Cindy Bither
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Curiosity the Endowment of Humanity

FullTextImage/img/@altDr. Neil deGrasse Tyson leads a discusses with cadets and students following his talk. -- VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.

Epic Journeys, Exploration Inspire Interest in STEM Fields

LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 4, 2012 – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson remained on post after his Wednesday morning plenary talk to have conversations with faculty, cadets, and W&L students.

Following a well-attended book signing, Tyson spoke informally with a crowd of STEM students and professors assembled in Gillis Theater, addressing a range of issues based on cadet questions.

“What can we do as students to increase science literacy?” Ian Cook ’13 asked.

“Convince the electorate that the exploration of space is not only the grandest, most epic journey that we have ever embarked upon, but it is fundamental to the survival of our nation,” responded Tyson, explaining that if our space program were inspiring individuals, there would be no lack of interest in STEM fields.

“NASA’s got no business hauling astronauts to and from low-earth orbit. That’s not space,” said Tyson. “That’s boldly going where hundreds have gone before.”

To get people excited about the space program, we need goals that are inspiring.

“The enemy of progress is that we don’t have a grand vision that makes headlines every week,” said Tyson.

In defense of government’s role in exploring the cosmos, Tyson cited examples of state-funded ocean voyages that established trade routes across the globe. Just as it took government programs to push those frontiers, it will take government programs to explore space.

“Private enterprise will not lead the space frontier,” said Tyson. “The investor wants the quarterly reports, the annual reports. Visionary governments want their countries to last forever, so they can make a 10-year investment that private enterprise can’t.”

Tyson spoke of his own motivations for advocating the advancement of America’s space program.

“Yes, I have a horse in this race, and that horse is America, but so should everyone else,” said Tyson. “If what I say and do enlightens you, empowers you to make a more informed decision regarding your life, then my job as an educator has a return on that investment in America.”

Tyson offered inspiration to listeners, pointing out humanity’s inherent desire to discover.

“We are the only mammals that are completely comfortable sleeping on our backs, and we sleep at night. What happens if you open your eyes? You see the stars,” said Tyson. “It has been suggested that deep within our primal genetic code is the curiosity that comes about when we open our eyes in the night and happen to be looking up.

“The extent to which you do not exploit that curiosity is the extent to which you deny all that you have been endowed with as a human.”

–John Robertson IV