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Facebook Scrambles On Whistleblower Damage Control; Three-Year Old Boy Found Alive After Getting Lost In Woods For Four Days; Pfizer Seeking Emergency Vaccine Authorization For Kids 5 to 11. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired October 10, 2021 - 15:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, five days after the damning testimony from a Facebook whistleblower, the company is still scrambling to respond to the growing fallout and revelations she exposed in her testimony to Congress.

Former employee, Frances Hogan said Facebook was unable to fix the many problems its products have either created or made worse from harming the mental health of children to the fragmented state of American democracy.

The call for lawmakers to take action has never been louder, but Facebook Vice President Nick Clegg remained defiant this morning talking to CNN's Dana Bash.


NICK CLEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: We can't change human nature and human nature, of course, you always compare yourself to others, particularly those who are more fortunate to yourself, but what we can do is change our products, which is exactly what we're doing.

If you removed the algorithms, which is I think Frances Haugen, one of her central recommendations, the first thing that would happen is that people would see more not less hate speech; more and not less misinformation, because these algorithms are designed precisely to work almost like giant spam filters.

If our algorithms are as sort of nefarious as some people suggest, why is it that it is precisely those systems that have succeeded to reduce hate speech, the prevalence of hate speech on our platforms to as little as 0.05 percent.


WHITFIELD: Roger McNamee is the cofounder of Elevation Partners and early investor in Facebook, and he has since become a vocal critic of the company, authoring the book "Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe." Roger, so good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So when we bring up the cover of "Time" Magazine from about 10 years ago, we see Mark Zuckerberg, Person of the Year, fast forward to today, and we see the same face in a very different light. What happened?

MCNAMEE: So Fredricka, I think the fundamental issue here is that Facebook found a business model in 2013, where it used algorithmic amplification and recommendation engines, along with this massive supply of data, which it uses surveillance to essentially create a model of each and every one of us that it can use to both predict our behavior, and then with the recommendation engines, to manipulate it.

And when Nick Clegg comes out and says that their algorithms reduce hate speech, disinformation, conspiracy theories, that is literally exactly backwards.

The way the business model works is they want to amplify, they want to make that stuff more prevalent, because it gets the attention of people. We can't help but look, and in that process, we create huge profits for Facebook, for Instagram, for YouTube, for TikTok, for all the companies that use this kind of a business mine.

WHITFIELD: And we heard that in the testimony about the discovery, the research, adjustments made almost looking the other way and continuing on with profit. So, how did that original vision of Facebook connecting you with friends lead to this point?

MCNAMEE: Well, Fredricka, I think it was really simple, which was that Facebook in the early days, the days when I was involved, was really good at that basic function of letting you communicate with those who are closest to. The problem is there wasn't a lot of money in that.

And Google proved that there was a model called surveillance capitalism. This use of data, this use of models of each individual person to basically predict their behavior and sell that to advertisers, and Facebook spent years trying to figure out how to apply that model to its business.

And when they figured it out, they made a very simple choice, which by the way, almost every business in our economy does something similar, which is they said, we're going to maximize the value to our investors, which is mostly Mark Zuckerberg, we're going to maximize that value no matter what.

And they have done this persistently, in spite of massive internal research, which is what the whistleblower shared, right? That wasn't her work; that was their own work done for their management team.

WHITFIELD: Right? So the problem isn't the making money part. The problem is making the discoveries that this can be a harmful platform for many, and to not do anything to resolve that or try to help people, but instead to continue to profit -- I mean, that that message was loud and clear through that testimony.

And then you yourself, you've laid out, you know that, you know, a lot of this country's biggest problems from deep seated racism, misinformation on Facebook's doorstep is what we have been seeing as evidenced in Facebook.

So do the whistleblower's testimony, in your view, validate what you and others have been saying for a very long time?

MCNAMEE: Indisputably. I would argue that Frances Haugen who is the whistleblower has the potential be the turning point because she -- first of all, she is incredibly courageous to do what she did, to bring those documents out, but she is also authoritative. Her expertise is in algorithms.


