Neil deGrasse Tyson at NASA 40th Anniversary Celebration for Apollo

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series premieres next week. Early reviews are mostly positive, although some, like the New York Times, are unimpressed.

When the original Cosmos premiered, there was nothing else like it in on TV. Space-travel shows like Star Trek were still relatively rare, and no one had attempted a big-budget no fiction space show like Cosmos before.

Since that time there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of space and astronomy shows on PBS, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc. While Sagan’s Cosmos had no competition, Tyson’s Cosmos has competition everywhere, including many shows hosted by Tyson himself. It is hard to see what will set the new Cosmos apart from the pack.

The new Cosmos does have support from a major network (Fox), which is undeniable advantage. The quest for network fame may have caused Tyson to make some questionable choices, however. To bring in Fox, he had to partner with Seth MacFarlane, who is known primarily as a writer of foul-mouthed gutter comedy and producer of some of the worst animation ever to appear on television. It is hard to see how MacFarlane’s involvement adds anything to the new Cosmos‘ credibility. He simply brought the money.

With only one episode aired, it is hard to predict what direction Cosmos will take in the future. There are some clues, however. Carl Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, who is also involved in the project, has said the new Cosmos will be more overtly political than the original. Considering how preachy Sagan could be in the original (and given MacFarlane’s involvement), we wonder how far the new Cosmos will go in that direction.

The biggest weakness of Cosmos is likely to come from Tyson himself, however. Like Sagan, Tyson has an aristocratic disdain for human space exploration, especially large-scaled citizen space exploration. Tyson is a fan of government “flag and footprint” missions, which will always be rare and expensive. He has spoken occasionally of sending NASA astronauts to Europa, but he sees no value in affordable, near-term citizen space exploration (which he denigrates as “joyrides” and “so-called” spaceflight).

Tyson believes that citizens should explore space figuratively, through television, not literally, through actual spaceflight. But watching television is not exploration; it’s voyeurism.

The universe is vast. It is naive to think that space (or even our tiny little corner of the solar system) could be completely explored by a handful of government employees acting alone.

We do not want to simply watch Cosmos. We want to explore the cosmos. More people travel than watch the Travel Channel. More people cook than watch the Food Network. We look forward to day when more people travel in space than watch space shows on Fox TV.

Written by Astro1 on March 8th, 2014 , Events

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    Jim Brown commented

    To expore is good. To go and homestead is greata. And thst is what is needed to complete the process. Human can in a half hour explor better than what it takes the twin robot and curiocity years to do, and the really have no curiocity, and can unlike people can do nothing not planned for.

    March 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm
    john werneken commented

    Never a Sagan fan either. Something about that stupid picture of the Earth as a blue marble has always p*ssed me off.

    I want to explore the Universe, beginning with cislunar space and then the solar system, and not just for the fun of it. Lots o energy, raw materials, and room out there and it hopefully will not be that easy to control it all from here.

    March 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm
    Agnes Kim commented

    Distance from NYC to Singapore: 9,500 miles
    Distance to Proxima Centauri: 25,000,000,000,000 miles
    Distance to Pluto: 8,000,000,000 miles
    Time it will take the New Horizons mission to reach Pluto: 9 years.
    Time it would take to reach Proxima Centauri: 28,000 years.
    9 years = a fraction of a human lifetime. 28,000 years = rise and fall of numerous civilizations.
    That is the reason why Neil deGrasse Tyson and other astronomers are not strong advocates for manned space flight. If we had unlimited funds, maybe. But as it is, it is more important to fund projects that drive technological advances at a much smaller cost.
    Many people watch the Olympics but not very many can run a 100m dash in 11 seconds. We love to watch professional music performances, but how many of us have a chance to become concert pianists or opera divas? Those things are in the realm of dreams for the vast majority of us. Traveling around the galaxy remains squarely in the realm of science fiction.
    That is also one reason why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a big advocate of science education. To write a conclusion like this, one must have a flawed notion of scale (or none). Most of the universe is even further away than Proxima Centauri. Comparing exploring the Cosmos to traveling around the Earth is misleading.

