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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Bringing Commercial Space Fantasies Back to Earth

What's the Big Idea?

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson says there is a lot of delusion when it comes to the future ambitions of space exploration. Tyson, an astrophysicist and the author of the new book The Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, signals out recent claims by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich that had we given NASA's funding to the private sector "we would have been on the Moon and Mars by now and we would have done it more cheaply and everything would be fine and dandy." 

Tyson argues that private enterprises throughout history have never been able to lead "large, expensive, dangerous projects with unknown risks." According to Tyson, that was true with Columbus and other explorers who were funded by governments. 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

While private enterprise is not going to take us back to the Moon or to Mars, Tyson says there is still a role for these companies to play. Tyson says taking on our low earth orbit activities "would be the ideal place for private enterprise to take over."

Tyson says tourism could drive these missions, and he would be the first in line to buy a ticket.

What's the Takeaway?

Irrational exuberance can take hold in any industry, especially if would-be innovators get hooked on the promise of exponential growth. It's rarely that simple, Tyson points out. And it's rarely that easy. Sure, two engineers may have invented Google in a garage and Facebook was coded in a dorm room, but getting to space is another matter entirely, which involves a whole different set of risks. 

What are some other examples of irrational exuberance that you can spot in today's economy? Solar power is perhaps a good example. While it may very well be viable in a decade, it won't ease the pain at the pump today. Best not to get too far ahead of ourselves as we continue to dream big about the future. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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