Help Shape the Future of Space Exploration

Join The Planetary Society Now  arrow.png

Join our eNewsletter for updates & action alerts

    Please leave this field empty

Bill MFS thumbnail

That time I took a selfie with Neil Tyson and the President of the United States

Posted by Bill Nye

07-03-2014 7:44 CST

Topics: fun, Planetary Society Political Advocacy, Planetary Society People, Bill Nye

From time to time, I get a message from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) inviting me to attend certain events: I’ve been to two White House Science Fairs, and I attended a White House Holiday Party. It is an honor to speak with young people, and it’s just plain exciting. Last week, my fellow Board Member Neil deGrasse Tyson and I were invited to be presenters at the first edition of the White House Film Festival. It is a competition for students to create their own films about how technology is helping them in school.

The entries were marvelous. Neil and I, along with the actor Kal Penn, hung out with the student winners for a few minutes. Then, Neil and I were escorted from the White House Gold Room (most of the furnishings are gold) through a hallway to the Blue Room, which is, no kidding, next to the Green Room.

It became clear that a White House staffer, who is a friend of the Society (and a member), was juggling things so that Neil and I stood last in line next to Executives from the Prezi Adobe software companies. Neil and I, half-whispering, fantasized about getting a custom, selfie-style picture with the President. I admit that this was a bit of a crazy thing to even imagine. I am pretty sure the President has a photographer with him almost all day all the time, someone with quite a few more megapixels and more compositional skill than we have with our iPhone cameras. Furthermore, I am pretty sure the President has a great many more important things to do than stand still for every Neil, Bill, and Helle (Danish Prime Minister) that comes along asking for a selfie. Nevertheless, Neil took the chance. “Hey, Mr. President, can we get a selfie with you?” I immediately remarked, “Let’s break the Internet!” For whatever reason, the President was charmed by our honesty and enthusiasm.

Neil produced his phone, reached way out in front of us...and his phone’s memory was full. I’m not kidding. Doctor Gear-Head-Tech-Savvy-Astrophysicist’s phone cam was not available -- and, we’ve managed to sandwich The President of the United States between us! Stuff happens sometimes, but there is not a moment to lose -- less than that maybe ;-). For cryin’ out loud! My O My!! Thinking as quickly as I ever have, I instantly produced my phone and got the shot. I took four pictures in quick succession. The one that I posted is number 3.

That time Bill Nye took a selfie with Neil Tyson and Barack Obama

Bill Nye, The Planetary Guy

That time Bill Nye took a selfie with Neil Tyson and Barack Obama
Best selfie ever?

In those few moments, the President, Neil, and I spoke about science and space exploration. I offered that when we explore the cosmos, we come to believe and prove that we can solve problems that have never been solved. It brings out the best in us. Space exploration imbues everyone in the country with an optimistic view of the future The President agreed.

Here’s hoping we planted a reminder, a thought that will stick with him as he negotiates the NASA budget. And, we hope he remembers our selfie moment as a fun one.

For those of you, who seek selfies, I have just a few things to recommend. First, have your phone charged up enough to take the picture. Second, have enough space in the memory (Neil!). You may have to delete one of your five hundred pictures of your shoe or sidewalk that you took by accident. Third, have the phone camera lens that faces you...facing you. Fourth, get ready by reminding everyone in the picture to look at the tiny dark lens over on the end of the phone rather than at themselves, as seen on the phone’s screen. Then, reach way out with the phone horizontal. Shake your hips and bump into the other people; it makes them laugh and smile. Now, push the button -- again and again. Take multiple shots so that one of them will, if I may: click. Many selfie-seekers, who come up to me, are not aware that the iPhone’s upper volume button also operates the phone’s camera. It’s a time saver, because you can hold the phone with your thumb and fingers and click the shutter single handedly.

Getting a selfie with the most powerful man on our planet was a thrill. Judging from the shot, he had a good time, too. This thing went viral. It preserves a great moment for planetary science!

Help The Planetary Society make our future in space a bright one. Join today!

