NEW YORK — During a live taping of the podcast StarTalk at New York Comic-Con yesterday (Oct. 5), Neil deGrasse Tyson read an emotional letter to NASA on their shared 60th birthday, describing what it was like to watch the agency become more inclusive over the decades.
Tyson’s birthday is today (Oct. 6), and NASA officially opened its doors just a few days before he was born, on Oct. 1, 1958. But he has had a rocky relationship with the agency in its (and his) early years, as it seemed so separated from the civil rights movement and fights for equality his community in the Bronx was going through. Watch his impassioned reading of the letter in the video above — he first posted the letter on Facebook Oct. 2.
“I was three years old when John Glenn first orbited Earth,” Tyson begins. “I was seven when you lost astronauts Grissom, Chaffee, and White in that tragic fire of their Apollo 1 capsule on the launch pad. I was ten when you landed Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon. And I was fourteen when you stopped going to the Moon altogether. Over that time I was excited for you and for America. But the vicarious thrill of the journey, so prevalent in the hearts and minds of others, was absent from my emotions.”
“I was obviously too young to be an astronaut,” he adds. “But I also knew that my skin color was much too dark for you to picture me as part of this epic adventure.”
NASA struggled with including minorities, Tyson says, and unlike his peers he was inspired to become an astrophysicist “in spite of [the agency’s] achievements rather than because of them.”
As he continues, Tyson gets more emotional as he describes how long a way the agency has come, and its vital role to play in inspiring the future scientists and engineers of the nation. In the end, he wishes all the best to his “birthday buddy.”
Tyson has hosted the “StarTalk” radio show (and now podcast) since 2009, where he brings in scientists and pop culture personalities to talk about space and science. In 2015, he started hosting a “StarTalk” TV series on National Geographic, which has had four seasons thus far.