Dr Carl Sagan, Apollo, Nasa discussed on Science Friday

Science Friday


Pale Blue Dot had just been published and as as you'll hear the development of a movie called contact was still just in the planning stages we talk about. US space policy the search for extraterrestrial arrest Joel Intelligence and the place of humans in the universe. Here's Carl Sagan on science. Friday recorded December sixteenth nineteen ninety four. We don't like to think that we're pretty much the center of attention the center of the universe. But in the words of Carl Sagan again we live on a routine planet near a Humdrum Star stuck away in an obscure corner of an unexceptional galaxy which is just one one hundred billion galaxies in the universe and if you think that sounds depressing consider this there is no guarantee that are boring little rocky planet will. We'll be around forever if we don't destroy it. Maybe a stray asteroid will and so. Where does that leave us? Astronomer Carl Sagan say brings us back to our roots as explorers and may drive us to become interplanetary even intergalactic wonders. Now let me welcome my guest. Dr Carl Sagan in is the David Duncan professor of astronomy and Space Science and the Director of the Laboratory of Planetary Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca New York. He's CO founder and President of the Planetary Terry Society and author of the new book Pale blue dot published by random house in. It's my pleasure to welcome Dr Welcome to the program. Thanks very much Pale. Blue Dot doc. That's always the first question that every interviewer asks an author why the title. Well I was An experiment or on the voyager one and two spacecraft then after they swept by the Jupiter Saturn Uranus and Neptune systems. It was possible to do something I had wanted to do. From the beginning me and that is to turn the cameras on one of these spacecraft. Back to photograph the planet from which had come and clearly there would not much scientific data from this because we were so far away that the earth was just appoint a Pale blue dot but when we took the picture there was something about it that seemed to me so poignant Vulnerable tiny and if we photographed it from a much further distance. It would have been gone lost against the backdrop backdrop of distant stars and to me. It I I thought there. That's us that's our world that all of us everybody you know everybody you love everybody you ever heard of lived lived out their lives there on a on a motive dust in a sunbeam and It spoke to me about the need for us to care for one another another and also to preserve the Pale blue dot. which is the only home we've ever known And it it underscored the Tinus the comparative insignificance of our world and ourselves as you said in your opening remarks back When men were walking on the moon that there was that famous photo of the Earth Rise over the moon and the I guess you might call it the bright blue marble compared impaired your Pale blue dot that sort of led to movements like the environmental movement when people could see us as a united planet without the political boundaries? Exactly Can we you use the Pale blue dot as an analogy to that or something. That's even further looking. That's it it's a set of of steps outward and that Apollo seventeen picture think raised many people tuned environmental consciousness and the Pale blue dot at least for me is represents the last moment in space craft leaving the earth in which you can see the earth at all and the idea idea that we are at the center of the universe. Much less the reason that there is a universe is strongly powerfully counter indicated but The the smallness of our world why why a whatever happened to the man in space program one day. We don't have to tell you how popular it was. It was the talk of the sixties. We all grew up with it. There was excitement. There was fervor. There was the exploration everybody was is behind it. A countless amount of money was going into it. Now it just lies fallow. And you're absolutely right. I think the first thing linked to say is that was a historic a mythic achievement and a thousand years from now and nobody will have any idea what GATT is or what what the WHO. The speaker of. The house was in the late nineties of the twentieth century. People will remember Apollo because that was the time that humans first set foot put on another world but Apollo was not about science it was not about exploration. Apollo was about the nuclear arms race was about intimidating. Dating other nations was about beat the Russians and when we did beat the rush and then the program was ended in the clearest indication of that is the fact that the last astronaut to step on the moon was the first scientist as soon as a scientist out there. The program was over. People said why are we wasting our money on science. AH now. Lately I mean in the seventies and eighties and nineties. NASA has been very for for the man per human program. I A hate to use the word man because it's their women astronauts In the human program we're shuttle oriented what shuttled typically does. Ah puts five or six or seven people in a tin can two hundred miles up in the air. And they launch a communications satellite or something that could just as well have been and launched by an unmanned booster and then the the newts are doing fine or the tomato. Plants didn't grow or or now the next one. They're gonNA see how how soft drinks taste in