Bill Nye, the science guy who wants to save the world, thinks all matters of science are worth promoting and defending. But as the head of the Planetary Society, the world’s largest nongovernmental space interest organization, he’d be remiss if he didn’t give a nod to the profound coolness of space.
“The more we explore space, the more we know about ourselves,” Nye said during a panel for his new Netflix series at New York’s Paley Center for New Media on Tuesday. He was responding to an audience member who asked what he would choose if he was forced to just focus on one scientific issue for the rest of his life.
When pressed to choose one, Nye demurred: He said he is “deeply concerned about climate change” but couldn’t help but expound on the beauty of space exploration — and the potential discoveries from that exploration — as worthwhile pursuits. Space exploration, he explained, forces us to confront what it means to be human.
“There are two deep questions that everyone has asked, and if you meet somebody who says they have not asked these questions, they’re lying to you,” Nye said. “Where did we all come from? Are we alone in the universe? If you want to answer those questions, you have to explore space.”
One of the best reasons to pursue space exploration, Nye added, is the potential to encounter alien life. Nye thinks the “logical place” for this to happen is either Mars or the moon Europa. His thoughts are in line with those of NASA astrobiologist Mary Voytek, who announced a week ago that her “money was still on Europa” when it came to finding the first evidence of life in space. In the 2020s, NASA plans to launch the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that will take high-resolution images of the moon’s surface to have a look at what’s going on in the salty oceans there.
What would make the discovery of alien life even better, Nye says, is if it happened while other advancements were still being made in different scientific fields. This achievement, Nye reasons, could happen by a society who believes it’s a worthwhile effort for our “intellectual treasure.”
“It is quite reasonable that in my lifetime — and if I don’t quite make it your lifetime — we will discover evidence of life on another world,” said Nye. “It would be a profound thing to discover life on another world while we are solving climate change, while we are providing clean water, renewable reliable electricity, and giving everyone access to the electronic information superhighway.”