Astrophysics & the American Decline

English: Apollo insignia. Italiano: Stemma del...

Apollo insignia.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Astrophysics is a specialty of physics that deals with the explanation of celestial objects. This study of space has sparked many great minds and fueled the imagination of generations. The United States government has decided to abandon the quest for space exploration, but what will this mean for the imaginations of future generations? Does the study of space have more implications for our societies ability to be innovative than we think?

The term “astrophysics” first appeared in the 1860’s when spectrum analysis was applied to the study of the stars. The earliest elucidation of astrophysics came in the 1880’s, as the theoretical and observational study of the physical condition of the sidereal universe. Astrophysics has changed along with new theoretical and observational tools from physics, namely, spectrum analysis, photography, photoelectric photometry, radiometry and colorimetry. In the 20th century astrophysics was influenced by interpretive skills from mechanics, optics, kinetic theory of gases and thermodynamics, electromagnetism, atomic physics, quantum mechanics, nuclear physics and particle physics. Some have stated the best way to examine the origin and development of astrophysics is understand how its practitioners have defined their work in the production of journals, institutions, and modes of practice.  (DeVorkin, 2000).

image for S:An Annotated Bibliography of the A...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The exploration of space and what could lie beyond what one can see has sparked the imagination of countless children to become scientists, astronomer and astronauts. One of the most recognizable faces of astrophysics, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, was also one of the children that were inspired when he looked into space. Tyson credits his desire to become a scientist and specialize in studying the universe to a visit to Hayden planetarium in New York at the age of nine, a pair of binoculars, and a friend that told him to look up with them. Tyson continues to explain that he thought if everyone looked up the way that he did everyone would want to study the universe. (Wagner, 2004).

In 1961, then President John F. Kennedy announced the Apollo program, and galvanized a nation with the words, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” Kennedy’s speech was not simply just a call for advancement or achievement it was also a battle cry against communism. This has been the pattern of space advancement in the US, in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik from the Soviet Union the US was spooked into joining the race for space. Today instead of the Soviet Union it may be China that fuels a new race toward achievement. China has released an official strategy that outlines their ambitious plan to advance its space capabilities such as launching space laboratories and having manned spaceships and freighters. Tyson wrote in a paper titled, “The Case for Space: Why We Should Keep Reaching for the Stars”, In 2010 President Barak Obama articulated his vision for the future of space exploration, which included a manned mission to Mars. Tyson continues, “If the United States commits to the goal of reaching Mars, it will almost certainly do so in reaction to the progress of other nations- as was the case with NASA, the Apollo program and the project that became the international space station. For the past decade, I have joked with colleagues that the United States would land astronauts on Mars in a year or two if only the Chinese would leak a memo that revealed plans to build military bases there.” (Tyson, 2012). While Tysons’ comment is said in a joking fashion it is telling of a deeper issue in American society, the need to keep off with the Joneses so to speak when really more focus needs to be spent on education so that future generations will be the innovators of new technology or scientific theories not just trying to expand or improve existing technology.

Another alarming trend in the US is the lack of interest in science. This lack of interest leads the country to lose ground in every measure of technical proficiency with the rest of the industrialized world. Many foreign nationals that come to the United States to earn their graduate degrees are no longer staying in the US to work after graduation partly due to the combination of anti-immigrant sentiment and increased opportunity in their home country. (Tyson, 2012). Space is the last frontier and losing the desire to explore it is a far reaching thought, The US needs to teach the importance of math and science to our youth and that innovations come from dreaming. Space exploration must remain important; it fuels the dreams of our youth.

©Ellice Campbell 2013

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DeVorkin, D. (1982). The History of Modern Astronomy and Astrophysics: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography, New York: Garland.

Tyson, N. (2012). The case for space: Why we should keep reaching for the stars. Foreign Affairs, 91(2), 22-33. Retrieved from

Wagner, C. (2004). Visionaries. The Futurist, 38(6), 68-68. Retrieved from



2 thoughts on “Astrophysics & the American Decline

  1. Thank you so much for sharing my link. Dr. Tyson’s comments in Kingston, Jamaica, where I live, really resonated. The aim of his visit was to encourage a greater understanding of and love for science on this island, where the standard of science and math education is extremely weak. I agree with him (and you) that scientific progress and innovation is vital for any nation’s future. Thank you and please visit my blog again soon!

  2. Pingback: Lately… | Ellice Campbell

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