The Bronx, New York. A young deGrasse Tyson visits the Hayden Planetarium for the first time. As a nine-year-old, the electrical stars lit up in the planetarium are beautiful, something he has never seen before in light-polluted New York.
It’s a defining moment for Tyson, one that will jet set him out of this world.
“The universe chose me—I had no say in the matter, after that one session with the deep voice of the planetarium director—the God voice—resonating in the cavity of the dome, looking at the universe. That is some pretty impactful life experience.” He explains to The New Yorker.
Tyson grew up in the Riverdale part of the Bronx with his father, a sociologist, his mother a gerontologist and two siblings. At a young age he was not considered a good student, in fact, he praises the education he received from his parents, who treated New York as a “learning laboratory.” Every weekend the family would visit museums, watch shows or go to a sporting event. He bought his first telescope in middle school, studying the sky from the roof of the family’s Bronx apartment.
He shared his interest in science and the stars with his teacher at P.S. 81 who retorted:
“Why do you want to go into science? There aren’t any Negroes in that field. Why don’t you go into sports?”
When Tyson was just 17 years old, he got his start in astrophysics, with the help of famous astronomer Carl Sagan.
Sagan was perhaps the most famous U.S scientists of the 1980s and early 1990s. He is regarded as a scientist, a celebrity, a writer, professor, skeptic and free thinker.
Image: Astronomer Carl Sagan was the "most famous U.S. scientist of the 1980s and early 1990s.", PHOTOGRAPH BY EVELYN HOFER, TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY
Upon applying to Cornell application, a teenage Tyson received an invitation to leave Brooklyn and visit the lakes and gorges of upstate New York.
"A letter shows up in my mailbox from Carl Sagan; I couldn't believe it. Famous people don't write out of the blue to strangers."
Tyson met with the famous professor on a college excursion soon after receiving the letter. Sagan even offered to let the young Tyson stay at his family home in the chance a snowstorm canceled his bus ride home.
Tyson eventually ended up at Harvard instead of Cornell, where he majored in physics and lived in Currier house.
From there he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004, Cosmos Award from the Planetary Society in 2015, the Hubbard Medal from the National Geographic Society 2017 and in 2000 he was awarded the enviable title as sexiest Astrophysicist Alive, from People magazine.
Since his humble beginnings in the Bronx, Neil deGrasse Tyson is now one of the most famous astrophysicists, authors and science personalities in the world.
If he had not visited the planetarium at the ripe age of nine, he might not have had the love or drive to reach for the stars.
“What you need, above all else, is a love for your subject, whatever it is. You’ve got to be so deeply in love with your subject that when curve balls are thrown when hurdles are put in place, you’ve got the energy to overcome them. “ - Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Lead Image: Star Talk, National Geographic