MCNAMEE: But lastly, she was incredibly convincing, both on her "60 Minutes" piece and in front of the Senate. And I think the key thing is that the stuff she brought out was the biggest experts inside Facebook working at the behest of management to look at problems that people like me have been talking about.

They've proved every one of these things was a much bigger problem than even I had been suggesting; and in doing so, management was faced with a choice. They could either optimize profits where they could protect users. They could not do both; they chose profits, which is I say, they're not the only company that does that.

But the thing with Facebook, they have three billion people all connected with each other. So bad ideas that normally exist on the fringes of society are brought into the mainstream. Hate QAnon, on anti-vaxx, all of these things have been brought into the mainstream to really undermine our civilization and our culture.

WHITFIELD: And you say congressional action is needed and rather urgently, and in fact, Facebook's Vice President, Nick Clegg agrees to agree that there should be some legislation that should play a part in the company's future or the future, that of other social media platforms. Listen.


CLEGG: Section 230, as you know, gives online platforms protection from liability for the content that sort of passes on their platforms. I think the way to perhaps change Section 230, my suggestion would be to make that protection which is afforded to online companies like Facebook, Facebook contingent on them, applying the systems and their policies as they are supposed to. And if they fail to do that, they would then have that liability protection removed.


WHITFIELD: Is that enough in your view? Some changes to Section 230? Or is it something more? MCNAMEE: Much, much more. I mean, Mr. Clegg's job is to gaslight us

and make us you know, believe him instead of what we can see with our own eyes. What I recommend is three areas: Safety, privacy, and competition.

I think technology products, not just Facebook, but really all over the industry are unsafe today, and we need something that's like the Food and Drug Administration that evaluates categories and says, wait a minute, you can't do this at all, I would do that facial recognition. And you know, there are other categories like deep fakes that just shouldn't be allowed in the market.

And then everything else should be certified every year. They have to demonstrate that they are safe; and if they have a failure, they have to pay a huge fine.

On privacy, this is the place where I think Facebook, YouTube, TikTok are so guilty, and they have too much information on us and it gives them power over us. The ability to control our options, so think about digital red line or predictive policing or resume review, where the biases of the data sets deprive people of opportunities.

And then you think about Facebook, the way that it pushed people into anti-vaxx groups, the way it pushed people into Stop the Steal, effectively causing people to believe things that aren't true. We really need to prohibit surveillance capital in its entirety, or if you can't do that, at least ban the use of health information, location, web browsing history, and all sorts of intimate details just should not be part of that marketplace.

And then lastly, just one last point --

WHITFIELD: Yes, go ahead.

MCNAMEE: We need to update Antitrust Law for the 21st Century. These companies are too big. Facebook failed twice this past week, and millions of small businesses were deprived of their livelihood because this is a monopoly and there is no alternative.

WHITFIELD: Yes, your message is loud and clear. I mean, free rein on so many issues, it has to be reeled in or ended altogether.

Roger McNamee, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MCNAMEE: It is entirely my pleasure, Fredricka. I hope to see you again soon.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. I'm sure you will.

All right, we're also following this breaking news. A police in St. Paul, Minnesota say they have arrested three men in connection to a mass shooting at a food hall overnight. One person was killed, 14 others were wounded, all of whom are expected to survive.

The three men arrested were injured. Police say once released from the hospital, they will be taken to jail to await a charging decision. The words from the police there.

The victim killed was a woman in her 20s. Her name has not yet been released. Investigators have not said what prompted the shooting.

All right, still to come, remarkable rescue. A three-year-old boy missing for four days in the woods in Texas is found safe. I'll talk to someone on the search team who calls this nothing short of a miracle.



WHITFIELD: All right, now to this miraculous rescue in Texas. A three- year-old boy has been reunited with his family after getting lost in the woods for four days.

Christopher Ramirez apparently wandered away from his home while chasing a neighbor's dog Wednesday afternoon. Rescue crews launched a massive search for the missing toddler and a Good Samaritan who helped the search crew found Christopher Saturday morning. He was tired and dehydrated, but otherwise okay.

