Facing the Ultimate Frontier
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For millennia, people have looked up at the night sky and wondered about our place in the universe. But not until the seventeenth century was any serious thought given to the prospect of exploring it. In a charming book published in 1640, A Discourse Concerning a New World & Another Planet, the English clergyman and science buff John Wilkins speculates on what it might take to travel in space:
[Y]et I do seriously, and upon good grounds, affirm it possible, to make a flying chariot, in which a man may sit and give such a motion unto it as shall convey him through the air; and this, perhaps, might be made large enough to carry divers men at the same time. . . . We see a great ship swim as well as a small cork; and an eagle flies in the air as well as a little gnat. . . . So that notwithstanding all [the] seeming impossibilities, tis likely enough there may be a means invented of journeying to the Moon; and how happy they shall be that are first successful in this attempt.
Three hundred and thirty-one years later, humans would indeed land on the Moon, aboard a chariot called Apollo 11, as part of an unprecedented investment in science and technology conducted by a relatively young country called the United States of America. That enterprise drove a half century of unprecedented wealth and prosperity that today we take for granted. Now, as our interest in science wanes, America is poised to fall behind the rest of the industrialized world in every measure of technological proficiency.
In recent decades, the majority of students in America’s science and engineering graduate schools have been foreign-born. Up through the 1990s, most would come to the United States, earn their degrees, and gladly stay here, employed in our high-tech workforce. Now, with emerging economic opportunities back in India, China, and Eastern Europe—the regions most highly represented in advanced academic science and engineering programs—many graduates choose to return home.
It’s not a brain drain—because American never laid claim to these students in the first place—but a kind of brain regression. The slow descent from America’s penthouse view, enabled by our twentieth-century investments in science and technology, has been masked all these years by self-imported talent. In the next phase of this regression we will begin to lose the talent that trains the talent. That’s a disaster waiting to happen; science and technology are the greatest engines of economic growth the world has seen. Without regenerating homegrown interest in these fields, the comfortable lifestyle to which Americans have become accustomed will draw to a rapid close.
Reprinted from Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson, edited by Avis Lang. Copyright © 2012 by Neil deGrasse Tyson. With permission from the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
When it comes to pondering space exploration, few voices are as eloquent or entertaining as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s. Space Chronicles collects 15 years’ worth of Tyson’s commentaries on this exhilarating topic, including selections from his much-loved “Universe” column in Natural History magazine.
In one essay, “The Allure of Space,” Tyson takes on NASA’s critics, noting that the cumulative cost of the entire space program is one-half of one percent—i.e., half a penny—of each tax dollar (and that was before the space shuttle program was canceled). Another piece, on the possible appearance of extraterrestrial lifeforms, chides Hollywood’s depictions of aliens as being shockingly unimaginative. A third piece outlines the best challenges for tomorrow’s space missions, from searching Mars for fossils to drilling through ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Meanwhile, a candid introductory essay on NASA and partisan politics—written especially for this volume—gives us an eye-opening manifesto on the importance of space exploration for America’s economy, security and morale.
Graced by Tyson’s fresh voice and trademark humor—whether he is pondering cutting-edge technology that revolutionize space propulsion or identifying funny errors in old “Star Trek” episodes—Space Chronicles assesses the significance and potential future of our adventures in space.
Hardcover Book : 384 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co ( February 27, 2012 )
Item #: 13-508588
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 19.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)