THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
June 12, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE FIRST LADY
MATINEE "UNDER THE SEA, BEYOND THE STARS"
The East Room
2:37 P.M. EDT
MRS. CLINTON: Good afternoon and welcome to the East
Room. In his Four Quartets, the poet, T.S. Eliot wrote, "We shall never
cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to
arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
Well, welcome to our 9th Millennium Lecture at the White House, as
we explore under the sea and beyond the stars. Around the East Room we
see Paul Hudson's powerful image of the Hubbell Telescope being launched into
orbit and the Alvin vehicle plunging into the depths of the ocean. These
are the kinds of discoveries that have long shaped our understanding of the
universe and bring us all here today.
Our Millennium Lectures, and the entire White House Millennium
Council, grew out of a series of conversations that Bill and I had about how we
were going to mark the turn of the century and the millennium. We wanted
to find a way to spotlight the art and science, the technology and history that
have defined our past and will determine our future.
so, in this room, as you saw in the video, we heard our Poets Laureate recite
poems that have inspired us for generations. We heard Professor Bernard
Bailyn uncover the origins of the American Revolution; Stephen Hawking
imagining science in the 21st century; and so many others who have really
provoked us to think and to imagine together.
Today, we are very fortunate to have with us two more amazing tour
guides: Dr. Marcia McNutt and Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson, to help us
explore our oceans and our heavens. And it could not come at a better
time. As we speak, scientists are finding new life forms, seeing the
birth and death of stars, and learning more about how climate change affects
This is, of course, nothing new. I think as Americans,
exploration seems to be in our genetic code. We are like curious,
energetic children who just can't stand still. From the earliest people
who arrived on our shores to Lewis and Clark to our astronauts and aquanauts,
we have always wanted to make the unknown, known. And, today, we will
look at how those discoveries will continue to transform ourselves and our
globe and universe.
Today's event would not have been
possible without our partners, our federal partner, the National Endowment for
the Humanities and its chairman, Bill Ferris. It wouldn't have been
possible without Secretary Riley and the Department of Education. And it
would not have been possible without the continuing support of Sun
Microsystems, which is cybercasting this program to people around the world
and, as far as we know, perhaps, even around the universe.
I also want to welcome everyone watching at 100 downlink sites
throughout the country. This event is also being broadcast live on C-Span
and the Discovery Science Channel; and eventually in many classrooms, thanks to
Channel One, which will be distributing the entire Millennium Lectures Series
to teachers in their network.
When we were planning this series, we knew we wanted to have at
least one Millennium Matinee, so that we could bring young people to the White
House for a discussion that would involve them and their imaginations.
That's why I'm glad to see so many students here from DuVal and Grafton High
Schools, and River Terrace and Anne Beers Elementary Schools, who have done
their own experiments. We're also joined by the four winners of the
National Elementary School Chess Championship. They go to Community
Elementary School 70 in the Bronx, and I want to welcome them here, as well.
Now, when you walked into the White House, you saw artifacts from
some of our great explorations, including a diving helmet from the early 1800s,
a lunar boot that actually trod on the moon, and a species of new marine
creatures found just two years ago. The exhibition was made possible by
the Smithsonian, the Navy Museum, NASA and the Library of Congress, which
deserves special thanks for designing the display.
And it illustrates a simple truth: that we are here to write
just one chapter in the never-ending story of American discovery. Just
think of Jules Verne's, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" -- he didn't depict any
life in the ocean's deepest regions, but those who came after him found such
life. And generations of early explorers could not even probably imagine
what we now are finding.
But we have a lot of work still to do. As we think about
this matinee, we know that on this small plot of land, surrounded with vast
frontiers of oceans and galaxies not yet explored or discovered, that maybe
some of these young people will be in a virtual White House in some decades to
come, talking about their own discoveries and what they project for the future.
The two areas of discoveries our speakers will discuss today are
together transforming the way we live and see the world around us.
They're finding life forms surviving under extreme conditions, giving us hope
that we may one day discover life on Europa or a distant planet. They're
turning back the clock to allow us to see the imprint of Earth's formation and
uncovering the secrets of weather patterns that can damage the world's food
supplies and lead to outbreaks of disease.
But whether we reap the full benefits of these discoveries will
depend, as T.S. Eliot said, on our never ceasing from exploration.
I know that we have future scientists here with us, and some of
them spent some time earlier with NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. So let's
take a look at what they had to say.
(Video was shown.) (Applause.)
MRS. CLINTON: Well, I would like Administrator Goldin and
the students and teachers who were involved in this project to stand, so that
we can thank all of you. (Applause.)
You know, creating that interest and excitement among young people
about science is something that we really appreciate among our teachers.
And the more we can do that through events like this and reaching out, I think
the more people will feel involved in the continuing challenge of exploration.
Today, we have two people to lead us through what is happening in
our seas and in our skies. Dr. Marcia McNutt is the President of the
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. She and her husband have just
come from attending graduation ceremonies for their three daughters, one of
whom finished high school; two from junior high school. And I thank them
and congratulate all of them, and are glad they're with us.
For over 20 years, Dr. McNutt has been a leading researcher,
lecturer and author of over 80 articles. She has personally been on 14
ocean exhibitions. But her familiarity with water goes far beyond
research. While in high school, she was one of the first women to pass
the civil service lifeguarding exam in Minneapolis. And when she got to
graduate school, she pushed to train with the Navy SEALS off the coast of
California and received an A+ in her course on explosives handling. This
is not a woman to mess with under any circumstances. (Laughter.)
You know, I've been told a lot of stories about Dr. McNutt.
One concerns how when she was a poor graduate student in the 1970s, she bought
a secondhand motorcycle to get around during the gas shortages of that
time. And after breaking her right hand, she insisted that the doctor try
three different splints to find one that allowed her to keep riding.
Well, it's that same level of determination that has kept her going ever
since. And as she prepares to become the President of the American
Geophysical Union, she will be exploring volcanic islands and other spots about
which far too is known still.
Our other distinguished lecturer is Dr. Neil from Grasse Tyson,
who is here with his wife, Dr. Alice Mae Young. Dr. Tyson is the Director
of the extraordinary Hayden Planetarium in New York City. I had the
pleasure of seeing the new Rose Center just last week, and urge everyone to see
this extraordinary place and exhibit.
At the age of nine, he attended his first planetarium show, and
from that point on, he knew that his answer to the question of "what do you
want to be when you grow up" was an astrophysicist. His life had been
changed forever. Years later, he still uses the lamp he made in 7th grade
to illustrate Saturn and her rings. But his observatory is no longer
simply his window sill and his rooftop; it is the entire universe. He is
the author of five books, and numerous articles for scientists and
citizens. He is a frequent television guest, and as the keeper of the
keys to a world-renowned planetarium, he is bringing the mysteries of space
exploration to explorers of all ages. No wonder his high school
classmates, at their 20th reunion, voted him the alumni with the coolest
Well, we think both our speakers have very cool jobs, so now I'm
pleased to introduce first, Dr. Marcia McNutt; and she will be followed by Dr.
Dr. McNutt. (Applause.)
