On the night of April 13, 1970, astronaut Jack Swigert famously beemed into NASA headquarters to declare “Houston, we have a problem.” A nation of inspired onlookers watched in suspense as the Apollo 13 crew worked frantically against the clock, and their failing ship, to return to earth alive to tell the tale.

April 17, 2012, marked the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 13 splashdown, a historic moment for NASA and a landmark event in the American age of space exploration. Splashing down safely in the South Pacific ocean heralded the end of a terrifying ordeal for the astronauts and NASA. The failure of the mission took a backseat to the death defying return of the astronauts, who paddled into the dark perilous waters of space and refused to drown -- the Apollo 13 crew had fought against space, and won.

What’s the Big Idea?

The safe return of NASA’s Apollo 13 crew from 200,000 miles into space with a failing ship was a feat of awesome technological strength and prowess that Americans had grown accustomed to attributing to NASA’s space exploration program. In those days, the zest for exploration in American culture was animated by the astonishing successes that NASA was achieving with the tools of science. Those days now seem long ago. Neil Degrasse Tyson has argued that there are three things that motivate societies to exercise the the kind of capital it takes to make huge leaps of progress: “the celebration of a divine or royal power, the search for profit, and war.” The absence of these motivations in American society has lead to a decline in the exploratory spirit, at least when it comes to funding NASA.

What’s the Significance?

Tyson argues that NASA’s funding is small in the portfolio of spending authorized by Congress each year. Congresspersons are up for election every two years. Tyson says this type of election cycle is  not conducive to the approval of bold, audacious “vision statements” that NASA projects normally require. That’s a lamentable outcome, Tyson tells Big Think, because

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic?

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson claims the title "scientist" above all other "ists." And yet, he says he is "constantly claimed by atheists." So where does he stand? “Neil deGrasse, widely claimed by atheists, is actually an agnostic.” 

What's the Big Idea?

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Are You a Believer? Take The Dawkins Test.

Richard Dawkins, the most famous "atheist" on the planet, has argued "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other." 

Do you believe in God? Sometimes this question warrants more than just a yes or no answer. To categorize one's own beliefs about the possibility of the existence of a deity, Dawkins proposed a "spectrum of probabilities" in his book The God Delusion. This spectrum consists of two extremes -- strong theist on one end, and strong atheist on the other. There are a number of milestones in between, which are all charted on a 7-point scale (e.g., "weak atheist").

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Is War a Virus or a Gene?

John Horgan, author of the book The End of War argues that warring or violent behavior is not innate to human nature. Horgan shares the belief of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead that war is a cultural innovation. 

John Horgan, author of the book The End of War argues that warring or violent behavior is not innate to human nature. Of the many people that Horgan has questioned, from war journalist Sebastian Junger to the students in his classes, most believe war is a part of human nature. War will always be with us they say. Perhaps that is true, but Horgan believes that war is a problem, just like cancer, that has a solution we haven’t found yet.

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