low-earth-orbit for heaven's sake and then come back down again and they say oh we've had another exploration SPLUR- ration- that's not exploration. It's like driving a bus of the same highway two hundred colon. The caller was whereas if NASA also had gone on to send humans to near Earth asteroids or to land on Mars the enthusiasm would have been maintained at a very high level. I don't say that it's Nice. As fought matter cannot make that decision on its own it has to be made at a much higher level but that decision was not made eight NASA was left to its own devices. And that's why we have a falling off of interest in the space program for X.. Men Reasons people aren't stupid. They understand. We're not going anywhere you make a case for colonizing space different than most people do in this book Your tact in this book is that you argue. Let's not go out in space for things. You could argue for science exploration education. You argue that. We have to colonize space because that's the only way we might survive in the future. That's right I I. I'm a big fan of robotic space exploration have been involved with it for thirty five years if you WANNA do science. That's the way to go. It's cheaper it doesn't live. You can go to more dangerous places and so on but as for Apollo as with Apollo the only justifications that will work in the real world are one for you in space fight are ones that involve some much broader political or historical agenda and I believe there are three one is emotional and a lot of people feel it. I know a lot of people. Don't and that is we come from wonders from Hunter Gatherers Ninety nine point. Nine percent of our tenure on earth was in that condition no fixed abode as long before we had villages villages and cities and now the earth is all explored were in some sedentary hiatus and I think a lot of people long For some exploration. You don't have to do it yourself. Because of virtual reality a few people exploring can communicate too many on the other hand. If if your child is hungry the appeal of this argument is not very high yet when parenthetically win comet Shoemaker Levy nine smash into Jupiter. It was front page news board transfixed by and that brings me to the the of course Absolutely and that brings me to the second and third points which are much more immediate and practical while I do not for a moment suggests that the earth is a disposable planet and and I think we have to make the most heroic efforts to preserve the environment. It is a fact that our technology has reached formidable formidable maybe even awesome proportions the environment that sustains us is very vulnerable the thickness of the atmosphere that we breathe is compared to the size of the Earth about the thickness of the coat of Shellac on schoolroom globe and that being the case there there is a chance that we will do ourselves in. Were certainly a danger to ourselves. I would like to see self sustaining human communities on other worlds in the long runs. No big hurry. So that we hedge our bets or diversify our portfolio The clearly our chances are much great if we do that and the third point is there is a specific danger that we are now able to identify. And that's connected with what you just said about Schumer Levi nine slamming Ming into Jupiter last July. The Earth lives in a bad neighborhood in space. We orbit the sun a midday swarm of new enormous number over of asteroids and comets. And you just take one look at the distribution of these orbits and it's clear that the earth has to run into them or they into us most of them are little burn up in the atmosphere. Don't do much harm but the longer you wait. The more likely it is that a big one will hit the ones that hit Jupiter last July. Were the biggest ones. There were about a kilometre across. They produced a blotch in the clouds of Jupiter that was about earth sized and a kilometer eliminator across object is the size which would core clause enormous environmental damage to the Earth a ten kilometer. Object that hit the earth sixty five five million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs and seventy five percent of the species of life on earth. Now to deal with this first of all all we have to inventory these near Earth objects. Surely we should be busy finding out if there's any danger from any particular object. We're not even doing that it yet. And secondly we ought to develop the technique to deal with an errant asteroid or comet if it's found to be on earth impact trajectory and without going into we can if you want the techniques for doing that. There's no way to do that unless we're out there. So this is is a claim. A very practical reason why in the long-term humans have to be out in the inner solar system. At least we need to take a break but we'll be right back with more of December nineteen ninety-four conversation with astronomer and author Carl Sagan and just a minute. Stay with us. Am I refer Plato. Welcome back if you're just joining us. We're stepping into the science Friday way back machine and turning the dial back to nineteen ninety four twenty five years ago to revisit a conversation with the late astronomer Carl Sagan following the publication of his book Pale Blue Dot. You mentioned in your book this far back or as close. I guess I should say as July of nineteen thousand nine President Bush on the twentieth anniversary of the Apollo Eleven.

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