DR. MCNUTT: Thank you so much, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. President,
students, esteemed guests, and my co-speaker, Dr. Tyson. It's certainly a
pleasure to be able to share with you my thrill of the oceans this afternoon.
The deep sea, deep space, both concepts conjure up the promise of
adventure and the riches of discovery. But humans were not designed to
survive each. At least without -- not without the benefit of substantial
life support systems. And this is a shame, because the oceans are the
largest habitable living space on the planet.
Imagine, for a moment, that we could all live underwater.
The oceans are so vast that if we divided them up amongst us, all 6 billion of
us on this planet, we would each have an ocean view living room that was a mile
long, a mile wide, and a ceiling 800 feet high.
Although people don't live in the ocean, it is, indeed, a living
organism. Most people are familiar with the large animals that live in
the ocean, such as whales, sharks and dolphins. But it's astounding to
consider how much life is even in the tiniest drop of seawater. That was
10,000 organisms. Those 10,000 organisms are the microscopic forest which
makes for a healthy ocean ecosystem.
Despite all there is to learn about this vast living ocean, it is
really only in the latter part of the 20th century that the deep sea has been
open to direct exploration by humans or by their robotic proxies. So what
took so long? Why is it so difficult?
Well, first of
all, crushing pressures. This is your brain in space, this is your brain
at the bottom of the ocean. This head, taken to the bottom of the
Challenger Deep. Without some protection, humans can't survive that
journey. And machines have to be designed to withstand pressures that are
equivalent to being squished in a trash compactor by a weight equivalent to the
Statue of Liberty.
Second, the oceans are essentially opaque. Now, the light
from this flashlight can be seen by everyone in this room. If we were
underwater, it would be difficult for even those of you in the front row to see
In comparison, light reaches the furthest edges of the
cosmos. The fact that light passes so easily through space is the reason
why we knew more about the surface of the moon than we did about the bottom of
the ocean, even before we had a multibillion-dollar space program.
But the urge to explore is fundamental to the human spirit.
These challenges were overcome by advanced technology that finally would allow
a visit to the bottom of the ocean to be a round trip, something which most
aquanauts insist on. (Laughter.)
It's amazing to reflect that when I was graduating from college --
okay, so maybe that wasn't just yesterday -- everyone firmly believed that all
life on Earth was based on photosynthesis, the process by which plants use the
sun's energy to make new organic matter.
Thanks to the newly developed ability to take artificial lights,
cameras and even humans to the bottom of the ocean, we discovered just how
wrong we were. In the middle of the ocean, miles deep into perpetual
darkness, a continuous network of volcanoes runs uninterrupted throughout all
of the world's oceans. As segments of these volcanoes periodically erupt,
they fuel the life support system for a food chain that would persist even if
our sun were to burn out tomorrow.
The process begins with the release of bacteria expelled from the
sea floor during a volcanic eruption. For obvious reasons, we call this a
snow blower event. The bacteria exit the sea floor in water that's room
temperature, despite the fact that the surrounding water is ice-cold.
Nearby, water 700 degrees Fahrenheit, but not boiling, on account
of the high pressure, it's black with particles of hydrogen sulfide, forms
chimneys of mineral deposits. The bacteria form the basis of a food chain
by deriving the energy needed to create organic matter by breaking the bonds
between the hydrogen and sulfur in this hydrogen sulfide of the venting
Scientists have predicted no life would
exist at temperatures this high because proteins would not be able to function
biologically. Obviously, that view was very wrong. Eleven months
later, this food has moved up the food chain to feed deep sea crabs and
tubeworms. Just seven months after that, a total of only 18 months after
the onset of the first volcanic eruption, the tubeworms have reached full
maturity. We'll see in a minute a spawning event in which they are
releasing the spores, the larvae that will travel through the ocean looking for
new volcanic sites to colonize.
Sometimes the colony dies out because the volcanoes die out.
Other times, the eruption intensifies and leads to, in this case, a tubeworm
barbecue. There is some evidence now that this sort of environment was
the cradle for life on Earth. As a result of these discoveries in the
blackness of the deep sea, the range of conditions conducive for life on Earth,
and presumably elsewhere in the cosmos, were greatly expanded.
The great discoveries of Woods Hole's Alvin created the demand for
even more capable, lower cost, higher endurance vehicles for accessing the deep
sea. The solution: use technology to send the human brain, but not
the human body, to the bottom of the ocean.
A remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, explores the deep sea while
its team of scientists sits comfortably at the surface at the end of joy
sticks. So you see, kids, there is a job for which video game experience
is relevant. (Laughter.)
Such vehicles can easily be balanced to hover in the mid-water,
above the sea floor, but well below the sea surface, where they discovered an
entire new world of fragile, gelatinous organisms that drift perpetually on the
ocean currents. This is a region where scientists predicted little life
would exist -- in fact, even Jules Verne didn't have life here. After
all, nets towed from the surface only came up empty, except for mysterious
globs of protoplasm -- what was that?
It was just about 15 years ago that we realized that the abundant
life in this part of the ocean would constitute as much as 20 percent of the
planet's entire biomass. The ROV showed not only what these organisms
looked like, but provided the capabilities for capturing them to observe their
behavior back in the lab.
The ROVs also serve as the scientist's eyes and hands in the deep
sea, providing the capability to do table-top experiments. In this view,
the ROV is performing an experiment at the pressure and temperature and other
conditions at the bottom of the ocean. Here we test the stability of
liquid carbon dioxide injected into the ocean a few miles deep. This
process has been proposed as a mechanism to curb the release of carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere and mitigate its attendant greenhouse effect by disposing
of it in the deep sea. But we need to do many more experiments before
we'll know whether deep sea disposal of carbon dioxide is environmentally safe.
But not all ocean discoveries are courtesy of underwater
vehicles. Exploration of space has provided us with a new tool for
studying the oceans. Not long after we began sending satellites into
orbit to observe outer space, we realized that the satellites could be turned
back to give a birds-eye view of the planet. In this time-lapse
simulation, based on real satellite data, it shows the development and recovery
from the 1997-1998 El Nino event that upset the entire planet's climate system.
Warm surface water, which had piled up in the west, rushed to the
east, towards South America, at the bottom of the screen. This layer of
light thick surface water prevented the normal cold, nutrient-rich waters from
reaching the surface and feeding the plants and animals there. The
ensuing La Nina, which is shown here, just the opposite effect happened and
there was extra nutrients for the oceanic ecosystem.
The failed fisheries of the 1997-1998 El Nino may just be the
harbinger of what is to come as the globe continues to warm in the grip of the
greenhouse effect. Thanks to the installation of automated ocean
observatories, we can begin to answer the question of what will be the
long-term effects from global warming that puts the planet perpetually into a
more El Nino-like state.
Over the 10-year period that's represented in this graph, from
Monterey Bay, you can see the seasonal cycles of cooling and warming in the
ocean surface waters. You can also see the intensification of the warming
at the right hand of the screen, and a cooling associated with the 1997-1998 El
But superimposed on that data, in the green line, is the long-term
trend. It shows a perceptible and detectable warming of the ocean.