Joining us now on the phone is Blake Jarvis he is the Grimes County Constable and helped organize this search for Christopher.

Constable, so glad you could be with us. I'm glad we are able to report on good news. How in the world was little Christopher found?

BLAKE JARVIS, GRIMES COUNTY CONSTABLE (via phone): Oh, it was almost a miracle how he was found. It was a complex organization investigation that led his recovery.

A Good Samaritan went and searched back to his property, and lo and behold located Christopher.


WHITFIELD: Well, what was his property like? Describe the conditions of this property and how far away it was from his home that he wandered away from.

JARVIS: So Christopher was found almost five miles away from his home where he went missing. The property he was found on was very dense, very wooded, and very rough terrain to go through.

WHITFIELD: In what kind of condition was Christopher in? Because five miles for a three-year-old in the woods over a period of days? What kind of condition was he in?

JARVIS: He was severely dehydrated. To start off, he had a lot of marks and bruises on from going through the terrain. Other than that, he was in very stable condition. He was glad to be reunited with his mom. He is very happy to see his mom.

Medical personnel was there immediately to assist his needs medically. WHITFIELD: And sometimes at three years old, you can be pretty verbal,

what has he said, if anything?

JARVIS: He did talk to his mom some. We haven't really sat down and done a formal interview, that is to come, as soon as he gets released from the hospital. He is currently still in the hospital in stable condition.

WHITFIELD: So Constable, tell me what the last four days have been like while you're searching for this three-year-old. It started out with, he was out in his front yard, right, in his own home, or at least on the property. And did he see a neighbor's dog or was the neighbor's dog just happened to be in the yard and he wandered off with the dog.

JARVIS: It was actually his dogs that was in the yard. He was with his mom, they just came back home. The mom was going to put items inside the house. He was playing with his own dog. And that's when he wandered out of the yard, a brief moment.

And he went following the dog down the road, and ultimately he went into the wooded area.

I mean, it was a great organization with the Grimes County Sheriff's Office. Lieutenant Ellis led the first part of it, along with the Sheriff's Office with multiple agencies -- state, local, and Federal level, multiple volunteers from all different organizations and search and rescue organizations. It was a big group effort.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And so what does it mean for all of you, given that this was such a huge group effort, that it would end successfully like this?

JARVIS: Well, you almost have to see it to believe it. I mean to witness it, to be a part of it. You know, everybody came together with a blink of an eye. I mean, there was no hesitation on getting people out there, the resources from Red Cross to -- I mean, just everybody.

The other surrounding agencies, other surrounding counties, volunteers coming from everywhere, are short of -- like again, remarkable. It was a miracle that he was found and he was safe and very spiritual.

WHITFIELD: Incredible. Well Grimes County Constable, Blake Jarvis thank you so much and so glad that little Christopher is back with his family and everyone is breathing a huge sigh of relief. Thank you so much.

JARVIS: Thank you, ma'am.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, as parents anxiously await COVID vaccines for their young children, questions arise over how to talk to your kids about getting the shot. A child therapist is joining me live, next.



WHITFIELD: Pfizer is asking the F.D.A. for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11. Authorization could still be weeks or even months away, but it does open up the question for parents about how to talk to their young children about the vaccine.

With me now is Jody Baumstein. She is a licensed therapist with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Strong for Life. So, good to see you.


WHITFIELD: All right. So this is quite the quandary in a lot of households, you know, parents wondering, how do we have our conversations with our kids between five and 11 about the potential of them getting a vaccine? How do you begin that talk?

BAUMSTEIN: Begin by opening up the conversation. You know, we so often think that we're going to make it worse if we bring it up, or that will put ideas and kids -- in their minds, but that's just not the case. They're thinking about it anyway, so we just want to get right to it and open up a dialogue.

But then really let them lead the conversation, because we really don't know what they are thinking and they are feeling, and we don't want to assume just because we're feeling a certain way that the same is true for them.

