Can we continue to explore the universe without NASA? (NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/UMass)

Imagine America without NASA.

Think about it. Can America send the first human being to Mars, the first manned space craft to land on an asteroid, or the first person to the edge of the solar system and back without the agency that put the first man on the moon?

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Anonymous/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

There are some, particularly in the private sector, who may argue all of these feats are possible without the space agency. But, for those who grew up with NASA as the icon of American space exploration, it’s not so easy or pleasant a thing to imagine.

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has been advocating for an increase to NASA’s budget even as the fiscal 2013 budget request President Obama submitted to Congress in February is the lowest for the agency in four years, according to Post reporter Brian Vastag.

As Post reporter Elizabeth Flock wrote on March 5, Tyson is likely the world’s most beloved astrophysicist — a strong ambassador for the flagging agency. He has a unique ability, aided by a made-for-radio voice, to make even the most complex science accessible. This month, he is promoting his new book, “Space Chronicles — a collection of his commentary on the importance of space exploration.

“How much would you pay to launch our economy,” he asked during his March 7 testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

And then, in a quote that swept across the Internet, he intoned, “How much would you pay for the universe?”

Following Tyson’s testimony, people took to the Web, sharing the scientist’s quotes and their own opinions on NASA and the future of American space exploration.

A social media campaign on Twitter, #Penny4NASA has emerged in the wake of Tyson’s media tour and Senate testimony, with Twitter users circulating jokes, comments and videos. The hashtag is based on Tyson’s frequent mentions of the percentage of a penny of every dollar in tax revenue the agency currently consumes. Supporters of the movement seek to fund NASA at the rate of a full penny per dollar of tax revenue.

Apple has some spare cash. NASA is cash poor. Tim, buy NASA. Think different. #penny4NASA iSpace > iCloud

— Eric Johnson (@ericleif) March 19, 2012

We NEED to fully fund NASA. NOW. RT: @Penny4NASA1: Thanks for following #Penny4NASA ! Petition:

— Eric Van Quill, esq. (@evq) March 19, 2012

A compelling video created by Evan Schurr and featuring selected quotes from Tyson was uploaded to YouTube on March 9. The piece, a little over five minutes long, is highly reminscent of the popular online video collection “The Sagan Series,” and has reached over 250,000 views on YouTube after making the rounds on Reddit, The Daily What and eventually Andrew Sullivan’s ”The Dish.”

Tysons’s work also inspired Oregon State University senior John Zeller to launch the Web site on Sunday afternoon.

The site is relatively simple, offering visitors a selection of videos featuring Tyson and other space and innovation enthusiasts such as Peter Diamandis and Sir Richard Branson. Zeller’s site also features links to two separate petitions — one advocating for NASA’s budget to be increased to a penny for every dollar of tax revenue and the other requesting that the U.S. House of Representatives fully fund NASA’s commercial crew and space technology programs.

The site also features a draft e-mail visitors can send to members of Congress and a “partners” section featuring notable science and technology pioneers and organizations. However, none of the individuals or organizations shown are affiliated with Zeller’s project.

During a phone interview Monday, Zeller said he noticed the power of the hashtag and that “people were finally talking about” NASA’s budget woes.

Zeller leads the robotics club’s “Mars Rover Team” at Oregon State, and is working on completing his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

“I would definitey consider myself a fan” of Tyson’s, said Zeller. The college senior says he bought Tyson’s book a day or two after it landed on book shelves and is an avid listener of Tyson’s Star Talk radio program.

Zeller says he sent Tyson’s team a message via their Web site on Sunday letting them know about his new site but hasn’t heard back. Asked what message he would most like to convey to Tyson, Zeller said he would thank Tyson for making the general public more aware of NASA’s budget situation.

“Thank you, first and foremost for speaking out on behalf of all of us — the people that already recognize the importance of NASA and for the people that don’t yet know,” said Zeller, extending an open invitation to Tyson to participate in an online public forum to field questions on the pro-NASA movement. Tyson engaged in an AMA or “Ask me Anything” forum on Reddit nearly three weeks ago.

“I would be happy to facilitate that,” Zeller continued.

Asked what his plans were for the site, Zeller said, “It depends. Best -case scenario, we help give this movement a real footing, and a year down the road we are running a non-profit whose sole purpose is seeing NASA's budget increased."

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