Cara Santa Maria: I'm here today at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and I'm about to go speak with astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. I'm really interested to see what kinds of special treasures he has hiding in his office.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: I've known from long ago that the universe was calling me. If you were one of those annoying adults that said, "Oh, what are you gonna be when you grow up?" I would say "astrophysicist." And then they'd walk away real quickly. [laughter]
CSM: [laughter] I heard that you have this amazing lamp in your office that was built by a brilliant artist. [laughter]
NdGT: [laughter] I have a lamp that I made when I was in seventh grade. When everyone's making, in woodshop, they're making--
CSM: A boat?
NdGT: --birdhouses and boats and things, and there was a lamp project, and I wanted to design my own lamp. And I designed it after the planet Saturn. So I made the ring so you can just press down and it turns the light on.
CSM: So it's functional art!
NdGT: Functional art. [laughs]
CSM: It's beautiful!
NdGT: And so it's still my desk lamp and it's been that since middle school.
CSM: I love that! What else've you got? Show me something else!
NdGT: So one of the things that fascinates me most is when people are so charmed by the universe that it becomes part of their artistic output. And when I was visiting Moscow--in Star City--and looking at their space program, I found in their gift shop these dolls, the patrushka dolls. Normally they have heads of state on them and other people, it's like-- These had spaceships on them. So the littlest one, guess what that would be. Remember, I got it in Russia.
CSM: Sputnik? [laughs]
CSM: I've read a few of your books. How many have you written so far?
NdGT: Actually, my latest book is the tenth.
CSM: So, tell me, what's the take away from this book?
NdGT: Well, the original title that I submitted the manuscript with was Failure To Launch: The Dreams And Delusions Of Space Enthusiasts.
NdGT: But the publisher said, "well, that's too depressing. You can't have failure in the title."
NdGT: So it got renamed Space Chronicles: Facing The Ultimate Frontier. And what it is--it's every thought I've ever had about our past, present, and future in space, and the relationship of space exploration to culture. Space exploration is hard. It takes great investments, and my goal here is to get people to recognize that when a nation dreams big, its citizenry dreams big. And the dreaming big part is what makes tomorrow come. And in fact, my real target are adults, because first, they outnumber kids. And, kids are all scientists anyway.
CSM: They are.
NdGT: What does a kid do, except they want to take stuff apart and put it together and break it? I mean, they're sci-- I'm not even worried about the kids.
CSM: There's a point in time where there's a flip--
NdGT: There's a flip.
CSM: There really is--right around puberty--where there's a switchover.
NdGT: I'm worried about the adults. They're the ones where the science literacy needs to be infused.
CSM: Yes. And I want to thank you so much for improving that literacy--
NdGT: Well, thank you!
CSM: And for having me here with you today.
NdGT: Thank you. All labors of love.
CSM: [laughs] Thanks so much Dr. Tyson.
NdGT: Mhmm. Thank you.
Neil deGrasse Tyson's tenth book, Space Chronicles: Facing The Ultimate Frontier is available as of February 27, 2012.
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