Lynn Sherr has done an excellent job of profiling (in the good sense of that word!) Neil deGrasse Tyson in Parade magazine (January 12, 2014). At the bottom of the handsome cover photo—depicting the astrophysicist who is known through the known world—are the words, “Master of the Universe.” The label, at once lighthearted and profound, perfectly fits Tyson.
Like the great science popularizer (and Tyson mentor) Carl Sagan, Tyson is a powerful combination of skills and talents. Notes comedian Jon Stewart (whose The Daily Show has Tyson as a frequent guest), “It’s one thing to be a lauded astrophysicist. It’s another to possess a gift for comedic timing. You don’t normally get both, but that’s Neil.” In fact, Tyson is an even more impressive admixture. Part genius, part visionary, part quick-wit, and part Prince Charming, he is also a supremely Regular Guy.
That is because he is well-grounded—no matter how far space probes and his own imagination take him. One of the photos illustrating the article (whose title is borrowed from The X-Files slogan, “The Truth Is Out There”) depicts him at age twelve, his father helping him put together his first telescope. “I was an aspiring astrophysicist,” he explains, “and that’s how I defined myself, not by my skin color.”
Although he is now a real astrophysicist, he is still aspiring, still grounded. Consider his view of little green men: “No astrophysicist would deny the possibility of life,” says a smiling Tyson. “I think we’re not creative enough to imagine what life would be like on another planet.” Still, he’s a skeptic, if a wonderfully open-minded one. “Show me a dead alien. Better yet, show me a live one!”
Sherr’s article heralds the forthcoming “reboot” of Sagan’s Cosmos, rewritten by Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan and astronomer Steven Soter, and hosted by Tyson. What a crew for the voyage! Titled Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, the 13-part series will air in prime time on both the National Geographic Channel and on Fox, beginning in March. It will, says Tyson, help you “understand your relationship to other humans, to the rest of the tree of life on Earth, to the rest of the planets in the universe, and to the rest of the universe itself. I want it to get inside your skin. I want you to be so affected that the world looks completely different.”
Let us all begin now the countdown to takeoff!