Neil deGrasse Tyson Defends Space Force on 'The Late Show', Saying Science and War Have Always Been Intertwined

Thursday, 13 September 2018 - 10:03AM
Space
Astrophysics
Military Tech
Thursday, 13 September 2018 - 10:03AM
Neil deGrasse Tyson Defends Space Force on 'The Late Show', Saying Science and War Have Always Been Intertwined
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Image Credit: Pixabay Composite
To most people, Neil deGrasse Tyson is the cool uncle of popular science: he's humorous, wacky, and a little wise. In fact, he's the epitome of a public intellectual, like Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan before him. That's part of the reason his new book, Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Militaryis so disturbing: despite some Twitter backlash, Tyson hasn't been the kind to get his hands dirty when it comes to the messy politics surrounding science. Now, in a recent appearance on Stephen Colbert's Late Show, Tyson has come out defending the newly proposed Space Force.

According to Accessory to Warco-written by Tyson and Avis Lang, the symbiotic relationship between science and warfare has persisted for a long time. By their reasoning, generals need new technologies to gain the upper hand on their enemies, and science needs the funding and equipment to make new discoveries. As the book puts it: "The universe is both the ultimate frontier and the highest of high grounds. Shared by both space scientists and space warriors, it's a laboratory for one and a battleground for the other."

One of the key examples the book draws on is the Einstein-Szilárd letter, in which Albert Einstein endorsed the pursuit of the atomic bomb. Despite criticizing its use on Japan and claiming to be a pacifist, even Einstein recognized the necessity of turning atomic power into a weapon, Tyson and Lang argue. In many ways, the book is a challenge to both scientists and the public: Tyson doesn't want scientists to persist in believing that they can hold themselves above the dirty world warfare, even as their discoveries are used to kill people, and he doesn't want the public to think of scientists as blameless, white-coated saviors whose creations are hijacked by a cruel military-industrial complex. The reality is much more complex, he says.

This complexity carries over to his defense of the Space Force on The Late Show, which will take over the operation of satellites and other space projects from the Air Force. "All I'm saying is this is not a new thing because we've had space assets – military space assets – since the Sixties," argued Tyson. "What is a spy satellite? It's a space asset in the service of the military." He went on to say that 'space warfare' will most likely be limited to eliminating those satellites, rather than the creation of a Star Wars-esque fleet of starfighters. In fact, he says the chain reaction caused by debris from one destroyed satellite could have widespread repercussions: "If you take out one satellite above a certain threshold, all satellites could go, and then war is done in space."

Despite Colbert questioning the need for a Space Force, Tyson thinks it might be necessary: "Just 'cause it came out of Trump's mouth doesn't require that it then be a crazy thing."


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