See other posts from March 2014


Or read more blog entries about: fun, Planetary Society Political Advocacy, Planetary Society People, Bill Nye


Cristian Zuñiga: 03/07/2014 01:35 CST


Glen Perry: 03/07/2014 01:47 CST

Brilliant !!

Telluric: 03/07/2014 08:45 CST

Well, I guess President Obama did not swear off Selfies after the disastrous looking one from Mandela's memorial. If a selfie was taken of three concerned space advocates would any be smiling?

Bob Ware: 03/11/2014 06:01 CDT

Prominence surrounded by greatness.

Sean : 03/13/2014 08:58 CDT

So cool! :)

Rtricky: 03/15/2014 04:32 CDT

Politics sandwiched by science. Fantastic picture.

Toni Haynes: 03/18/2014 12:01 CDT

You guys DO know that this man and his party's shortsighted, socialist, sycophantic policies are probably what are largely responsible for gutting our space program to the point that we're now hitching rides into space at the discretion of a that KGB thug Putin, don't you? Hope you were able to put aside being star-struck long enough to at least TRY to get through to Mr. Obama regarding all the damage he and his party are responsible for (by intent or neglect) with regards to "Our Place In Space".....Now go ahead all you Obama groupies...I know you'll all have a cow about what I just wrote......figures....

Rob McDonnell: 03/21/2014 02:09 CDT

So despite President Obama keeping NASA's budget between $17.7B and $18.7B (compared to a low of $14B during the Bush years)... despite NASA's all-time highest budget as a percentage of the federal budget *and* their peak employment rate being during the Kennedy administration (he was a Democrat, if you remember)... you want to foam at the mouth about how much the President and all Democrats hate science. If you're going to make outlandish claims, back them up with something concrete. There are plenty of things you can righteously be pissed at the President for (lying about metadata collection would be a good start), but this is not one of them. It's also worth noting we are still at war in the middle east. President Obama did not start that war (again, look to the Bush years for those obscene expenditures), but it does fall to him to finish it and to do so responsibly. A responsible exit plan where none existed prior does not come cheap. Make sure you thank the right President for that.

Manny Rodrigues: 03/23/2014 07:25 CDT

Wish I was there too. Great selfie!

Dylan Doucet: 03/25/2014 09:18 CDT

That's one of the coolest selfies I have ever seen! Wish I was squished in there next to Mr. Nye

Toni Haynes: 03/25/2014 11:28 CDT

Well, Rob, I did say by design or NEGLECT, didn't I? With regards to our space-science program, I stand by the fact that he and his party (along with some GOP) could do one Helluva lot MORE than the bare minimum "tokenism" they're doing now. As for the usual "blame Bush" stance you've taken with the rest of the kool-ade drinkers, I'm not concerned with THAT president's mistakes(and He MADE some!)..I care what's happening on THIS president's watch. I care that money is wasted on free cell phones, welfare stipends, corporate bail outs, Obamacare, OBAMACARE TV COMMERCIALS, Michelle and the girls' $85,000 a NIGHT Chinese vacation hotel bill (not counting staff expenses), EVERYTHING but a proven (space exploration) policy that gives us technological superiority, advanced developments in medicine, industry, JOBS,(i.e. the economy) and new ways to advance democracy by example, instead of feckless rhetoric rooted in a socialist agenda... As for being in the middle of a war, I seem to remember having landed on the moon during one that lasted in total,over ten years. As for Kennedy being a Democrat, that was your Granny's Democrat, not what passes for one now. Kennedy had the vision and courage to say before the world "ask not what your country can do for you, but what YOU can do for your country".He also had the guts to stand up to another nuclear super power with conviction and no reservations because he knew the very future of this nation DEPENDED on it. The "nanny state" mentality didn't get it's foothold until Democrat L.B.J.'s tenure. It would take a novel the size of War and Peace to explain to you where I'm coming from, so for now, try getting your news from sources other than MSNBC and the Daily Show.Or read a little history. This president has failed this country on every front possible. But before the "racist" cop-out is thrown at me, I go on the record as PRAYING that Dr. Ben Carson runs in the next presidential election. A true patriot!

