Skip to main content

Afternoon Shift

Neil deGrasse Tyson wants America to double down on space exploration

How much would you pay for the universe? Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently concluded his testimony before a U.S. Senate Commerce committee with that very question after arguing that were America to double its investment in space exploration, NASA would not only complete a manned mission to Mars, but the infusion would stoke the ambitions of kids in the pipeline and shift the mindsets of a nation.


The space race was a source of optimism during the Cold War and a catalyst for unparalleled technological innovation and discovery in the years that followed. Tyson argues that space exploration is an imperative component in securing the success of America’s economy, security and morale.

Still, Tyson often hears, “Why are we spending money up there when we have problems down here?” Often times, the cost, not the reward, of space exploration is the focus of discussion. Take, for example, the price tag associated with the recent transport of retired NASA space shuttles to museums: The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan had to pay $9.6 million in advance to transport the Enterprise from Dallas. Many will look at that figure and think: If it costs almost $10 million for a one-way ticket from Dallas, how much does it cost to go to Mars? That said, New Yorkers took in the afternoon showing of the shuttle piggybacking a 747 free of charge.

Tyson argues that space exploration can reboot America’s capacity to innovate as no other force in society can.

“Epic space adventures plant seeds of economic growth, because doing what’s never been done before is intellectually seductive (whether deemed practical or not), and innovation follows, just as day follows night. When you innovate, you lead the world, you keep your jobs, and concerns over tariffs and trade imbalances evaporate. The call for this adventure would echo loudly across society and down the educational pipeline,” Tyson testified.

Tyson joins Steve Edwards on Afternoon Shift to explore the economic future of space exploration and other universal themes found in a new collection of Tyson’s commentaries, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.