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Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
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Space Exploration and the culture of innovation: an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson


Space may be the final frontier, but what if it’s also the wellspring of economic recovery?

In his latest book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Neil deGrasse Tyson contends that America’s golden age of space exploration in the 1960s fostered a culture of innovation that helped propel its leading edge economy. While the spinoff tech industries that NASA has directly or indirectly touched are impressive in their own right, Dr. Tyson believes the greatest value of space exploration lies in its capacity to inspire a nation to embrace science. This mindset drives an economic engine of innovation that creates high-skilled jobs as opposed to an economy that merely outsources cheap labor.


Oh, and by-the-way, now that we’ve gone to the moon with Apollo 8 in 1968 with the image of Earth rise over the lunar landscape – now that we’ve been to the moon, hey, we’ve just taken a look at Earth for the first time.

Let’s have a different attitude towards Earth. Let’s create the Environmental Protection Agency – 1970. Let’s introduce auto emissions – 1973. Let’s put major changes in the Clean Air Act – 1970. The Clean Water Act – 1971. The Whole Earth Catalog – 1968. The beginning of Doctors Without Borders – 1970.

Where did the concept of “without borders” come from? No one had that concept until you saw Earth from space, illustrated not by a mapmaker who’s color-coding political boundaries; it’s illustrated by nature itself and there’s land, there’s ocean, there’s atmosphere.


But when I look around me and see statements people make who wield resources and who wield power, and that statement exhibits some kind of profound illiteracy, then I worry for the future of the country – it’ll be, “America? Oh, that’s the 20th century country, the one that really made a difference to the world in the 20th century. Oh, they’ve faded since then.”

And we know why we made a difference in the 20th century and we ought to be able to prevent failure in the 21st century if we just study the problem – even if only so briefly. So with regard to the comments about attending college, politicians will say what they feel they need to or want to – I don’t even think much about politicians. I think about the people in the audience who applaud the politicians. They are your fellow countrymen and they’re the ones you live with – that should be who we target for education and enlightenment.

Because they would then not accept a statement by a presidential candidate that says that urging people to go to college is an act of snobbery. Now that being said, the educated elite is not without their own actual snobbery. And I kind of an anti-elitist in that regard.


Dr. Tyson has made the most sophisticated defense of space exploration that I've seen to date!

Dr. Eric Drexler on the future of Nanotechnology

Way back in 1986, at a space development conference in Seattle, I first heard a young man by the name of K. Eric Drexler talk about some work he was doing on engineering on a molecular level; Eric labeled this new field: "Nanotechnology," engineering on a nanometer (billionth of a meter) scale. Since the word nanotechnology has been co-opted and everyone wants to label his project 'nanotechnology,' Eric has renamed his field: Molecular Nanotechnology or Atomically Precise Nanotechnology referring to the molecular scale and to the fact that it's atomically precise, where you know where each atom is going.

Eric is currently working and teaching at Oxford College in the UK, where he gave this talk on the future of nanotechnology:

A couple of years ago, I posted this journal post on molecular nanotechnology. I still recommend it for the resources it gives for anyone wishing to study the field.

Two paragraphs from that journal post still ring true:

My own feelings are a mixture of hope - and dread! MNT has a great potential to address problems such as climate change, peak oil, water shortages and resource depletion. Much of its promise lies in the fact that its so much more efficient in its use of energy and materials than conventional manufacturing. Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology have pointed out that MNT could reduce the gap between the world's rich and poor or increase it. It could also result in a dangerous arms race.

That's the major reason that I want progressives to get involved in discussion of MNT and public policies on its use and implementation. Given our present trajectory toward a world 'plutonomy,' an economy run by and for the ultra-rich, it's more likely to increase that gap.

My remark about "our present trajectory toward a world 'plutonomy,'" strike me as particularly relevant in considering Dr. Drexler's upcoming book: Radical Abundance. I recommend the book, when it becomes available; however I am concerned that the wealth produced by molecular nanotechnology will be captured by the 1% - the 'Plutonomy' I mentioned. That makes the success of the worldwide Occupy movements so critical, and why I want progressives to take back the discussion of our future.

Right now, the right tends to monopolize that discussion. Just do a Google search on: nanotechnology AND "Heritage Foundation."
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