NBAA-BACE 2022 entered the "space race" Tuesday morning with a keynote opening session featuring Nascar Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. They provided inspiring personal perspectives on creativity, innovation, high-speed environments, and aiming high that resounded strongly with the full-house audience.
Though his father was a legendary racing star, Earnhardt said his only goal when he began his career was to win one race. But as he accumulated victories, his goal shifted. “I started to think more about how to be an asset to the industry” rather than his race-day wins, he said. Earnhardt believes this effort led to his Hall of Fame induction.
Innovation is key to racing as it is to aviation, he said, with teams always trying to tweak engines and other systems to gain more performance. His father introduced the innovation of using business aviation to get team members to and from races, founding Champion Air Airlines, which today specializes in sports team transport, essential in today’s world.
“Having some normalcy in their lives is critical,” Earnhardt said.
He followed his father’s example, buying an aircraft early in his career, and though Earnhardt rarely races anymore he still relies on business aviation. “Having the flexibility to move around the country is essential for me,” he said.
Earnhardt was aboard his Cessna Citation Latitude when it ran off the runway while landing in 2019, and while no injuries resulted from the highly reported accident, the aircraft subsequently caught fire and burned. The episode wasn’t addressed during his presentation.
Earnhardt’s latest win: he’s just finished a children’s book, “Buster’s Trip to Victory Lane,” written for his two young daughters, who currently only care to read “Goodnight, Moon,” he said.
Tyson, interviewed by broadcast journalist Lisa Starke, also has a lunar fixation, evident as he addressed topics from the NASA Artemis program, the Webb Space Telescope, asteroid deflection, UFOs, and more.
“We have to go back to the moon,” Tyson said of Artemis, whose first flight has been rescheduled for next month. Craters near the lunar poles, “where the sun don’t shine,” could harbor water from eons of asteroid impacts that could sustain visitors from Earth, he said. Meanwhile, the infrared light the Webb telescope detects can find biomarkers for life in the atmosphere of exoplanets light years away.
Where would he suggest exploring next? “Everywhere,” Tyson said. “If you have an airplane, you want to go everywhere. That’s how I feel about the universe.”
Tyson’s new book, “Starry Messenger,” tracks the evolution of his thinking and insights about the cosmos.