Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier is a collection of his essays, speeches, articles and transcripts from interviews he’s given as an astrophysicist over the years. If that’s not enough literary diversity to peak your interest, take into consideration that he also adds to this impressive compilation, a poem and numerous tweets, which he refers to as “space tweets;” many of which are written with a sharp comical undertone. Put this all together and you have a cleverly arranged assortment of both insightful, passionate scientific writings and humorous anecdotes, published in a highly readable volume. In other words, if you’re a scientifically illiterate person, like me, then yes, this book is for you!
Tyson navigates his readers through the vast political vacuum of space travel, which at times can be as frustrating as solving complex math equations. Some of the frustration revolves around misconceptions that people have regarding the amount of money it actually costs to fund space exploration. There are many people who believe that, considering the amount of societal problems that exist in our country like poverty and hunger, balanced with the responsibilities that the government is charged with like stabilizing the economy, job creation and homeland security, there really isn’t much justification for funding expensive space programs. Yet when Tyson points out that only half a penny of each tax dollar is used to fund NASA operations, the reasons for objecting to space funding seem irrational.
And then there is the story he narrates about how scientists reacted to blurred images returned from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 when it was launched. The fuzzy images were the result of a design flaw. Nevertheless, astrophysicists and medical researchers found a way to collaborate, and use software developed in response to those blurred images in the effort of breast cancer detection. It makes sense to me. The money we spend as a nation on science, technology and space can yield returns in areas like health care, something we can definitely benefit from.
I have always been fascinated by space. As a kid I would stare up at the stars and the moon, wondering what else was out there in that never ending black sky. My enthusiasm for the universe was encouraged by what I read in encyclopedias about the planets in our solar system, and when my teachers would suspend our class lesson long enough to wheel a television set out of the audio/visual room so that we could watch the latest live broadcast of the space shuttle being launched. Those were exciting moments for me. As were the moments I spent sitting in the planetarium on school field trips with my head arched upward. I dreamed that maybe one day I too could travel to some distant place in the galaxy.
As an adult, I continued to foster my enthusiasm for all things space by watching the Discovery and Science channels, reading books that featured breathtaking images taken by Hubble, and checking for the newest discoveries made on NASA’s website. One year for my birthday an ex-girlfriend of mine treated me to a night at the observatory, and I had the amazing experience of viewing Saturn through a larger than life telescope. Saturn’s rings left me speechless. Every once in a while, you can catch me setting up my own little telescope outside of my apartment, gazing up at those shining, twinkling lights. And now, after reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles, I have a hunch that when I look through my telescope, I’ll understand what I’m observing a little bit more than I did before.