space flight, if at all. He argues these countries rival the US, despite not throwing money at manned space flight the way the US does, undercutting his own argument.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:46 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Sex? Well, maybe. I think we'd need to have some kind of giant, rubber-band spider web contraption to make it work. Cuddling, on the other hand... The Mrs. and I want a zero-g bedroom.
posted by wobh at 5:25 AM on April 10, 2010


So I think we need to be aware of two branches of Space Stuff happening here.

First off, we can't discount commercialized space flight. And if you're one of those people like me who would hop on a space shuttle in a second, even if it were a one-way trip to Mars, the fact that some day in the not-far-away future you'll be able to buy yourself a ticket onto a Virgin Galactic (or similar) ship and go to LEO for the day is ridiculous. Remember the generation growing up right now has ALWAYS known that people could go into space. Humans have always been on the moon. Shuttle launches are cool, but meh, we just had one a few months ago. But for space to be accessible to regular people? THAT'S incredible, and that's a great thing.

Secondly, you should understand how robots are generally used in fields like these. They are not 100% proxies for humans, and no one is claiming they are. Typically, especially in military (and yes, in geological) use, robots are there to go in before the humans, collect a ton of information about an environment, and deliver it to the operators so they know how to prioritize their work and safely execute a mission. This is true whether it's underwater geological surveys, ground robots going in to check out an area that may have IEDs, a UAV scanning an area in Afghanistan, and so on. It's also true of the Mars rovers. They have gathered so much incredible information for us (especially in conjunction with the Mars surveyor) that we are in a much better position to send people there now than we were five or ten years ago. We know what kind of tools or scientific analysis equipment we might want to bring up to look at rocks. We have a sense of how deep we may have to dig to find liquid water. We have data about how wheels interact with Martian soil and rocks, which will help us build our Mars buggies for astronauts. For the cost of the rovers, it was far more efficient and safe to gather this information this way than to send people first. We used to have satellites to do this; now we can get even more information on the ground.

And there are AUVs being developed to send to places like Jupiter's moons, which may have iced over oceans. There are plans to continue pushing the frontier. But we're smarter and more capable now and we have these machines to go ahead of us, get us important information, so we can make better use of the expensive, long, and dangerous manned missions that WILL happen some day.

So if you combine the incredibly utility of robotic exploration -- on Earth and out in space -- with the continual growth of commercial launch capability -- and they are already launching private satellites and such -- I don't think we're looking at the end of American competitiveness in space. I think we're looking at what the next generation of space exploration looks like, and we are all on top of that shit.
posted by olinerd at 5:58 AM on April 10, 2010


There's so much to love about Tyson, but there's something about him that just annoys me and I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's over-saturation*... It seems like he often shows up as an "expert" talking head in TV documentaries about subjects outside of his field.
He's made the point that as the head of the planetarium in NYC, he's far more accessible for media appearances. IIRC he can literally walk to the various studios to give an interview. Getting other scientists can be pretty difficult, so he ends up being the go-to scientist. But he's also charismatic and entertaining as well.
You seem to be harping quite a lot on the "dead" thing. Exploration carries risk. Those choosing to embark upon a dangerous voyage would not do so were they not prepared to accept the risk. People die; get over it.
That's ridiculous. Even if people are willing to take a high risk, people are not going to want to work on a program that gets a lot of people killed in a completely pointless way. I mean, how is it going to "inspire" anyone to say "Well, we could have sent a robot to do and it would have been a lot cheaper. But we thought it would be more fun to send a human, even though there was a 10% chance he'd die. And he did. Oh well shit happens."

Is that supposed to get people excited about science?
posted by delmoi at 6:11 AM on April 10, 2010


If you're never going to send people, sending robots to the planets is just performance art.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:00 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


i think i've said before i met the man while on a business trip in DC. i had to contain myself from squeeeeeeeeeeeing while shaking his hand. it's not just that he is one fine looking brotha, it's just that even when in a crabby mood dealing with work crap, he was really a nice guy. LOVE HIM!
posted by liza at 8:28 AM on April 10, 2010


Here's what I think is the annoying part about him: his zeal for the wonders of science sometimes leads him to emotional conclusions that are not backed up by rational, logical thought. Examples:

He bags on LEO stuff. WTF? The space station is an amazing scientific accomplishment, without which there would be so little we know about the prolonged human occupation of low gravity environments and the logistical and maintenance requirements of human habitats in vacuum that would be the mainstay of the projects he talks about.