The amount? It's only about 1 degree Fahrenheit, which may not sound like
much. But our observatory also has biological and chemical sensors to
determine what effect that one degree of warming has on the life of the
ocean. Here, again, you can see now a plot of the primary production --
that is the production of new plant life in the ocean. That one degree of
warming corresponds to a 25 percent drop in the rate of plant growth in
It's scary when you recall that climate
models currently are predicting that the globe will warm by several degrees
over the next century in response to the build-up of greenhouse gases.
One way to imagine what the future might be like is to
look back into time. The sediments laid down over the eons in the deep
sea are Earth's tape recorder. They give us an unparalleled opportunity
to find past examples of greenhouse Earth and what effect it has on the life at
The ocean drilling ship, drilling in the
western North Atlantic, hit pay dirt; recovered a continuous sediment core with
an unusually high resolution record of Earth history at the end of the Paleo
scene, 55 million years ago. Recorded in that sediment core was the
history of a catastrophic release of carbon into Earth's atmosphere, presumably
from the sudden release of methane trapped in ices buried beneath the
Temperatures soared five to seven
degrees in the deep sea; 30 to 50 percent of small animal species in the deep
sea went extinct. The Earth took 100,000 years to recover. So you
see, not all catastrophic events are caused by astroid impacts; some disasters
are very homegrown.
For the present, at least, the only
known habitat for mankind in planet Earth. We must learn from our past;
we must protect our future.
Thank you. (Applause.)
And now, my colleague, Neil Tyson, will tell us about the
exploration of space. (Applause.)
You know, I feel bad because I didn't bring a shrunken head to show you.
(Laughter.) But it's true that if you took this up to the space shuttle,
rolled down the window and put it outside in space, it would just explode into
countless pieces -- they would freeze solid, and crumble like a potato
chip. So really, Earth is -- the surface of the Earth is a nice place to
Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, guests, colleagues of mine from the
scientific community -- it's now my task to take you from the bottom of the
ocean, where we just were, to beyond the stars. As was hinted to, as a
city kid, my first night sky was that of the Hayden Planetarium. And when
the lights dimmed, thousands of stars came out, and I was certain that it was a
hoax. Because I had seen the night sky from the Bronx, and it only had 14
stars in it. (Laughter.) So there was no question about it.
We have some people from the Bronx here -- am I telling the truth here?
Of course, now as a professional, I've used some of the largest,
most powerful telescopes in the world, Earth-based and space-based. In
fact, dreams can come true, and it's possible to reach beyond the stars where,
in fact, the sky is not the limit.
As Marcia noted, yes, the quest to explore and discover is a
powerfully human trait. But it extends further than simply asking what's
on the other side of the mountain, or even what's at the bottom of the
ocean. Civilizations across cultures and across time have all looked up
and asked, where did we come from? How did it all begin? How will
it all end? And perhaps the most important question of them all, what is
our place in this universe?
Now, I want to give you a cosmic perspective to ensure that we're
all thinking along the same wavelength. Allow me to remind you how big
the universe actually is. Let's take a nice round number like a hundred
billion. We've seen this number before. It's the occasional net
worth of Bill Gates -- (laughter) -- and also, every few blocks, McDonald's
remind us that it sells that many hamburgers -- a hundred billion, I think, is
the last count.
Well, let's take those hundred billion hamburgers and lay them end
to end. It's an end to end story, but it will go quick. You lay
them end to end, you go 13 times around the Earth. And with what's left
over, you can stack them and make a pile high enough to reach the moon, and
then back again. And only then would you have used up your hundred
billion hamburgers. By the way, the estimated number of stars in our
galaxy is a hundred billion.
Let's go up a little more. Add three zeros, you go to a
trillion. If you never slept, nor had any conversations with anybody,
never went to the bathroom, you could count to a trillion in 31,000
years. How about a quadrillion? One of my favorite numbers, one
with 15 zeros. The estimated number of sounds and words ever uttered by
all human beings who have ever lived -- which includes all congressional
debates and filibusters, I might add. (Laughter.)
A quintillion, one followed by 18 zeros. That's the
estimated number of grains of sand on the average beach. But not until
you get to one sextillion, a one with 21 zeros, have you arrived at our latest
estimates for the number of stars in the observable universe.
Now, what the past 50 years of technology has brought to us is the
capacity to see the universe in bands of light not detectable by the human
retina. This electromagnetic spectrum, containing visible and invisible
light, is in fact not unfamiliar to the person on the street. Tune your
eyes to microwaves, and every cell phone would be aglow. So, too, of
course, would be the police radar gun on the side of the highway.
Microwave telescopes see not only the light emitted and absorbed
by molecules in space, they also see direct evidence from the Big Bang.
What was formerly intense and mostly visible light from the original explosion
of the universe has weakened from traveling 13 billion years in our expanding
cosmos. And we now see the Big Bang's glow from the lower energy
microwave part of the spectrum.
Tune your eyes to X-rays and the X-ray machines at the airports
would be aglow through the dangling curtain that your luggage passes
through. X-ray telescopes see the most violent phenomenon in the
universe, from explosions on the sun to the ejected matter and energy that
narrowly escapes being swallowed by black holes in the centers of galaxies and
In fact, the freshly-launched orbiting Chandra telescope is the
X-ray cousin to the Hubbell space telescope, now in orbit around the
Earth. Gamma ray telescopes see flashes of light from across the
universe. These are the most energetic explosions known that, to this
day, defy explanation and understanding.
The universe major advances in our cosmic understanding of objects
and phenomena are traceable to the first and sustained use of telescopes in
each one of these windows to the universe. And as much as we praise our
eyesight we're, in fact, practically blind. Because the visible spectrum
is only a tiny slice of all the light that's out there. And successful
theories of the universe require knowledge in every band before we can claim to
have any understanding at all of what's going on.
What we have are seven identical regions of the Milky Way galaxy,
the plain of the Milky Way taken in different wavelengths, going from radio
waves, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet X-rays and gamma rays, no two
of those look alike. And just think -- before 50 years ago, the middle
picture was all we knew of our galaxy, was all we knew of our universe.
Unfortunately, Earth's atmosphere is not transparent to all bands
of light. It's transparent to visible light, of course. Do you want
proof? We wouldn't otherwise see the sun in the daytime. Well, this
view is made a little fuzzy through turbulence in Earth's atmosphere. But
only in the era of a space program did we have the capacity to launch
telescopes into orbit above Earth's atmosphere. Half the bands of the
electromagnetic spectrum come to us entirely from orbit.
But the space program has also enabled us to put robots in
space. Robots have toured and landed on the planets, on the moons, on the
asteroids of the solar system, which, in fact, has turned the solar system into
an experimental laboratory -- formerly only accessible to us from the back end
of a telescope.
Robots are relatively cheap and, of course, we all know they don't
have to be fed or brought back from space. We're now in an era where any
real scientific experiment, conducted by a human, is actually conducted by a
human carrying a box that performs the experiment itself. So if we send
just the box, but enable it to be remote-controlled, we have, in effect, sent
up a semi-intelligent robot. Robots are the most affordable way to
explore the solar system in detail.
But there are tradeoffs, of course. While nobody has ever
mourned the loss of a robot, I don't remember anyone ever giving a ticker-tape
parade to one, either.
The most famous robot in recent memory, of course, came out of
Pathfinder, our mission to Mars. You may remember, Pathfinder hatched a
six-wheeling, remote-controlled, semi-intelligent scientific laboratory called
Sojourner. The jet propulsion laboratory's web site that tracked its
every move received nearly a billion hits, all for a cool hunk of metal the
size of a microwave oven. Here it is, investigating one of the largest
rocks near the landing site.
Astrophysics and the Earth sciences are probably the most
philosophically alike among the scientific disciplines. We're both
primarily observationally-based. And, also, just as Earth's history is
laid bare in the fossil records and in the accumulating signatures of geologic
activity, so, too, is cosmic history recorded. Telescopes serve as time
machines, because it takes light time to reach us from everywhere in the
From your face to my eye, it takes about 20 nanoseconds -- 20
billionths of a second. Light from the moon crosses the nearly quarter
millions of miles of space that separate us, which then left the phone call
between President Nixon and the Apollo 11 astronauts requiring a round-trip
time of about three seconds. The nearest large galaxy -- the Andromeda
Galaxy -- we see not as it is, but as it once was, two and a half million years
ago. So they'll just be learning about this event in about two and a half
million years. (Laughter.)
Long thought to be a closed system, we now know that Earth has
been slammed in the past, by astroids and comets, wreaking global, climactic
and biological catastrophe. If that happens again -- when it happens
again -- that would be bad. (Laughter.) We can't photograph this
because you'd want to be doing other things if it happened.
(Laughter.) So the best we can do is get space artists to depict
this. Noted space artist Dan Davis captured some of this terror in his
depiction of an asteroid hitting Earth's oceans -- apologies to Marcia, in
hitting the oceans here. (Laughter.)
In fact, it's actually not all that bad, because such impacts can
also deliver organic molecules, and water to Earth's surface. And by
having knocked out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, they enabled mammals to
evolve into something more ambitious than a tree shrew.
We also know that meteors can hop from one planet to
another. Recent calculations show that a major impact can eject surface
rocks into space, escaping the planet's gravitational embrace. Indeed,
some meteorites on Earth have come from the moon and from Mars. But that
gets you thinking -- Mars was once a pretty wet place. It may have once
harbored life. If bacterial life stowed away on one of those rocks, then
life on Earth may have been spawned by life from Mars. So, yes, we all
may be Martian descendants.
In spite of the record of mass extinctions brought by random
impacts, life in the bottom of the oceans has remained relatively
unperturbed. There's much to learn from this life because it's life that
requires no sunlight. Perhaps life on the ocean floor can serve as a
model for what life might be like on Jupiter's moon, Europa -- which is kept
warm not by sunlight, but from the stress caused by the action of Jupiter's
Here, we have Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, named after
Galileo the man. And a detailed close-up from the surface of Europa --
which would be impossible without deep-space probes -- showed signs of
fractured ice sheets, afloat on top of what is almost certainly an ocean of
How different could the chemistry of life be elsewhere? We
don't know for sure, but the ingredients of life as we know it match almost one
for one the ingredients in the universe. For me, the most profound fact
of my life. Go right on down the list: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon,
nitrogen, right on down to iron. They're also the most common ingredients
in the universe. These heavy elements are traceable to the exploded
remains of one or more massive stars that forged these elements in the core by
the action of thermo-nuclear fusion. These stars then blew themselves to
smithereens, giving their lives to enrich the galaxy, with the manufactured
heavy elements from their core, enabling planets and people to form.
Here we have a view of our supernova remnant in the constellation
Vela, one of my favorite images of the cosmos. This ejected material will
enrich gas clouds that will make solar systems. Yes, we are stardust.
In space, two siblings flank Earth: Venus, closer to
the sun, has a thick, seething atmosphere checking in at 900 degrees
Fahrenheit, which is not only hot enough to melt lead, but more important, hot
enough to cook a large pepperoni pizza in nine seconds. (Laughter.)
The Venusian atmosphere is hostile, nearly 100 times the pressure of Earth's
atmosphere. It's made primarily of carbon dioxide, upon which we can
blame its runaway greenhouse effect.
Mars was probably
once a paradise, an oasis of running water, with an atmosphere dense enough to
support it. No longer, it is bone dry. Only relic river beds and
flood plains and silent river deltas remain. Yes, bad things happen to
good planets. Mars and Venus may be the endpoints of climactic evolution
gone awry. How do we prevent our cherished world from becoming another
casualty in the solar system? By combining cosmic discovery with the
Earth sciences, our insights may offer us more than just fulfillment of our
idle curiosities. Our insights may enable us to save ourselves, and to
perhaps get to know our planet for the very first time.
Thank you. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT: Well. (Laughter.) I have a hundred
questions. Before I open the floor to questions, I just would like to
make a couple of points. First, I want to thank Dr. Tyson and Dr. McNutt
for truly fulfilling the spirit of this wonderful old room. It was in
this room, on this floor, with maps and books on animal skins, that Thomas
Jefferson and Merriwether Lewis planned the Lewis and Clark expedition.
They were exploring the far reaches of North America,
looking for an ocean no one believed at that time you could reach by
land. Today our speakers have taken us on a very different journey of
discovery. They have shown us that new evidence is emerging from both the
seas and space about so many things, but as you have heard, among other things,
about the challenge of global climate change.
morning, some of our leading scientists released a draft report that provides
some of the most detailed information yet about the potential impacts of global
warming on our nation. Some of its findings, because it's a draft, may be
revised; but, essentially, this report pulls together an enormous amount of
scientific analysis and, as our previous speakers have done, it paints quite a
sobering picture of the future. It suggests that changes in climate could
mean more extreme weather, more floods, more droughts, disrupted water
supplies, loss of species, dangerously rising sea levels.
Now, I have tried for several years to get the United States to
respond to do our part. We are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in
the world. In the next couple of decades, China and India will surpass
us, unless we all take advantage of the fundamental changes in the nature of
the economy to prove that we can have economic growth and reduce greenhouse gas
So it is -- if you'll forgive me, I want to
make one earthly plea, which is that the Congress stop blocking our common
sense efforts to combat global warming. We need a climate change on
Capitol Hill on this issue. And it should not be a partisan issue.
This is about science, this is about evidence, this is about things that are
bigger than all of us, and very much about our obligation to these children
here to give them a future on this planet. We are not yet prepared to
live under the sea, as we have just been told.
like to make one other announcement about ocean exploration. In spite of
all that we learn today and all that is known, more than 95 percent of the
underwater world remains unknown and unseen. And what remains to be
explored could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, to links to our
maritime history, to cures for diseases. The blood of the horseshoe crab,
for example, provides a vital antibacterial agent. A potential anticancer
drug may come from a deep sea sponge.
Two years ago today,
we held the first National Oceans Conference in Monterey, to bring experts
together to chart a common agenda for the 21st century. Among the key
recommendations that grew out of that conference was the need to establish a
national ocean exploration strategy.
One of the success stories that has come out so far occurred half
a world away on the Navy vessel, the Trieste, which you saw in the video.
In 1960, the Trieste went to an area called "the Challenger Deep" in the
Pacific, the deepest spot in any ocean, nearly seven miles down. Only two
people have been there.
One of those brave explorers was a young officer named Don
Walsh. President Eisenhower gave him the Legion of Merit here in the
White House more than 40 years ago. He's here today, and I'd like to ask
him to stand up. Mr. Walsh. (Applause.) I might say, he looks
fit enough to make the journey again. (Laughter.)
I would also like to recognize the man who discovered the wreckage
of the Titanic is here, Dr. Bob Ballard. Can you stand up?
I want to announce some new steps we're taking. First, three
new, first-of-their-kind expeditions off the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts,
voyages led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in
partnership with major research institutions. These expeditions will
allow the first detailed exploration of the Hudson Canyon off New York -- it's
an underwater version of the Grand Canyon, only larger; the Middle Grounds and
Big Bend areas off Florida, which include some of the oldest life forms on
Earth, giant tube worms -- you saw some on the film -- up to 250 years old; and
the Davidson Seamount, an inactive ocean floor volcano off Monterey. In
each expedition researchers will use cutting-edge, deep sea diving technologies
and share their discoveries with schools and the public through the Internet.
Second, to ensure that these voyages are the start of the
new era of ocean exploration, I'm directing the Secretary of Commerce to
assemble a panel of leading ocean explorers, educators and scientists to
develop recommendations for a national ocean exploration strategy, and to
report back to me in 120 days. These steps could bring about, quite
literally, a sea change in our understanding of the oceans.
We must continue as a nation to set out for new frontiers, whether
under the sea or into the heavens. We must continue to try to conquer the
seemingly impossible -- to discover the unimaginable, to find out more about
what's out there, and in the process, about ourselves and what's here.
I would like to ask the first question, and then we'll
turn it over to the regular process and the many thousands of questions that
must be out there in this room and beyond here. I'd like to ask Dr.
McNutt and Dr. Tyson what they think the most likely discovery in the next 10
years in their field is that would have a significant impact on how we live on
Earth and what our understanding of our system is.
Thank you. You go first. (Laughter.)
DR. MCNUTT: Well, as has been said before, it's very difficult
to say much about what hasn't been discovered yet. But I think just
looking at the great advances that we've already had from recent discoveries --
for example, the thermophiles, which are these creatures which love to live in
the warm water -- they have organic molecules that function at very high
temperatures, and those have been used in industrial processes because of their
resistance to break down at high temperature. The other recent examples
are some of the new drugs that have come from the exotic sponges found in the
If I could say in the next 10 years what will be
the most important thing we'll find out about the oceans, is, hopefully we'll
learn to preserve the oceans and that ecosystem. The large majority of
inhabitants on this planet depend on the oceans for their protein. Right
now we're starting at the top of the food chain and fishing the oceans to
depletion. I think one of the most important things we can do in the next
10 years is figure out how to reverse that process, how to stimulate production
in the oceans rather than cut it, and to keep the oceans healthy and
productive, not only for our food system, but also for our climate system.
THE PRESIDENT: If I could just emphasize one
thing. The point you just made is related not only to pollution, to
additional pollution of the ocean, and over fishing, but also to climate
change. When I was in Monterey Bay, I saw small creatures right in the
bay that just 20 years ago were 20 miles south. They had made their way
20 miles in 20 years, these minuscule creatures, because before that it was too
cold in Monterey for the creatures to exist.
This is real,
and we have got -- I hate to keep beating on this, but you know what kids used
to say several years ago, that denial is not just a river in Egypt.
(Laughter.) We have got to come to grips with this. And you were
terrific, what you said about it in your presentation. Thank you.
DR. TYSON: Yes, I think it's really just a matter of
THE PRESIDENT: Good for you. (Laughter.)
DR. TYSON: I want to go digging under the surface of Mars
and see if there is fossil evidence for a once-thriving biota. Just dig in the
flood plains, where we know there was once liquid water. I want to go ice
fishing through the thick ice of Jupiter's moon, Europa, see what's down
there. It's an ocean; we have pretty good evidence that life began in our
own oceans. We've got an ocean there, rendered liquid the entire life of
I don't know if that can happen within the next 10 years, but it's
not out of our reach as a nation that has sustained a space program for this
long. I can tell you that the knowledge of what is there under the ice of
Europa and below the surface of Mars -- if there's any evidence, confirmable
evidence, that there was once life there, or that there's life there now --
that that would signal a change in the human condition that we might not even
be able to imagine, realizing that we are not alone in the universe.
So often, the stereotype of extraterrestrials is some intelligent
being walking up and down in a flying saucer, but in fact, it's no less
exciting to find microorganisms there, realizing that it's an entire biology
distinct from Earth. That could happen in the next 10 years; if not,
certainly in our lifetimes, and that would be -- that would just be tremendous.
But in addition, we're now discovering things about the
large-scale structure of the universe that only a few years ago were just
theories. And the behavior of the universe, from its earliest times, to
its distant future, tells us what our home -- we think of Earth as our home,
but I think of the universe as our home. And I'd like to know, what's the
shape of our home? What's in our backyard? What's in our front
yard? And if your sense of what is home is broadened to include the
entire universe, then, to discover that we live in an accelerating universe, or
maybe the universe has structure that enables you to look one way and see the
back of your head in the other direction -- these kinds of discoveries enable
you, upon coming home at night, to think about something different over dinner
after you worked your job from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Laughter.)
And this enriches our culture. This is the culture we will pass to the
next generations -- what we have discovered about this universe.
And these are right now within reach. And they come to us
through space probes and through the construction of our largest telescopes.
MS. LOVELL: Brian Wagner, who is an 11th grader from
Grafton High School, Newport News, has a perfect follow-up question to that.
Q How might you see space exploration increase
environmental conservation efforts in the future?
MCNUTT: Should I start with deep sea? All right. We can't
preserve what we don't know about, and we can't love what we don't know
about. So I think by the images that the deep sea brings back, and by the
specimens that are shown in the aquariums, that is how we understand what is
there and what needs to be preserved.
And without that exploration, people might view the ocean as an
infinite dumping ground that can take all our nuclear waste and all our trash;
but once we find out what those creatures are like that live at the bottom of
the ocean, we understand how important it is to preserve them, because we also
understand what role they play in the overall global cycles of energy, carbon,
and everything else which makes Earth a habitable planet.
DR. TYSON: We don't know what all the knobs are that control
what goes on, on Earth's surface and Earth's oceans. Some of those knobs
might reveal themselves to us by studying our nearby planets, Mars and
Venus. As I said in my presentation, these are perfectly good planets
gone bad. I want to know what made those planets go bad. There
might be some knob that was turned that we can prevent ourselves from turning
on our own ecosystem.
And so when I think of how space
exploration can enable -- can promote the survival of our own species and our
own biota, I think of our neighboring planets and ask what can we learn from
MS. LOVELL: Ms. Clinton, should we go to the
MRS. CLINTON: This is a question from Eric
in Minneapolis, and it's for the President. President Kennedy's challenge
in the early 1960s to land a man on the moon gave a major push to space
exploration technology and our understanding of the universe. In our time
of prosperity and rapid technological advancement, no similar national priority
exists for a manned Mars mission. Do you feel that a present-day
challenge delivered in the spirit of President Kennedy to send a manned mission
to Mars before the year 2030 would be an appropriate priority for the new
I think Eric is probably Dan Goldin's
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let
me say, one of the interesting things to me was -- about the previous
discussion -- were the comments that were made by both our speakers about the
importance of robotic exploration of the deep sea and outer space, and about
what could be done now with the technology.
So I would leave the question of that first to the space
program. But if Dan Goldin told me that we needed to send a man to Mars
to find out what we need to know, then I would strongly support it, because I
think the United States would make a terrible mistake to weaken either its
space exploration or its undersea exploration. I think we should
accelerate it; I think we should invest more money in it; I think we should
keep pushing the frontiers of knowledge.
We just went
through a very wrenching period where NASA had to basically do more with less,
we were trying to get rid of this terrible deficit. Now we've got a
surplus, we're paying down our national debt, we're investing in our future --
and I think a big part of that investment ought to be the broadest possible
commitment to science and technology, including vigorous, vigorous exploration
of outer space and the depths of the ocean.
That's what I
believe, and I hope that that will be a commitment the American people will
extract from their candidates in this election season and in every one for the
foreseeable future, because it's very, very important.
LOVELL: I'd like to recognize another explorer. Dr. Sylvia Earle
led the first team of aquanauts when Apollo 13 was in the sky. Now she's
Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society and Director of the
Sustainable Seas Expedition.
Dr. Earle. (Applause.)
DR. EARLE: I have a question for Dr. Marcia McNutt,
if I may. You pointed out that we have made revolutionary discoveries in
the past century, and especially in the last 25 years. Yet, with all of
our new technologies, most of the ocean remains unexplored. And you also
pointed out that it's difficult to care for it, to know what to do about places
that you know so little about. So in the 20th century, we saw a great
commitment to going skyward with technologies that stretched us in that
direction. I'd like to know what you think the possibilities may be for
the 21st century in the other direction, with special reference to the use of
manned and womanned submersibles, as well as your beloved robotic techniques.
DR. MCNUTT: Okay. Well, thank you, Dr. Earle. As
a very famous ocean explorer once said: We have made the investment
needed to venture into the skies, and it has paid off mightily. We've
neglected the oceans, and it has cost us dearly. I believe those were
your words. (Laughter and applause.) There is still so much about
the oceans that we don't know that will require a program that involves both
robotic technology and manned technology.
As I think Dr. Tyson made the point, we not only need the
technology that can take an entire classroom to the bottom of the ocean at once
and let them all feel part of the experience -- and, of course, Dr. Ballard has
been a pioneer in taking classrooms to the bottom of the ocean -- but we also
need the heroes that can go down and experience firsthand, come back and tell
us all about it, and Don Walsh is certainly a shining example of that.
Unfortunately, with the present level of our budget, we have a
hard time sustaining much in the way of either a robotic program or a manned
program, much less trying to do both simultaneously. It's hard, of
course, to compare budgets, but my estimate is that the ocean budget currently
is about a tenth of the space budget. It's an order of magnitude
less. And I would love it if we could, within the next decade, ramp up
the ocean's budget to be at least comparable to the space budget, and I think
then we would have a terrific program that could start breaking down some of
those barriers to the understanding of the ocean, the discovery and
understanding how the system works.
THE PRESIDENT: If I could just say one word to complement
that. My Science Advisor, Dr. Neal Lane is here. We have tried very
hard to increase the entire budget for science and technology, and especially
the research budgets. And basically, what happens is, we get in this
debate with Congress, they are more than happy to invest more money in the
National Institutes of Health, and that's good. We all want to live
forever, even though we're not. (Laughter.)
But there is a -- one of the things that I think needs to be
addressed -- and we're trying to right it a little here in this last budget
process I'll be a part of -- but I've been fighting this for three years
now. It's a terrible mistake to think that the only kind of scientific
research we need to be healthy on this planet is in biomedical research.
It's very important.
But to have just that, and to neglect what we should be doing in
space; what we should be doing in the oceans; what we should be doing with
nanotechnology; what we should be doing with a whole range of other
technology-related issues, all of which in the end have to be developed if
we're going to know as much as we can about how to live as long and well as
we'd like to on this Earth. It's a huge debate. So if any of you
can make any contribution to righting that balance, I for one would be very
grateful. It's a major, major intellectual challenge that we face in the
Again, I say this should not be a partisan issue. This is a
question of what is the right way to do the most for our people in the new
MS. LOVELL: Well, I think this might be a good time for a
special message from under the ocean.
(Message from underwater laboratory played.) (Laughter and
MS. LOVELL: We have a question from Manassas, Virginia, and
it's for Dr. Tyson. Dr. Tyson, can you see the Big Bang?
DR. TYSON: Cool question. (Laughter.) It depends
on what you mean by "see". If you broaden the notion of "see" to finding
evidence that supports it, the answer is, yes. We see back to several
hundred thousand years right after the Big Bang, using visible light, using
light from the electromagnetic spectrum. And that's this microwave
evidence that I described earlier.
Because that's -- because before that in
time, the universe was opaque to the transmission of light.
But there were things that happened before that; for example,
there's a period where neutrinos were released, this ephemeral particle that's
very hard to detect. If we whipped out a neutrino telescope that had very
high sensitivity, you could see farther back in time to the first few moments
of that explosion. If we perfect our gravity wave detectors, you can see
even farther back to gravitational episodes at the very first few
moments. And so, like I said, as you look farther out in space, you are
looking farther back in time, and at a 13-billion, 15-billion-year-old
universe. If you see that many light years away, you are seeing the
evidence of the Big Bang.
So the answer is yes, and it continues to
be supported by data, much to our amazement and joy, actually -- it's one of
the triumphs of our models of the universe. When you think for centuries,
people have tried to wonder how we got here and what the origin of the universe
was, and it was only in the last several dozen years that we've had scientific
data to answer those questions to be something more than just mythology.
MS. LOVELL: Let's go to Dr. Washington. He's
Senior Scientist at the National Center of Atmospheric Research in Boulder,
DR. WASHINGTON: I have a question to both of you, and that
has to do with, how does studying life at the bottom of the ocean really tell
us about the possibility of life either on Mars or on the moons of Jupiter?
DR. MCNUTT: Well, one thing we learned from studying life at the
bottom of the oceans is that it is possible to have life with two ingredients
-- water and volcanoes. That's it. So that means that if we look
around the solar system, we can find places that might have water and might
have volcanoes, and that might be enough to produce life.
Certainly, before we started studying life at the bottom of the
oceans, we would have said, oh, we need a temperature range that's right around
20 degrees Centigrade or around 40 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, we need
sunlight, we need all sorts of things.
Now, we've found that there are much broader conditions under
which life can exist, and that has greatly expanded the possibility of finding
life in areas that we otherwise would have thought quite hostile.
DR. TYSON: Yes, we've spent decades thinking about the habitable
zone around stars. If you go a little too close to the star, your water
evaporates; a little too far away, it freezes, and we know that life, as we
know it, requires liquid water, and that was our paradigm. And with the
discovery of life under the oceans, that has basically shattered those
restrictions on how we can think about the ecosystems that can support a
biota. And so, we're especially fascinated by how this life survives, how
it regenerates, how it came to be.
It may be, for example, that after the next meteor impact, and 90
percent of the surface land species are extinct, that we require -- we rely
upon the life at the bottom of the ocean to jump-start life back on
Earth. So it's taken us places that we hadn't ever thought of before, and
this is a true hallmark of frontier science about which we're all quite
MS. LOVELL: Let's go to another student. Tiara.
Hi. Tiara is a 6th-grader from River Terrace Elementary School.
Q My question is, who owns the ocean? Nations, individuals,
or no one?
DR. MCNUTT: Okay, very good question. Well, I would
have to say, probably the fish own the ocean. But since you give me a
limited number of choices here, near the coastlines of various countries,
nations lay claim to them. Most of the open ocean is considered
international. And that brings with it certain advantage, but also
Some of you may have heard of something called "the tragedy of the
commons," when land used to be allowed for open grazing by just anyone who
wanted to put their cows out there. Well, what happened was, too many
cows were put out there and all the grass was eaten and the land was no longer
able to support any cows.
Well, this is the problem with the oceans, because no one really
owns it, it's very hard to regulate who takes the wealth from the oceans -- the
fish, the minerals at the bottom of the ocean, all of the other bounty of
it. I think that we would have a much easier time trying to enact what we
need to enact in order to preserve the oceans if someone actually were
responsible for it. And right now, it's very difficult for us to prevent
people from overexploiting it.
So it's a good question, because since it's international, we all
own it; but no one's really able to take responsibility for its proper
stewardship, unless everyone agrees to do that.
MRS. CLINTON: But isn't it also part of the problem in
translating into public opinion and policy decisions the concerns about the
environment. I mean, people are still not as aware of a lot of the issues
that you've raised with respect to the oceans -- you could add the rivers, the
streams, the lakes, the air.
From both of your perspectives as scientists, what are the best
ways that you think we can raise that public awareness and create the
conditions for change to protect the oceans and to better protect life on
Earth? Because right now, there doesn't seem to be a lot of understanding
or support for the changes that probably you believe should be undertaken.
DR. MCNUTT: Well, I have to say, Mrs. Clinton, I think
you're doing the right thing by inviting these schoolchildren here. These
are the people we have to start with. (Applause.) And they will
take home the message from here today and they will talk to their friends about
it, they will talk to their parents about it. They will become
voters. That's what we need.
MS. LOVELL: Back to the planets. Dr. Chris Chiva
(phonetic) -- you're a planetary scientist, codirector for the Center for
International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, and you also
hold this Carl Sagan chair at the Seti Institute.
DR. CHIVA: I would like to ask the two speakers to look
ahead 10 or 20 years and speculate on the role of information technology and
the Internet in your fields. In planetary science, for example, I think
we can foresee that over the next decade, we will put into place a kind of
telecommunications network at Mars, so the Internet will become interplanetary
in this -- here, and all of us will be able to turn on our computers in the
morning and see continual live video from a rover on Mars or from a balloon
floating in the Martian atmosphere. And I think that will have a powerful
psychological effect, immeasurably making us think of ourselves as a species
that spans the solar system.
I'd like to know if you foresee similarly powerful impacts of the
Internet or information technology in your own fields.
DR. TYSON: That's an important aspect. First, if we
recognize that science proceeds at an exponential growth rate -- and part of
what stokes that exponential growth is the sharing of knowledge and information
efficiently and swiftly; and the Internet has certainly led that effort,
especially with the growth of computing power as well -- I would say that if we
have, sort of, the Mars Channel, if you will, where you tune into the Martian
landscape at will, I think, yes, no question about it -- if that's one of the
things that you channel surf through to get to your next sitcom, you might
pause there and think about what's out there.
And it could introduce a change in how you think about your life
on Earth. Because here's this other fragile world out there, a world that
is no longer so distant, because we've landed there, we've snooped
around. And now you have a daily view of it in your living room. I think
the Internet will transform, as it already has -- it will continue to transform
space exploration and make the solar system, the galaxy and the universe -- as
I said a moment ago -- the extension of what we think of as home, and what is
in our backyards. And this aspect of it, I see continuing beyond -- you put one
of these on the moon, on Europa, and then we can eavesdrop on all that goes on
in space exploration. And I don't see why this couldn't also happen on
the bottom of the ocean.
DR. MCNUTT: We have exactly the same vision for the bottom
of the ocean. Networks of observatories on the sea floor, and all the way
up through the water column to the sea's surface, which can send their
information either relayed through satellites, or through cables to shore, that
would go to every classroom. And we might ask different schools in the
nation to be in charge of monitoring certain sections of the ocean, to look for
certain environmental problems that might be propagating through the system, to
make every high school part of the stewardship of the oceans. I think
it's something that there is certainly no fairy tale in terms of the technology
we'd need to take that on. It's simply getting the national dedication to
DR. TYSON: And right now, we're on the cusp of establishing
a national, virtual observatory, with the repository of all the astronomical
data of objects in the universe. You can sit at your computer, type in a
coordinate on the sky, and in would come a summation of all the world's data,
enabling you to look at the universe from your desktop. And I think this
is in our future. Especially with the handling of massive data sets.
MS. LOVELL: Speaking of the Internet, we have another
MRS. CLINTON: Well, actually, this question follows very
closely from what Dr. McNutt just said. It's from Patrick in Canton,
Michigan. How much of the sea bed has been mapped out, and is it feasible
to construct large, deep-sea research labs on the sea floor, large enough to
provide a comfortable living quarters as well as research areas?
DR. MCNUTT: Okay, well let me take the second question
first. I think we just saw a broadcast from one of those deep-sea
laboratories that provides both opportunity for doing research and for living
underwater, and certainly there are no barriers to doing more research labs
just of that sort, that would allow humans to directly experiment in the deep
In terms of how much of the sea bed has been mapped, as the
President explained, it's actually a very small part of the ocean that we've
either directly observed or been able to map with ships, using sonar systems.
However, quite inadvertently, we got what is a fairly good
resolution map of the sea floor, and that was when the SEASAT satellite was
launched -- it had a radar altimeter on it that would measure the height of the
ocean, and the purpose of this satellite was to actually determine ocean
currents. But some very clever scientists figured out that because the
ocean's surface follows the Earth's equi-potential, that all the little bumps
and wiggles in it corresponded to topographic features on the floor of the
ocean, and they figured out how to invert that data to get a picture of the map
of the bottom of the ocean.
So, right now, the best picture we have of the shape of our planet
comes indirectly from measuring the sea's surface, itself, not from actually
mapping the bottom of the ocean. Which just shows sort of a happy
circumstance that wasn't intended that way.
DR. TYSON: And from space.
DR. MCNUTT: From space. That's right.
(Laughter.) Well, we said they were linked. (Laughter.)
MS. LOVELL: Now, for another way of looking at exploration,
I want to call on our Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities,
Dr. Bill Ferris.
DR. FERRIS: For thousands of years, our artists and writers
have anticipated the work that you're doing, from the myths of Aeschylus and
Daedalus and Icarus, learning to fly; to Captain Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the
Sea. Do these voices speak to you in the work that you do, and if so,
DR. TYSON: What they do for me -- let me broaden that
question to include even first-run films, that tap the adventure in us all, in
one way or another, taking you through the lens of the science fiction writer
into the future. I think that's extremely important to keep people
Although I -- you point to a few writers who were more successful
than others about what has ultimately come true in the modern world. The
fact is, regardless of what comes true, when you read these books, and you see
these stories, they're adventures into the unknown. Taking a little of
what you do know and extrapolating it into the future, they help stoke, sort
of, our soul of curiosity, and they help promote how you might act when
confronted with the next bit of legislation about what the future would bring
-- what the funding would bring.
For example, I remember
this -- just a quick story -- seeing Star Trek in the 1960s. And they had
this little card about this big, and they pop it into a computer and out would
come some data. And I said, oh, that will never happen.
(Laughter.) And you know that's the computer disk. And now we're
even well past that. And I just keep thinking of how important this is to
keep us all dreaming, because without these dreams, life just freezes up and
leaves us cold.
DR. MCNUTT: I think the only thing
I'd add to that is in every case, the truth has been more exciting, more
fantastic, and more thrilling than even the best science fiction writers, and I
think that's the message we all have to remember, is that there's even more out
MS. LOVELL: I think we have time for one more
MRS. CLINTON: This is a good one from
Susan Roberts, here in Washington, for Dr. McNutt. In your talk you
mentioned that there is no light, and hence, no photosynthesis at the
hydrothermal vents. What is the source of energy or food for all of those
DR. MCNUTT: Okay. That's a very good
question. The photosynthetic community uses energy from photons, from
light, in order to take carbon in carbon dioxide and to make new organic
molecules for which carbon is the basis. In the deep sea, the bacteria
take the hydrogen sulfide which comes out of the volcanic events, and it breaks
the chemical bond in the hydrogen and sulfide. And when it breaks that
bond, it uses that energy to fix carbon into new organic matter. So it is
entirely independent of photosynthesis in terms of that energy source.
MS. LOVELL: Well, the Internet questions keep coming, so
let's do one more.
MRS. CLINTON: Here's another one. This is from the
team at Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, in
Virginia, for Dr. Tyson and for Dr. McNutt.
From your perspectives as scientists, what are the key
characteristics young people today should focus on to participate in the
explorations of tomorrow?
DR. TYSON: I'm really opinionated about that.
MRS. CLINTON: Good. (Laughter.)
DR. TYSON: You know, I go to schools and kids say, oh, I
don't like math, or -- I should be talking to you -- (Laughter.) Oh, you
all are grown up already, it's too late to help you. (Laughter.)
They say, I don't like math and I think to myself, well, math looks like of
exotic because it uses funny symbols and things, but so do other languages look
funny. Look at Russian, you look at Chinese, you look at Japanese.
If you just looked at a book on Chinese, you don't say, oh, it's too hard, you
say, oh, I just don't happen to know Chinese. Maybe if I study it, then
I'll get to read the book.
So science and math, it's just a pathway to being able to speak
the language that enables us to describe this universe. That's all it
is. That's all it is. And so, in my life, yes, I took a lot of math
courses, a lot of science courses because it excited me, because it, in fact,
was empowering. It enabled me to look up and say, no, that's not just
this otherworldly place, I understand how those planets move. I
understand how those stars make energy. And I know how the universe is
So when I walk out and see my 14 stars from the Bronx, I feel
fully empowered. And this is -- I think this is important through your
schooling, because it enables you to overcome what might be hurdles that come
up that you might have thought were insurmountable. But the fact is, if
you master the math, master the science, there's nothing in your way.
Nothing. And we need you -- badly.
DR. MCNUTT: I think the only thing I would add to that is,
never stop asking questions. If your teachers tell you the way things
are, you ask them why. When they tell you why, you ask them how.
And if you come up with a different way to do it, you ask your teachers, why
DR. TYSON: And also, as parents, people often ask me, well,
how do I make sure my kids go into science. Do you know the one thing
they should do? Get out of the way. Because kids are born asking
questions. It's when you say, oh, shut up, sit down, don't bother me,
that's when you start squashing that element of curiosity. And the answer
is not as important as the question in any of this.
MS. LOVELL: I think we can do one more.
MRS. CLINTON: From Kirsten Armstrong, from Arlington,
Virginia, for Dr. Tyson. This is along the lines of what we've been
talking about. Are we coming closer to finding planets like our
own. You've mentioned Europa, you've mentioned Venus and Mars. What
else might be out there? How much further might we go?
DR. TYSON: Planets are coming in fast and furious.
Just a couple of weeks ago, eight more were discovered -- planets outside of
our solar system. I've lost count from this morning, but we're over --
we're rising through 40 -- 40 planets not within our solar system discovered in
orbit around other stars. This is really important, because the structure
of our solar system used to be our own benchmark for how our solar system might
look. And it turns out every one of those other solar systems, none of
them look like our solar system. They look more like each other than they
do like us.
So it starts you thinking. Is there something unique about
our configuration? Maybe we finally found something that tells us we're
special in this galaxy, when all the other discoveries said we were not.
These are important questions. It's a whole new branch of our field -- I
don't have a good word for it yet, but comparative solar systemology.
(Laughter.) All right. Where you get to see how we fit into that,
Maybe -- we know in those other solar systems there are no
terrestrial planets, like Mercury, Venus and Earth. There are none nearby
the host star. They got flung out of their solar systems. This
makes you look over your shoulder in the evolution of our own solar
system. And there is evidence to suggest that in fact we may have had two
or three times as many planets as we now do in the earliest phases of the solar
What I love to think about is whether those planets had oceans and
they have undersea events that melt the ice, and here they are flung out into
the galaxy without a host star --
DR. MCNUTT: And don't need it.
DR. TYSON: -- somehow sustaining an ecosystem without a care
in the world about the rest of the galaxy, because the heat from this undersea
events are keeping -- sustains their life.
MS. LOVELL: Well, with that vast thought, Mr. President --
(laughter) -- I think you have the job of trying to wrap this up.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know what to say.
(Laughter.) You know, if they're all out there, I hope they have the best
of what we have and fewer headaches. (Laughter.)
Let me say, Hillary and I have enjoyed every one of these, but
this has been very, very special. I think our guests were both terrific,
and all of you who asked questions. Albert Einstein once said the
important thing is to not stop questioning, which is just what they said.
So you don't have to stop questioning, but you do have to stop doing it right
here, because we're out of time and I would like to invite all of you to join
us in the State Dining Room for a reception in honor of our guests and all the
students and everyone else who is here.
Let's go in there and you can continue your questions. Thank
you very much. (Applause.)
4:12 P.M. EDT
Office of Science
and Technology Policy
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, DC 20502