    March 16, 2014 at 9:43 am
      Astro1 commented

      No one (even Tyson) is suggesting that we need to go all the way to Proxima Centauri to begin space exploration. Or even Pluto.

      You overlook an entire solar system with nine planets, several dozen moons, and several million asteroids and comets — all of which are much, MUCH closer than the nearest star.

      You present a strange, elitist of society. Do you think the only people who run are Olympic athletes? The only people who sing or play musical instruments are concert divas? Go to your local city park next weekend and count the number of runners. Do you think they’re all training for the Olympics? Then go to a local church and count the number of people singing hymns. Do you think they’re all professional concert musicians?

      Do you think teachers should discourage students from showing up for music and gym class, by constantly talking down those fields, as Tyson talks down human spaceflight?

      Right now, a child has a better chance of becoming an NBA basketball player than a NASA astronaut. No wonder gymn class is more popular than science and math. That will change in the near future. Soon, we will see hundreds, then thousands of people flying space every year. That will be followed by large numbers of people actually living in space.

      If you want to join Tyson in being a couch potato, that’s your business. The rest of us have a solar system to explore.

      March 16, 2014 at 11:04 am
        Agnes Kim commented

        Sorry, I guess I misunderstood what you meant by “we want to explore the Cosmos”. For me (and really, by definition), the Cosmos is the Universe, which is everything that we can explore. This, as you say is “vast”. I was trying to give a notion of how vast, as it is difficult to comprehend.

        There is a fine point here. Space exploration is not cheap. Leaving that entirely up to private companies is unrealistic, as they have the pressure of immediate to short term returns. The US government is not funding NASA at the level that it requires to do any manned missions beyond low Earth orbit. China is doing a little better so that is not to say that putting humans into space is a thing of the past.

        But one really has to realize that putting people into Earth’s orbit or even sending them as far as Mars is not exploring the “Cosmos”. It’s like saying that by stepping out on my front porch I am exploring the world. I am not. Granted, if I don’t even go out of my house, then I am that much more removed from exploring the world.

        Right now, NASA is not getting enough funding to send people out on the front porch. All we can do is focus on research that can lead to technology that will make it safer and more affordable to put people out on the front porch and hopefully beyond in the not-too-distant future.

        This is not aristocratic disdain, but dealing with reality.

        March 16, 2014 at 11:30 am
          Astro1 commented

          China is not spending more money on space than NASA is. Quite the opposite. NASA spends more than all the world’s civilian space agencies combined. The problem is not how much money NASA gets but how the money is spent. Politicians have set NASA on a path to obsolescence.

          In the long run, that may not matter. In a few years, a university will be able to buy a suborbital spacecraft for less than the cost of a new football stadium. Private enterprise will fly more astronauts in a single year than NASA has in the last 50. Space research will be as common as a microscope in high-school science classes, and we will put a thousand astronaut teachers into American schools.

          Not all private enterprises seek “immediate returns.” That is a common misconception — and a strange one, too, because private, non-profit organizations are actually quite common. Does your city have a museum? A zoo? Hospitals? Churches? A Rotary Club?

          The idea of space exploration as government monopoly is a relic of the Cold War. To quote Alex MacDonald, research economist at NASA Ames Research Center, “For the majority of its history, space exploration in America has been funded privately.” (

          James Lick, the richest man in California, donated 17.5% of his fortune — about $1.2 billion, in today’s terms — to build the Lick Observstory. There’s no reason to think that space exploration can’t be funded the same way in the future.

          Saying that astronauts in Low Earth Orbit are not exploring space is nonsense. It’s like saying Columbus was not an explorer because he didn’t travel to the Moon (or even the Pacific). If you’re not interested in anything this side of Proxima Centauri, you’re going to have a hard row — but that won’t stop other people from exploring places that are more easily accessible.

          March 16, 2014 at 12:11 pm