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Astronomy Picture of the Day


Monday, July 11, 2011

Shuttle Diplomacy: Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson Explain How the Space Shuttle Was Never Really About Science

Posted by Alex_Pasternack

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    Among those gloating over the demise of the Space Shuttle are none other than scientists, who argue that the costly and overly complex program was sapping valuable resources from real space science and sending them up on toilet repair missions instead.

    But this animosity is based on a false premise, astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson reminded us at the World Science Festival. The Shuttle was never really intended to promote research or fulfill NASA’s goal of space exploration. Instead, like the Apollo missions to the moon, the $160 billion Shuttle program was the product of politics.

    As inspiring as the grandeur of the spaceship has been to legions of young people – and as important as it was in fixing the Hubble telescope – it was actually the Western battle against the Soviet Union – and later, other diplomatic interests – that left NASA operating this amazing low-orbit dump truck. To criticize the Shuttle for not doing more science, or to say that that the Shuttle budget should have been devoted to science, is to misinterpret reality. The money wouldn’t have existed at all if the program hadn’t been political.

    We’re afraid to say that to ourselves. We know that if we say we’re going to do science with it, that’ll sort of gather more adherents. And we feel more comfort in selling it that way. But selling it that way was the delusion… There are reasons for doing things in this world that are not driven by science.


    Read an interview with Neil and visit the Neil deGrasse Tyson Motherboard.

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