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Tyson: With NASA cuts, America has 'stopped dreaming'

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Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says the U.S. government is "mortgaging the future of this nation" by failing to support space exploration yet spending billions at war overseas.

Acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday and offered a sobering assessment of the nation's priorities as it pertains to funding space exploration through NASA while it grapples with a budget crisis.

In opening remarks, Bill Maher questioned whether the U.S. government should really pull the plug on the James Webb Space Telescope -- the $6.8 billion successor to the Hubble Space Telescope expected to aid humanity in seeing evidence of the origin of the Big Bang -- because funding for the scientific instrument amounted to just one month of activity in Afghanistan.

Maher's conclusion: "It seems like we won't do anything that's for the public good."

Tyson replied:

First of all, let's clarify what the NASA budget is. Do you realize that the $850 billion dollar bailout, that sum of money is greater than the entire 50-year running budget of NASA?
And so when someone says, "We don’t have enough money for this space probe," I'm asking, no, it's not that you don't have enough money, it's that the distribution of money that you're spending is warped in some way that you are removing the only thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow.

You remember the '60s and '70s. You didn't have to go more than a week before there's an article in Life magazine, "The Home of Tomorrow," "The City of Tomorrow," "Transportation of Tomorrow." All of that ended in the 1970s. After we stopped going to the Moon, it all ended. We stopped dreaming.

And so I worry that the decision that Congress makes doesn't factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. Tomorrow's gone. They're playing for the quarterly report, they're playing for the next election cycle, and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation, and the rest of the world is going to pass us by.

Here's the video:

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure