NASA, the Other Military Space Agency

There’s widespread misunderstanding of what NASA is and should be, according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, author, host of TV’s “Nova Science Now,” and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. It should be remembered that NASA came into being “because of Sputnik,” Tyson told reporters in Washington, D.C., yesterday. It was a quasi-military response to a military and space capability challenge, and NASA should get back to those roots, he said. Scientists have misconstrued NASA as “their private funding agency,” but NASA’s science spending peaked two years ago, at 32 percent of its budget. Most of the rest supports the International Space Station and space shuttle operations. NASA’s best function, Tyson asserted, should be to set and pursue a grand vision of space exploration, which in turn will inspire the scientists of tomorrow that the nation desperately needs. Being able to work on grand projects that are making important new discoveries will attract the best and brightest minds, he said. These researchers would then be what he called “scientists in the silo”—thinkers on tap, funded by the government, who are the best chance to come up with solutions if the nation is threatened, for example, by chemical or biological attack. “There may be a reason where we call on NASA for geopolitical reasons,” Tyson said.