Read Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier Online

Authors: Neil deGrasse Tyson,Avis Lang

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

BOOK: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier
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The Pluto Files
Death by Black Hole Origins

To all those who have not forgotten how
to dream about tomorrow



Editor’s Note


Space Politics



1. The Allure of Space

2. Exoplanet Earth

3. Extraterrestrial Life

4. Evil Aliens

5. Killer Asteroids

6. Destined for the Stars

7. Why Explore

8. The Anatomy of Wonder

9. Happy Birthday, NASA

The Next Fifty Years in Spa

11. Space Options

12. Paths to Discovery



13. To Fly

14. Going Ballistic

15. Race to Space

16. 2001—Fact vs. Fiction

17. Launching the Right Stuff

18. Things Are Looking Up

19. For the Love of Hubble

20. Happy Anniversary, Apollo 11

21. How to Reach the Sky

22. The Last Days of the Space Shuttle

23. Propulsion for Deep Space

24. Balancing Acts

25. Happy Anniversary,
Star Trek

26. How to Prove You’ve Been Abducted by Aliens

27. The Future of US Space Travel



28. Space Travel Troubles

29. Reaching for the Stars

30. America and the Emergent Space Powers

31. Delusions of Space Enthusiasts

32. Perchance to Dream

33. By the Numbers

34. Ode to Challenger, 1986

35. Spacecraft Behaving Badly

36. What NASA Means to America’s Future


The Cosmic Perspective


A. National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, As Amended

B. Selected Statutory Provisions Applicable to NASA

C. A Half Century of NASA Spending 1959–2010

D. NASA Spending 1959–2010

E. NASA Spending as a Percentage of US Federal Government Spending and of US GDP 1959–2010

F. Space Budgets: US Government Agencies 2010

G. Space Budget: Global 2010

H. Space Budgets: US and Non-US Governments 2010





Back in the mid-1990s, Neil deGrasse Tyson began writing his much-loved “Universe” column for
Natural History
magazine. At that time, the magazine was hosted, both financially and physically, by the American Museum of Natural History, which also hosts the Hayden Planetarium. In the summer of 2002, by which time Tyson had become the Hayden’s director, the museum’s shrinking budget and changing vision led to the placement of the magazine in private hands. That’s when I became a senior editor at
Natural History
and, more specifically, Tyson’s editor—a relationship still in force, though both of us have now, separately, moved on from the magazine.

You wouldn’t think an erstwhile art historian and curator would be the ideal editor for Tyson. But here’s the thing: he cares about communication, he cares about fostering science literacy, and if, together, we can produce something that I comprehend and that sounds good to him, then we’ve both succeeded.

It’s been more than half a century since the Soviet Union put a small, beeping metal sphere into Earth orbit, and not much less than half a century since the United States sent its first astronauts for a stroll on the Moon. A wealthy individual can now book a personal trip to space for $20 million or $30 million. Private US aerospace companies are testing vehicles suitable for ferrying crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station. Satellites are becoming so numerous that geosynchronous orbit is almost running out of room. Tallies of wayward orbital debris larger than half an inch now number in the hundreds of thousands. There is talk of mining asteroids and concern about the militarization of space.

During the opening decade of the present century in America, blue-ribbon commissions and reports initially fostered dreams not only of a swift US manned return to the Moon but of more distant human space travel as well. NASA’s budgets have not matched its mandates, however, and so its recent achievements beyond Earth’s atmosphere have involved human activities only within low Earth orbit, and only robotic activities at greater distances. In early 2011 NASA warned Congress that neither prevalent launch-system designs nor customary funding levels are capable of getting the United States back to space by 2016.

Meanwhile, other countries have hardly been asleep at the wheel. China sent up its first astronaut in 2003; India plans to do the same in 2015. The European Union sent its first probe to the Moon in 2004; Japan sent its first in 2007; India sent its first in 2008. On October 1, 2010, the sixty-first National Day of the People’s Republic, China carried out a flawless launch of its second unmanned Moon probe, whose job is to survey possible landing sites for China’s third Moon probe. Russia, too, is planning a return visit. Brazil, Israel, Iran, South Korea, and Ukraine, as well as Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, all have firmly established, highly active space agencies. Some four dozen countries operate satellites. South Africa has just formed a national space agency; someday there will be a pan-Arab space agency. Multinational collaboration is becoming de rigueur. Beyond as well as within America, most of the world’s scientists recognize that space is a global commons—a domain appropriate only for collectivity—and they expect collective progress to continue despite crises, limitations, and setbacks.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has thought, written, and spoken about all these things and many more. In this volume we have collected fifteen years’ worth of his commentaries on space exploration, organizing them within what seemed to us an organic framework: Part I—“Why,” Part II—“How,” and Part III—“Why Not.” Why does the human animal wonder about space, and why must we explore it? How have we managed to reach space thus far, and how might we reach it in the future? What obstacles prevent the fulfillment of the space enthusiasts’ daring dreams? A dissection of the politics of space opens the anthology; a deliberation on the meaning of space completes it. At the very end are indispensable appendices: the text of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958; extracts of related legislation; charts showing the space budgets of multiple US government agencies and multiple countries, as well as the trajectory of NASA spending over the course of half a century in relation to total federal spending and the overall US economy.

Eventually, if not as astronauts then as atoms, we’ll all be caught up in the blizzard of icy dust, the electromagnetic radiation, the soundlessness and peril that constitute space. Right now, though, Tyson is onstage, ready to usher us through catastrophes one minute and crack us up the next. Listen up, because living off-planet might lie ahead.


BOOK: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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