George: 02/09/2015 07:46 CST

Interesting… I see my previous post was deleted. I shall endeavor to clarify. I said that this selfie showed all that was wrong with the Planetary Society these days. I did not mean it as a personal attack. For from it – I am sure that all three gentlemen are charming and engaging in person, would help an elderly person cross the street and would rescue a cat from a tree. The point was meant to reflect on the status of the Planetary Society as an organization. Why post a selfie with a man who is, at best, neutral on the core mission of your organization? No matter where you stand on Mr. Obama, the man has not been kind to planetary science funding. Just maintaining funding for planetary science has been a hard fight because of this president, not despite him. Why not post a selfie with the hard working men and women and congress that are actually working to secure planetary research funding? Lamar Smith has done a lot to get the Europa mission moving forward. Why not treat your friends better than the famous kid in class? But that’s not what is wrong with at least some of the leadership at the Planetary Society these days. I get the sense that it’s less about the Society and more about being in pictures. Self-promotion – undeniable! Of course, we all know the answer. It’s a mutual admiration society in that picture. It’s not about the Planetary Society – it’s about them. Call me crazy, but I prefer my planetary society CEOs to have a bit more of a background in… oh, say, planetary science. Or at least business. Or a board member for whom mis-remembering other people’s statements to the point of fabrication is not cool. I guess that’s just me. I miss the Planetary Society when planetary science was first and foremost – not wanting to go out and change the world. Or use it as a platform to get oneself noticed in it. To sum: scientists promote science, self-promoters take selfies.

Chris: 02/11/2015 03:48 CST

I kind of agree with George. How about some selfies with the *real* supporters of planetary science?

Milan : 04/18/2015 12:26 CDT

Great selfie. This shows emotional intelligence, you need to interact with people outside your specialty to influence them. How about you all go out and get selfies with people outside your circle.

Mr. Collins: 05/20/2015 05:54 CDT

This is a great selfie. I wish you could convince the POTUS to increase NASA funding.

Jody: 06/12/2015 03:20 CDT

With the utmost respect to two of my favorite people, it makes me cringe to see scientists & science enthusiasts posing with the president. I understand that when it comes to your field, the president is doing the right thing--President Obama understands science better than a lot of people, thanks to those like you. But science does not reign supreme over all matters of this nation. We must look at all of our problems to determine who we follow. I fear that you are throwing yourself on one side of the aisle when you should be reaching out to the other side as well. As an atheist (or non-theist) as Neil puts it so elegantly (don't worry, I won't claim you Neil), I can assure you that creationism is not the real issue when I try to influence others on the importance of science. Partisanship, lack of transparency and the fear of unfair lobbying will, if anything, be the biggest enemy to scientific progression. One reason I support the Planetary Society is that is is not a government program. I see the need for NASA, but it IS government and what happens at NASA is not extremely democratic. Unfortunately, I don't believe the troubles Obama has cause me and my nation directly are worth the innovations we have gained in science. I say that with a heavy heart, because science is our future. Why not brag about your Kickstart program funded by citizen donors? Instead, I fear you are becoming more partisan, more like a politician--one who values fame over cause--and less like a scientist. I will continue to follow you, agree with you on most scientific matters and brag about you as great scientists. Again, thank you for all that you do and please consider my evaluation.

Jody: 06/12/2015 03:30 CDT

I would like to add one of my favorite quotes, with which I am sure you are familiar. "Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value." - Albert Einstein

Arianna: 12/22/2015 08:29 CST

Spectacular selfie!

Leave a Comment:

You must be logged in to submit a comment. Log in now.
Facebook Twitter Email RSS AddThis

Blog Search

Planetary Defense

An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.


Featured Images

SpaceX CRS-8 landed booster
SES-10 static test fire
More Images

Featured Video

Class 9: Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune

Watch Now

Space in Images

Pretty pictures and
awe-inspiring science.

See More

Join The Planetary Society

Let’s explore the cosmos together!

Become a Member

Connect With Us

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more…
Continue the conversation with our online community!