Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared Tuesday on The David Pakman Show to explain the politics of NASA and why private industries could not lead the frontier of space exploration.
"NASA has always been political," he said. "The difference is it is now partisan. That's an important distinction. NASA was created in a political climate, in the geo-politics of the Cold War. I can understand and accept -- I don't have to like it -- but I certainly accept the reality that politics has always orbited NASA. What concerned me deeply in the past decade, going from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, is that I have seen partisan side-taking and partisan bickering tainting the dialogue of what the present and future of NASA needs to be."
After retiring its space shuttles last year, the United States has been forced to depend on Russia’s Soyuz capsules to take astronauts into orbit. NASA has urged private industry to build the next low-cost vehicle to take astronauts to space, distributing nearly $270 million to four companies — Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin.
"Many people think NASA is ceding their preeminence as the leader of space exploration to private industry," Tyson said. "That's just false. It's not only false. Private industry cannot lead a frontier because a private industry is not conceived to do so. What private industry does is it asserts a capital marketplace when you can value the risks and dangers, and quantify the costs of that venture."
"When you're advancing a space frontier, it is expensive, it is dangerous, the risks are unknown, and when you combine those three you cannot market that to investors," Tyson added. "It just doesn't work that way, because you have no way to say what the return on the investment will be."
"So the history of major exploratory missions has always been led by governments. Once you've drawn the maps and once you assess the dangers and know where the trade winds are and what the costs will be, then you cede that to private enterprise and then they do it more efficiently than you and they can be inventive and basically spawn an entire new industry."
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube on March 13, 2012, below: