Cosmos: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan chat about space travel and sexing up science

A new series of the famed space science show comes to National Geographic this March. Could this be the sexiest science show on TV? We speak to its creators to find out more...

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“I think Cosmos will be warmly received, certainly by this emergent population who have had their inner geek awakened,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson, the presenter of NatGeo’s new show. This month the Emmy-award winning series Cosmos (from the 1980s) will return to our screens with more special effects and inspiring science.

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The 2014 version of the show will be fronted by American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, Tyson, who will whisk the viewer away using what he calls “a bedside manner of a story teller”. Tyson’s predecessor on the show, Carl Edward Sagan, brought accessibility to the subject matter, and Tyson aims to do the same. 

Writer and producer Ann Druyan, from the original team, has also played a lead role in the new production. In this modern Cosmos series “the adventure continues,” she explains. It will combine technological effects from the 21st century and the “scepticism and wonder” from the original run. 

With space films like Gravity bringing home Oscars, we ask Tyson if space is becoming popular again? “Space is surely coming back,” he says, “I’ll be bold enough to say that science is coming back,” continues Tyson. “Look at the success, at least in the United States, of [TV series] CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, where major characters are scientists, and have fully fleshed-out identities. They’re real people with real problems with real knowledge and real talent and real expertise. They couldn’t be successful if somewhere down there deep inside us we didn’t actually appreciate what a scientist does.

“That being said”, explains Tyson, “there’s this demographic, and we all know them, who either fear science or are assured that they do not like science. The real measure of Cosmos will be its ability to reach those people, and I think it can.”

In 2000, Tyson was voted the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by People Magazine. Similarly, Carl Sagan, from the original Cosmos run, was considered a sex symbol. “His colleagues were appalled that he would want to communicate with the public,” explains Druyan, “because scientists don’t do that. He took abuse. But he used to say, ‘When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.'”

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Will NatGeo’s version of Cosmos make science sexy again?  “When people are titillated intellectually… it manifests is through their sexual energy,” says Tyson, who explains that he’s already had some interesting Tweets coming in. “I look at my Twitter stream for example, some fraction of Twitter replies have some sort of sexual tone to them. Either in humour or in passing.”

“Why shouldn’t the scientists be sexy?,” says Ann, “What is so attractive about dumb? I’ve never personally been attracted to a guy who was stupid,” she says, “A person who is most attractive is most alive to all the different glorious aspects of the human experience. If you’re curious, you have a powerful tool at your disposal in science, to find out how things are really put together.”

Space exploration is fast becoming a reality for all of us. In 2016, the public may have the chance to experience space first hand. Celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber have already signed up for trips beyond the earth’s atmosphere on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic commercial flights.

Tyson says if he could travel anywhere in space it would be Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.  “[Europa] has an icy surface, but it has an ocean of liquid water beneath it – kept warm by the gravity of Jupiter that’s been liquid for billions of years,” says Tyson. “I want to go ice fishing on Europa, to see which life swims up to the camera lens. That wouldn’t be for my own glory, it would be knowledge acquired and rapidly disseminated to the rest of the world, and it would be transformative to biology, to our outlook on the question: are we alone?”

Despite studying the universe for years, Druyan is not convinced by space travel. “Personally, I’m not interested in space tourism,” she says. “I believe that revelations of the space programme belong to everyone, not to the very rich.”

Druyan is appalled by the fact that science will be used as a plaything, rather than an entity the entire world can appreciate. “It’s symbolic of the general drift to give the greatest gifts of the world to the very few and to forget about the rest,” she says, “I don’t actually personally want to go into space. I’m a mother and still a daughter and I’m so rooted in my planet and my loved ones here. But the great thing about science is that we can see to within a hundred of thousands of years of the beginning of time. You don’t have to be the one and only person it belongs to. It belongs to everyone.”

With Cosmos, Druyan hopes she can share space with everyone. “Having produced this series, having written the original one with Carl [Sagan] and Steve [Soter], I feel like I have been to those places. I feel like, not only have I been to those places and Neil [deGrasse Tyson] has, but we want to take you there. It doesn’t matter who you are, we want you to come with us to experience the glory of being alive at the moment when we first begun. It’s for all of us, not just for the lucky few.”

Watch Cosmos at 7pm, Sunday March 16, on National Geographic


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