WHITFIELD: Well, most kids don't like the idea of any shot, let alone now a vaccine and we're still unclear whether will it be two doses for you know, kids, five to 11 like it is for others who are eligible right now? So do you draw a parallel to these kids about, oh, remember what it was like to have that flu vaccine -- if they have had one before -- you know, last year? It's kind of like that.

I mean, did you try to break it down as simple -- in simple terms like that?

BAUMSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. Because anxiety often stems from fear. It is based around fear of the unknown. What's going to happen? And the more we think about all those question marks, the more revved up we get. So anytime you can help connect it to something concrete, something that makes sense to them, you're filling in the blanks, and you're helping them realize this isn't so bad. I did that before and I can handle it.

So, I think that's a beautiful example of how to teach them how to manage their own feelings, because similar things will happen in the future. And anytime you can ground them in something that they know, something tangible, it's going to make them feel a little bit calmer going into it.


WHITFIELD: I have two kids under 11, and we've been talking about it openly and they seem to have grasped the idea that, you know, they're going to be in line for it. But then, I've heard from my kids, just like, I know, it is happening in a whole lot of other households, you know, my kids might say, oh, but some of my friends, and they talk about their family structures who say, you know, they are not encouraging a vaccine, or they don't believe in the vaccine.

So what, as parents do we say to our kids, who end up getting a different story from their classmates in school?

BAUMSTEIN: Yes, I think that's going to continue to happen, and I think the conversation is going to look different for everyone. But grounding them in the facts, grounding them in what you know and in what you think is important for your family.

And then I think it's always a good idea to really talk about tolerance, and helping them understand that we can have different views and perspectives and beliefs about things. We can respect that, even if we don't really agree with it, or we don't want to do that ourselves.

WHITFIELD: And this is a real heartbreaker, because right now we're -- know, we're learning that more than 140,000 kids in the U.S. have lost a parent or grandparent who takes care of them because of COVID. I mean, it breaks down to one out of 500 children, it's an extraordinary number.

What many of these kids must be going through is just unimaginable, so what kind of impact do you see it is going to have on a lot of our young people long term?

BAUMSTEIN: Yes, well, a lot of them are going to be experiencing significant grief. I think grief is something that culturally we don't understand well. We have a lot of confusion around it because it's uncomfortable.

But what we know to be true with grief is that it's not linear, there's no timeline, there's no quick fix. So we really need to understand that because we're going to be dealing with this for a long time and we need to help them get used to expressing their feelings.

And we all fall into this trap, even as adults where we just -- we want to run from it, we want to hide, we want to deny and avoid our feelings, because we're scared that if we talk about it, maybe it'll get worse. Or maybe if I talk about it, I won't be able to handle it, or people will judge me.

So we try really hard to step it down, and it doesn't make it better. We know what happens. We start having trouble sleeping, we get headaches, we are irritable, we are lashing out at people who have done nothing wrong.

We want to help kids understand that when you name it, when you express it, it makes it a little bit smaller, it makes it a little bit more manageable. And over time, they are going to become more resilient because they're going to see, that's not so bad. Actually, it made me feel better. And that's what we want because this

is not the only thing they're going to face in life. They're going to have lots of things that are challenging and scary and confusing. So we want to help them understand that if you deal with it, if you use support, if you learn how to cope in healthy ways, it is actually not so bad.

WHITFIELD: Yes, well, not suppressing those emotions, which are going to be really hard for a lot of young people to grasp on how to handle it, but I understand exactly what you're saying.

Jody Baumstein, thank you so much. Appreciate your time and expertise.

BAUMSTEIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. Be well.


WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan to escape Taliban rule. Next, the story of one family adjusting now to a new life in America.



WHITFIELD: After fleeing violence in Afghanistan, one refugee family is beginning their new life in the United States. CNN's Pamela Brown recently sat down with the Jawad family to talk about their experiences.


ABED JAWAD, REFUGEE: Every day, I feel like I'm starting a new life.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Jawad family arrived in the United States in August after fleeing Afghanistan on a Special Immigrant Visa.

BROWN (on camera): What was that like when you step foot in the U.S.?