He wants to go to the moon again, because its exciting to the public. WTF? How can he ignore the very reason why there was no Apollo 18: the public became bored with going to the moon and funding was easily redirected to programs that would address the recessive economy of the time. Why would new public programs be any different now?

Let tourism enterprises reinvigorate moon travel. Put 10 times more scientific missions into space with robots than can be done with extremely expensive manned missions. Develop public relations campaigns that show the wonders of space science to excite the public again.

But I must say, even given these criticisms, the guy is a hands-down balls-out awesome science evangelist with his ability to express his passion for science and clearly explain the complicated in straightforward, understandable ways.
posted by buzzv at 9:28 AM on April 10, 2010


Neil deGrasse Tyson is a white myth.
posted by ankurd at 10:01 AM on April 10, 2010


I love Tyson too, lots, but he's talking about two separable things: that education needs a larger narrative to help enliven and better contextualize kids' learning; and that NASA and space exploration has and could again be the source of that narrative. The latter is a proposal for capitalizing on the former, but certainly not the only possible narrative--others would also be cheaper.

Neil Postman wrote about this at great length almost 15 years ago, in his magnificent, oft-overlooked book The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. In it, he proposes several candidate narratives to implement to reform and revitalize American education, all of which I find more compelling, more comprehensive, and much easier than resurrecting manned moon landings.

(If you're interested, Postman's five possible narratives are called: The Spaceship Earth; The Fallen Angel; The American Experiment; The Law of Diversity; and The Word Weavers/The World Makers. All are intended to provide context for learning across all subjects, and excite students by making their learning illuminate different facets of this larger idea, so that across a whole year they are working toward holistic understanding of everything they learn. I very much recommend this book.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:32 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


My coworker and I agreed yesterday that the only reality TV we want from the Science Channel is a show called Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox Go About Their Day.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:23 PM on April 10, 2010


"He argues for the importance of NASA in capturing the imagination of American children, leading them to excel in the sciences"

Oh he does, does he? I'm having nothing to do with that turncoat. After all those years I spent studying the planets. I really loved little Pluto. *sniffs*
posted by Twang at 8:25 PM on April 10, 2010


An article about the danger of anti-intellectualism, vis-a-vis Palin and her cohorts.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:28 PM on April 10, 2010


delmoi wrote: "That's ridiculous. Even if people are willing to take a high risk, people are not going to want to work on a program that gets a lot of people killed in a completely pointless way. I mean, how is it going to "inspire" anyone to say "Well, we could have sent a robot to do and it would have been a lot cheaper. But we thought it would be more fun to send a human, even though there was a 10% chance he'd die. And he did. Oh well shit happens."

Is that supposed to get people excited about science?
"

You're entirely correct that we shouldn't send people off to die pointlessly. However, we should not be afraid of a few people dying in an attempt to expand our horizons, either. Obviously there's no point in "exploration" that is really just glorified assisted suicide.

The unmanned spaceflight program has had a great many successes. It should continue leading the way to new places, so that we might better understand what is involved in a manned mission there.
posted by wierdo at 2:06 AM on April 11, 2010


Holy crap. I think Red Bull may be the next NASA. Top 10 Biggest, Best Jumps. Not all Red Bull, but they seem to be a major sponsor of challenging stunts.

I stumbled across an animation to scale of the moon landing trip. Astounding that they were able to nail it so exactly — that was a long, long, long way with exceedingly little room for error. My understanding is that the trip home was not anything remotely guaranteed.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on April 11, 2010


Obama lays out bold and visionary revised space policy
posted by homunculus at 1:48 PM on April 15, 2010


Neil deGrasse Tyson Goes Ballistic Over a Rocket
posted by homunculus at 8:44 AM on May 8, 2010


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