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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Famed astrophysicist visits UH

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, packed UH’s Cullen Performance Hall as part of the 2011 Elizabeth D. Rockwell Lecture Series. | Christian Puente/The Daily Cougar

The Cullen Performance Hall was packed to capacity, and a line of fans waited to gain entrance into a lecture on America and space. As the guest of honor entered through a side entrance, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause — Famed astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the PBS series NOVA scienceNOW, was the guest speaker for the 2011 Elizabeth D. Rockwell Lecture Series.

The night started on a somber note as the audience paid respects to the late Elizabeth D. Rockwell, founder of the lecture series and its financier up until her death earlier this year. This would be the first time in the history of the lecture series that Rockwell would not be present.

Bernard Harris, UH alumnus and the first African-American to walk in space, introduced Tyson and welcomed all the guests, including those from the international space conference.

“There is no better place to talk about space than Houston,” Tyson said. “There is no better time to talk about space than during an international conference on space.”

But, Tyson also warned that he was not planning on giving a lecture where he praised the space program.

Noting that we are not advancing, he pointed out that America has a faulty memory of our involvement in space exploration because we think of ourselves as “pioneers of space.”

The line for first-come, first-served tickets for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s lecture stretched from the E. Cullen Building to Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall. | Ashley Evans/The Daily Cougar

After all, Tyson said, America was not the first in space — a monkey, a dog, guinea pigs, mice and Russians all flew in space before the nation did.

Tyson went further and argued that the “war driver” that spurred our endeavors in space is gone.

“Everything we did was a reaction to Russia,” Tyson said. “When you’re at war, checks get written and money flows like a tapped keg. NASA doesn’t exist for science; it was created for geopolitical forces.”

Once the Cold War was over, Tyson explained, Congress no longer had any reason to fund missions to outer space. America slowly faded off the world’s stage, Tyson said, and the nation went from being a leader to more of a follower, and is now barely a hitchhiker when compared to other nations and their space efforts.

As for the world ending in 2012, Tyson said that notion is a hoax perpetuated by the scientifically illiterate. When we have a scientifically and technologically illiterate community, he said, bridges fall, trains collide, levees break and people die.

“Here’s what I worry about,” Tyson said. “The act of going to space created this urge to build tomorrow and now nobody is inventing tomorrow-land. It’s about creating a scientifically literate community, not about who won American Idol last night.”

Tyson ended the lecture by challenging the nation to unite on a new space mission to Mars, claiming it would bring together the best of what we have to offer in science and technology to create a more scientifically literate society.

“You change the zeitgeist of the nation,” Tyson said. “Then you change the zeitgeist of the world.”

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