SOORA JAWAD, REFUGEE: Fresh. The first word that comes in my mind, all this greenery and stuff, I would say fresh. Wonderful.

BROWN (voice over): The Jawad's were initially on their own when they arrived, living in the bare bones basement apartment, sleeping on the floor and surviving off just enough saved up money for food as they awaited housing help from one of the nine resettlement organizations receiving funds from the U.S. government.

S. JAWAD: We have to start everything from zero.

BROWN (voice over): But they at least felt safe, unlike their final weeks in Afghanistan when the Taliban was rapidly taking over.

Abed Jawad says he worked alongside a U.S. Defense company and knew his family could be targeted.

S. JAWAD: Our daughter was our concern, she was our priority. That's what made us move out. I couldn't just make myself eat. I was like so stressed. Since the day we stepped in this country, I don't see myself to stop eating.

BROWN (voice over): The Jawad's are among an estimated 60,000 Afghans resettling in the U.S. after a rapid and chaotic withdrawal from the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY OF U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: So many of them have gone through a tremendous amount for us that we consider it not only our obligation, but quite frankly a privilege to dedicate our resources for them in return.


BROWN (voice over): But the unprecedented relocation efforts have come with challenges, like finding affordable housing, and airtight vetting and security procedures for people entering the United States.

MAYORKAS: We take their fingerprints, we get their biographical information. We take their photographs.

BROWN (on camera): Do you know of any instances where someone didn't pass the screening and they couldn't come through?

MAYORKAS: Oh, yes, we have. And quite frankly, if we learn of information at any point in time, remember, we have our enforcement authorities as well that we could bring to bear and have brought to bear.

BROWN (voice over): In September, a measles outbreak among Afghan refugees halted evacuations for a few weeks, but resettlement efforts have resumed after the C.D.C. made new vaccine and quarantine requirements against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, where refugees initially end up in the U.S. depends on their status.

MAYORKAS: If in fact they are U.S. citizens and they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents or visa holders, they are actually able to resettle directly into the United States. But if they are not, then they go to one of eight military facilities where a tremendous amount of resources are dedicated to their wellbeing.

BROWN (voice over): The U.S. government accommodations for Afghans have raised questions about why the same isn't being done for migrants arriving at the southern border in record numbers?

BROWN (on camera): But the U.S. government was able to set up the system so quickly for Afghans, why not set it up so quickly for those that are in need coming to the southern border?

MAYORKAS: Remember, we are working with countries to the south that are dealing with border management challenges themselves, resource constraints, and the like, so the challenges are very different here than they are with respect to the Afghan nationals. BROWN (voice over): The Jawad's are now living in a one bedroom

apartment in Virginia, they found through one of the resettlement organizations. But Miry Whitehill, founder of Miry's List, a group that helps incoming refugees says housing alone is not enough to make refugee families feel at home in the U.S.

MIRY WHITEHILL, FOUNDER, MIRY'S LIST: Imagine you're coming to a new country being dropped off, we can intervene to make sure that the arrival is a completion to the refugee experience and the beginning of a resettlement experience.

These are our newest Americans, we have a tremendous opportunity to show up for them.

S. JAWAD: It's handmade by someone who doesn't even know us.

BROWN (voice over): The Jawad family says Miry's List gave them comfort items like this handmade blanket and toys for their daughter and comfortable beds to sleep in.

S. JAWAD: I said OK, we need beds. And then she said, "What type of beds?" And that was surprising for me. I was like, okay, I get to choose what type of bed?

BROWN (voice over): Soora and Abed will be on their own paying for rent after two months and are both looking for work. Abed, as an accountant and Soora, potentially finishing her pursuit of becoming a heart surgeon.

S. JAWAD: I did my MD and I was halfway to become a heart surgeon. I was in third year of my residency. It's a five years program. But I hope I can do something to be useful to the society.

BROWN (on camera): The Department of Homeland Security says it is working to match skills from eligible Afghans with job opportunities in the U.S. and there are many ways that you can help.

