Neil deGrasse Tyson is the director of the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History and the host of Nova scienceNow, now in its fifth season. He also sat on the National Academy of Sciences Committee, the NASA Advisory Council, the Commission on the Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy and the selection committee for the Presidential Medal of Science under George W. Bush.
Tyson talked with The Root in a wide-ranging interview that covered not only the upcoming season of Nova scienceNow but also the latest scientific discoveries and the politics of dealing with the government.
The Root: What’s new on Nova scienceNow?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: What’s different is each show will be addressing a single theme from different angles. “Can We Get to Mars?” is the first show. It talks about if we can get there by propulsion, space suits, food, radiation or meteor impacts. Then, “How Smart Are Animals?” In that one we look at how smart dogs are — wolves, canines. I spent some scary and fascinating time with wolves. Wolves are not dogs! We chose them to live with us — we chose the ones who wouldn’t eat us and bred them into dogs. Another theme is “Can We Live Forever?”
TR: No. I already know the answer to that one. No.
NDT: [Laughing.] We’re working on it! OK, can we live much, much longer? We think of cybernetics — artificial materials substituting for human parts — but there are ways we might grow human organs using human tissues. That way we don’t risk organ rejection or rejection of foreign things inside your body. It’s way beyond stem cells.
TR: What’s been the best scientific discovery in the last 20 years?
NDT: Dark energy. It’s a mysterious pressure in the universe that makes us expand faster than gravity should allow. And we call it dark energy because we have no right to call it anything in particular. You can call it Fred. It was discovered in 1998, and it’s the opposite of gravity.
Another question is, “Where did we come from? What’s the origin of the solar system and life on Earth?”
TR: Mars, maybe?
NDT: Not far-fetched. Maybe if a meteor hit Mars and sent up fragments with nooks and crannies with bacteria that lived in there and reached Earth eventually — over 10 million years. Bacteria can survive all kinds of insults to their ecosystems and environments.
TR: What do you think of Obama’s space policy?