As chief executive of the Planetary Society, Nye is big on space exploration. In fact, just a few months ago, the group launched a solar sail prototype, a technology that Nye hopes will someday power cheap, efficient long-term space exploration. Thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the Planetary Society will launch a real satellite mission — one with scientific objectives to complete — sometime in 2016.
So it's no surprise that Nye is excited about Pluto.
“Well, ever since you're a little kid, everybody wonders what Pluto looks like. And Pluto has a lot of romance, because it was discovered in my parents' lifetime … so it's a recent discovery, and it has mystery because it's the third solar system,” Nye said.
Indeed, scientists are thrilled to get into the Kuiper Belt — the third, outermost region of the solar system. The rocky planets in our immediate neighborhood and the gas giants next door are familiar, but Pluto and its ilk remain mysterious. And Nye doesn't get too hung up on the argument over whether Pluto is a planet or a dwarf planet.
“It's a planetary body, that's for sure. And it's Pluto. It's the first of its kind, from a human standpoint,” he said.
And he thinks missions like this are an excellent use of the country's budget.
“New Horizons cost less than a billion dollars — over 15 years,” Nye exclaimed. “Just, if you're a taxpayer, that's — you can't even measure that,” he said. “It's a cup of coffee every 15 years, and it's sending back images of this amazing world.”
As a self-described patriot, Nye said that he believes “NASA is the best brand the United States has” and that we put our best foot forward when we venture into space. Now that Pluto has had its first U.S. encounter, Nye would like to see us move on to Europa — the ocean-covered moon of Jupiter that many hope harbors some form of life.