Do You Know The Silly Reason Why America Put A Man On The Moon? Do You Know Why We Stopped Going?

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Neil deGrasse Tyson is more than just an excellent tour guide through the cosmos — he’s a true voice for our endangered space program. In this piece, he reminds us how our passion for space missions began and makes a compelling case that we must not abandon our quests and dreams.

Let us renew our commitment to lead the world in space exploration and let us resolve to reach to the heavens once again so that our species may one day truly go where no one has gone before.

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Here's what happened. In the 1960's we were at war with the Soviet Union - Cold War. And a little bit of hot war over in Southeast Asia.

So, we feared them [Soviet Union] because they put up Sputnik. Which, by the way, people forget was an emptied out casing of an intercontinental ballistic missile. And Sputnik itself means "Fellow Traveler". So, it sounds all peaceful, but it was a ballistic missile head without explosives.

So, that was a signal and we freaked in America. So NASA got founded on the fear factor of Sputnik. All right, so we then go to the Moon on the fear factor that Russia will control high ground.

Then we go the moon. Space enthusiasts say, "Oh, we're on the Moon by '69! We'll be on Mars in another 10 years." They completely did not understand why we got to the Moon in the first place - we were at war. Once we saw that Russia was not ready to land on the Moon, we stopped going to the Moon. That should not surprise anybody looking back on it.

That entire era galvanized the nation.

Meanwhile, however, that entire era galvanized the nation. Forget the war driver, it galvanized us all to dream about tomorrow. To think about the homes of tomorrow. The cities of tomorrow. The food of tomorrow. Everything was future world - future land.

The World's Fair - all of this - was focused on enabling people to make tomorrow come. That was a cultural mindset the space program brought upon us. And we reaped the benefits of economic growth because you had people wanting to become scientists and engineers - who are the people who enable tomorrow to exist today.

And even if you're not a scientist or technologist, you will value that activity. That, in the 21st Century, are the foundation of tomorrow's economies and without it, we might as well just slide back to the caves because that's where we're heading right now - broke.

I'm tired of saying this, but I'll have to say it again, "The NASA budget is four-tenths of one penny on a tax dollar." If I held up the tax dollar and I cut - horizontally into it - four tenths of one percent of it's width, it doesn't even get you into the ink. So I will not accept a statement that says, "we can't afford it."

Do you realize that the $850 billion dollar bank bailout - that sum of money is greater than the entire 50 year running budget of NASA? And so, when someone says, "We don't have enough money for this space probe." I'm asking, "No. It's not that you don't have enough money." It's that the distribution of money that you're spending is warped in some way that you are removing the only thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow.

The home of tomorrow. The city of tomorrow. The transportation of tomorrow. All that ended in the 1970's. After we stopped going to the Moon, it all ended - We stopped dreaming.

And so I worry, that decisions that Congress makes doesn't factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. They're playing for the quarterly report. They're playing for the next election cycle. And that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation. Tomorrow is gone.

NASA is a force of nature like none other.

If you double NASA's budget - right now it's a half-a-penny on a dollar - make it a penny. Go ahead - make it a penny. Go ahead - be bold! That would be enough to go to Mars soon - with people. And go back to the Moon and on to asteroids.

NASA, as best as I can judge, is a force of nature like none other. And so what worries me is that if you take away the manned program. A program which, if you advance frontiers, heroes are made.

There is a force operating, on the educational pipeline, that will stimulate the formation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists. You birth these people into society. They are the ones that make tomorrow come.

A half a penny.

That buys the space station, the space shuttles, all the NASA centers, the rovers, the Hubble telescope, all the astronauts, all of that.

Nobody's dreaming about tomorrow anymore. The most powerful agency on the Dreams of a Nation is currently underfunded to do what it needs to be doing and that's making dreams come true.

How much would you pay for the Universe?

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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"We Stopped Dreaming" by Evan Schurr is a fascinating series.

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George Takei Guest Curator

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