Two shooting stars fell our way, leaving us with amazing and insightful streaks of information about the universe!
One of them, embodied in the form of an ex-wrestler, was none other than renowned astrophysicist, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, the host of National Geographic’s up and coming space thriller series – COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey. The new series comes to us over three decades after the original series – COSMOS: A Personal Voyage which premiered in 1980 and which is still hailed by some as “a watershed moment in nonfiction television”.
The other starry body took shape in the feminine form of COSMOS Executive Producer and writer, Ann Druyan, who illumined us with her passion of wanting to communicate the grandeur of the universe. Her charm was evident on-screen with some amazing script writing that was magnetic, charismatic and engaging, as well as off-screen through her affable, no-airs nature.
Thanks to a special invite by Tactic PR, my colleagues and I from Science Centre Singapore, had the privilege of seeing them up-close and personal! And it was quite a treat! We were blown away by our first peek of the new series! Through a revealing Q&A that followed the phenomenal preview of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, we were transported into the minds of the two space evangelists before us. Here’s a quick snapshot of the Q&A:
Science is awesome but with a younger generation constantly distracted by social media and other things, can COSMOS create any impact on them? (question posed by Ong Kah Jing)
Dr Tyson (who has more than 1.2 million Twitter followers and 240,000 followers on Facebook): “Some people blame social media for causing people to not have other ambitions – they just look on their devices all day long and never look up. And the urge is to blame social media. But I look at it a little differently. I don’t think you should blame social media. You should blame the absence of other forces that are strong enough to take their attention. I’d like to believe that COSMOS might be one of those uplifting forces, where people can take their dreams from who did they just ‘friend’ on Facebook to what is before us in our future, and how can we make a difference in that future, empowered and enlightened by the methods and tools of science and technology.”
Recently, the science curriculum was changed to remove astronomy. What are your views on this?
Dr Tyson: “When I went to school, many many moons ago, there was no astronomy in the curriculum. I think the educators of the day felt that learning about the Earth was more important. Of course the Earth is important. But I do feel strongly, that if you think of Earth only as a place where you live, rather than as a planet among many, orbiting a star among many, in a galaxy among many, you are deprived of a cosmic perspective that can completely shape your life, and your outlook and how you value life, other humans, nature, the future of a species…”
Dr Tyson, you were 17 when you first met Carl Sagan (the narrator and co-writer of the original COSMOS series). Did he give you a particular piece of advice and do you have any advice for aspiring astrophysicists?
Dr Tyson: “No, he didn’t give me specific advice in the way you might think… he was influential by example. And in some ways, that can be more potent. The fact that he wrote to me – unsolicited, in reaction to my general college application to the admissions office, was advice unto itself… And then he met me on campus and gave me a tour and spent all this time with me, someone he has never met, and then to drive me back to the bus station and write his phone number… that’s in a way, advice. It says that if you were that famous and that significant on the scientific landscape, there’s a very deep sense of humanity in you, a very deep sense of torch-passing that you possess to even conduct yourself in that way… It’s advice on how to be a human being. And that advice has stayed with me ever since.”
Singapore is a little late in the Space race. But next year, we’ll be sending one person into space. At this point, we have 26 people vying for the spot. What advice would you give to people going into space and advice for Singapore?
Dr Tyson: “If you look at any country that has astronauts, the astronauts are a revered community of people. If you look at China, when they sent up their first astronauts, they were as popular as rockstars. Now you have someone who typically has a science and engineering background who achieves equal status. I think that’s a good thing. Astronauts are the best ambassadors for science and technology that our species has ever put forth. So I think that as a nation, you should celebrate that… view it as a first step which I hope, would be among many, to be a participant on the space frontier.”
Ann and Dr Neil aspire for the new 13-part series to combine the rigorous scepticism of science with a sense of soaring wonder. To this end, COSMOS has attracted some top drawer voiceover talent in A-list actors like Richard Gere, Kirsten Dunst, Sir Patrick Stuart and Marlene Matlin.
Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy and American Dad) has also teamed with Ann and astronomer Steven Soter, to tell the stories of the heroes of knowledge in a graphic novel animated style!
Through their cinematic genius and some good old-fashioned storytelling, the ship of the imagination will take flight on a great odyssey that will include all kinds of gladiatorial confrontations and discoveries of different kinds of life. We wish Dr Neil and Ann all the very best in this grand endeavour to create the most transcendent experience with a vision of the cosmos on the grandest scale.
Before I wrap up this reflection, please check out my colleague-Kin Guan’s blogpost and enjoy some pictures of our cosmic encounter with our shooting stars – the charismatic Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson and the lovely Ann Druyan.
My sincere thanks to dear friends at Tactic PR and National Geographic for their benevolence at accommodating us at various events including a press conference, media hospitality event, NUS Q&A session and kids talk at Jurong Regional Library, featuring Dr Tyson and Ann Druyan. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey premieres on 15 March, 10pm (SG time), on the National Geographic Channel (SingTel mio TV Ch. 201 & StarHub TV Ch. 411). Don’t miss it!