American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says he would like to go to space himself, or at the very least help others get there, but he’s content living vicariously through the robots for now.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: I’m old enough to remember December 31st, 2000. In fact, I wrote an OP-ED that appeared in the New York Times the very next day. It was about the coming of the year 2001 and what would surely be the incessant comparisons people would make with the film 2001, itself made in 1968. So finally the future had arrived. What’s the checklist? How are we doing?
Okay, they had a space station under construction in 2001, so did we. Check. They had a moon colony. No, we didn’t have a moon colony. They hadn’t yet been to Jupiter. We have been to Jupiter, not with humans but with our robotic emissaries, space probes, the Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2. These are spacecraft launched from earth with enough velocity to escape the solar system entirely once it accumulated gravitational assists from planets that happened to be lined up with its path. Actually it didn’t happen to be lined up. We set it up that way. These are space probes that went into the space of these outer planets. It took images. It studied the clouds. It looked at the magnetic fields. We knew more about the outer solar system in 2001 than the film did.
A couple of other interesting factors… Back then they imagined that if a room-sized computer was of a given smarts than a spaceship-sized computer would be even smarter. It’s like, what, this is the 2000s. Powerful computers are small. They’re not large. In fact, they’re so small you can carry them around with you. That was unthinkable in 1968, unthinkable.
And so I think we’re doing better in some cases. Yeah, I know we all wanted the moon base and things, and maybe that will still come. I think it ought to still come, but I think we did well with our robotic emissaries—we ended up exploring the solar system vicariously, and that’s okay. We know how to do that. We all know how to use a joystick and—but I will still long to go there myself. That’s still one of my goals, if not for me then for others in the nation or in the world.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd