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Bill Takes a Job

By Bill Nye | Published: June 7, 2010 – 11:53 am

After 24 and half years as a freelancer, I found a day job. Well perhaps the day job found me.

One day, as a very young man, around age seven, my older brother Darby patiently wound the rubber band “motor” on a newly purchased Skystreak balsawood airplane, and handed the aircraft to me.

Having flown various glider airplanes for weeks that summer, we had chanced on the idea of bending the vertical tail to provide a little steering– some yaw control.

I carefully held the plane up near my right ear, one hand on the balsa stick that serves as the fuselage, and one hand securing the propeller. I let fly. The little Skystreak flew like none of us had ever seen. It climbed, while making three graceful circles in the sky. It descended and returned to me as if it were a storybook boomerang– right to my hand. I had produced controlled flight. I was hooked.  I wanted to be an engineer.

Long about that same time, my father set up a musty telescope, given to him by his old scoutmaster. I saw craters on the Moon. My dad, by the way, had spent almost four years as a prisoner of war in Asia. He had seen spectacular dark skies. He knew his way around the heavens. So some days later, we saw the rings of Saturn.

Now, many of us have had similar experiences with stargazing, microscope gazing, or watching a dandelion’s life cycle. But through what I consider remarkable luck, I ended up in Professor Carl Sagan’s astronomy class. He showed us subtle mathematical features of the sky that I had only suspected but never known. He emphasized critical thinking and the scientific method– reasoning.

Carl Sagan wrote the novel Contact that became the movie Contact. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Dragons of Eden.

Along the way, concerned about NASA’s flagging interest in space exploration with the public’s interest as strong as ever, Professor Sagan, Dr. Bruce Murray, and Dr. Lou Friedman set up the Planetary Society. It became the world’s largest non-governmental space interest organization.

Well now, my friends, after 30 years on the job, Lou is retiring, and I am to become the Planetary Society’s Executive Director.

What an opportunity, a chance to change the world! We are at another turning point in the history of space exploration. The United States’ Space Shuttle program is finally winding down. Over 100 spacecraft have visited the Moon. Dozens of other space missions from space agencies around the world have proven that Mars was once a very wet place. It’s time to look there for signs of liquid water and evidence of ancient or even extant life. By looking back into the fossil record of deep time, we have a new awareness of how much trouble a speeding space rock could cause. It’s another moment in history, where we must learn more about our place in space. It’s another opportunity for ordinary people to share in the exploration of a new frontier, to go beyond the unknown horizon. What a ride!

Since I launched my first model rockets, I’ve loved space exploration. I hope you’ll take a few moments and learn about the Planetary Society. It’s quite a group.

Meanwhile, I will keep on posting my commentaries on science, technology, education, and especially climate change. We’ll see if we can change the world.

Thanks for your support,

Bill Nye

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22 Responses to “Bill Takes a Job”

  1. Reality says:

    Great news Bill. Now you can denounce your support of the woowoo nanobubbles and the Activeion water bottle! Just come out and say you got had! We will forgive you. Your credibility is on the line!

    Have you read the comments on that page?

  2. I had a balsa wood plane when I was little and i could never get it to do all the tricks you made it do.

    P.S. Engineering is awesome. I’m a plane technician. I got hooked when i got to take my old tv apart.

  3. Congratulations Bill! It’s a great opportunity for you and so many others like you to guide the rest of us on new space exploration adventures. best of luck in your new position at the Planetary Society.

  4. Nice. Any chance you need an assistant?!

  5. Jane Ripps says:

    May I still ask a question about teaching habitats? I teach at Peachtree Elementary in Norcross, GA, 3rd grade. I’d like to begin our habitat unit with a little review of the Gulf before and after the oil spill. I’m on my way to collect a sample of the ocean water and sludge this weekend. What’s the best way to collect this sample and keep in nice for the kids? What other ideas or resources to you know of that can help me create an interesting display or activity around the oil spill to teach how a disaster or pollution effects a habitat like the ocean and coastal plain and its inhabitants? Should I tie in economics with the fishing industry, or should I keep with habitats and pollution?

    Jane Ripps or on Facebook

  6. Jane Ripps says:

    And, congratulations on your new job!!!! Make some new videos of the planetary system!!

  7. Ray Solley says:

    From one old executive director (and former agent) to the newest–and most visionary–ED the Planetary Society may ever have….CONGRATULATIONS! My staff fully submits to the Bill Nye Rule: do that which only you can do the best. And, change the world.

  8. Jenny Lam says:

    Congrats Bill. Glad to hear it. Despite the “day job,” we’ll always think of you as the original “Bill Nye the Science Guy”! Good luck and have fun.

  9. Susan Gorin says:

    What a wonderful opportunity! The Planetary Society is fortunate to have you at the helm. We await wonderful news from you. Thanks for all that you have done to inspire our budding scientists.

  10. Neal says:

    You continue to inspire. Keep at it!

  11. Troy says:

    No better person could have been chosen for this position. We need passionate and charismatic people of science to pick up where Carl Sagan left off.

  12. jake says:

    “What an opportunity, a chance to change the world!”

    i think “…a chance to change the worlds!” is a much more fitting statement.

    God Speed Mr. Nye.

  13. Bobby Tex says:

    “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan.

    Thank you for everything, Bill Nye, the Science Guy. My friends in elementary school thought I was a nerd for watching your show. But it was worth it. You sparked my interest in science. Indeed, something incredible was found within me, but there is much to be known. Thank you.

  14. Ashli Mac says:

    “We’ll see if we can change the world.”

    You’ve already proven that it can be done! You’ve changed the lives and cranial structures of most of my generation – I don’t know a single person who doesn’t love Bill Nye the Science Guy! Personally, I believe the shift toward Geek Love was largely fueled by your influence (and what a great shift for society, for even the pop-culture to value the obsessive accumulation of knowledge and brilliant application of science)!

    I am thrilled that you’ve been given this opportunity – it is truly a benefit to humanity to have you in this position and I would like to nominate you to represent humanity in a first contact situation!

    Thank you for your wonderful influence on my life, and the world!

  15. Vegan Aurora says:

    Thanks for taking the post, Bill!
    Our shuttle rocket scientists needs jobs!

  16. Terry! says:

    Congratulations, Mr. Executive Director!! Hoping you’ll make some more videos!

  17. Daniël says:

    Oh, how thrilling the memory of my own little Balsa planes… And how amazing that the little cheap ones like the one in your picture somehow always turned out to be the most satisfying ones, performing wonders in navigating time and space within reach of the senses and strolling legs. Don\’t get me wrong, the ones I built that were amazing intricately complex wonders of design in balsa and paper that needed a timer to bring them down before flying off into oblivion (one actually did on first flight; circling higher and higher and finally bumping of the thermal bubble, never to be seen again; still consider it my most beautiful aircraft ever, however sad it made me in my total joy… Life in a bubble at sixteen, I\’ll never forget it…).
    Not wanting to be a killjoy, I have to say there\’s a sad side to all this, balsa being considered tropical hardwood by law nowadays (how\’s that for a crazy paradox…), these little one or two dollar planes are nowhere to be seen these days, and toystores only sell videogames, maybe one or two plastic kits. It\’s been years since I\’ve seen one of those beautiful cardboard boxes with an aquarel of a glider in full flight, containing an even more beautiful technical drawing and some balsa boards with printed patterns, some rice paper, maybe a rubber band and plastic propeller and the promise of hours and hours of total bliss in building, flying and repairing for a lousy few weeks of allowance…
    What happened ? Flight simulators are cool, but how on earth are kids these days ever going to get in touch with the real world this way ? Even if we ban the balsa (or how about a balsa-farm ?), there must be alternative materials in this space-age to bring back to life the old drawings and kits, if only some website would exist with scans and suggestions for material; I have not been able to find such.
    Maybe you could find a way, Mister Nye ? I would be for ever grateful, and all my offspring, and all the kids I would try to lure into community centers with that stuff…

  18. markonan says:

    Hm ,..nice blog ,.. if you have some time just take a look on my video ,.. tnx in advance ,..

  19. jaquis says:

    hey bill im doing a project on you and i want to know how you became a sceicetist and what were you like as a kid? thanks.

  20. Ben says:

    Hi Bill! While you had a great experience with flight, I have to unfortunately call you out. Yes, in fact if you had \"controlled\" flight, your actions would have done something to control every movement and anticipate such barrel rolls and banks while coming to a full stop.This is Enabled flight, which you allow energy to have been put into a source but let whatever flies to figure out how, given the benefit of the doubt. I had been a disciple of your teachings as I teach the wee ones at a school today. You have explained how much your experiences with flight were much like mine, I enjoyed flight and balsa planes as they were made aware of to me as well as those rockets you can put together with relative ease and use a higher powered source of fuel in it. The reason to calling you out is how you showed me how knowledge works, sharing and spreading it to those yet gently knowing you understand how science works and thanking you for teaching me what you know.

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