Miry says the easiest way is a handwritten note welcoming a family here. You can go to Click on list and find a refugee family to help directly.

And please visit for more ways to assist.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Pamela, for that. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, hundreds of California's iconic sequoia trees are in peril as wildfires continue to burn out of control. At least 74 of the treasure trees have already been destroyed. But that number is expected to grow much higher as high intensity fires spread.

The KNP Complex fire has grown to over 87,000 acres and today remains only about 20 percent contained more than a month after it started.

Joining us right now is Clayton Jordan. He is the Superintendent of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. So good to see you again.


WHITFIELD: So, what is the update, if any, in terms of the number of trees that you know, you know, have been burned?

JORDAN: Well, what we know is this. Of course, this fire hasn't finished telling its tale. So there are additional groves that are yet threatened. But so far, the fire has burned through or into about 15 groves.

Now many of those groves, we know that the fire burned at low intensity, and so we're hopeful that the damage is not that terrific. But we do know that in at least a couple of the groves, the fire did burn at a much higher intensity, and with that higher intensity, it enables that fire to transition from the ground into the canopies for the trees and that torching is what causes the real destruction to the giant sequoias.

It's a little early. We don't know how many trees are affected, maybe dozens, maybe hundreds. But any loss of these monarchs is a great loss and that they've been standing for thousands of years.


WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh. Oh, it is tragic. And you know, last time you and I were talking, you were telling me about the protections being put in place for that General Sherman tree, the foil, the heat resistant fire-resistant foil, and now we're looking at some images of when they were actually putting that foil into place. Can you give us you know, the status of General Sherman tree or any other measures that you've taken like that on other trees?

JORDAN: Yes, so General Sherman tree is standing untouched. The fire came within about 125 yards of the tree. We did apply this high tech, fiberglass foil wrapped around the base of the tree and that was basically to try to prevent fire from getting into an old fire scar, and actually climb through the tree on the interior.

The giant forest, which is the grove that the General Sherman sits in, is not out of the woods yet. It's looking very optimistic, but there's still a chance of fire coming in from the other side.

I will say, though, that I think we've turned the corner on this fire. The weather has been much more favorable over the last few days. We have about 2,000 people on it, a lot of agencies working together. And so, I'm hopeful that that we will be able to prevent any further destruction to groves yet unthreatened and, of course, more importantly, to the communities around the park.

WHITFIELD: Right. In addition to those damaged trees, I understand that four firefighters were hurt by a falling tree in the National Park there and they were hospitalized. Can you give us an update on them?

JORDAN: Well, fortunately, they are in real good condition. They were working around a giant sequoia grove and securing a line to help protect a community right adjacent to that area, but a very scary day for all of us, but those firefighters are doing very well.

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness. Well, Clayton Jordan, thank you so much for having the time to talk with us again and giving us an update. We certainly, you know are thinking about you all out there and we hope that these fires get under control, and of course before they do any more damage. Thanks so much and be safe.

JORDAN: Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, NASA is going to launch a spacecraft into an asteroid on purpose. Yes, really. I'll ask an astrophysicist perhaps the most famous one you can think of exactly what we can all expect.

But first Princess Diana was the most famous woman in the world. She was idolized as a Royal, a fashion icon, an activist, and mother. And now as we prepare to bring you in all new CNN Original Series, "Diana" later on tonight, our Max Foster is taking us on a tour of some of the places that held the most meaning for the Princess.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: This tranquil market town in the English Cotswolds was a very different scene some 40 years ago, when Prince Charles and Diana visited a month before their marriage.

Royal Wedding fever had gripped the country and here, it was personal because this is where the couple had their country home at Highgrove.

But Camilla Parker Bowles also lived nearby, and over the years, Prince Charles spent more and more time with her. He wasn't the first Royal to have an affair, but Diana was the first Royal to go public with it in the way that she did.

First, in a book written by Andrew Morton and then in a BBC television interview. The Princess who wouldn't go quietly, our new series, "Diana," this Sunday, only on CNN.


WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Max. And be sure to tune in to our own new CNN Original Series, "Diana." That's premiering tonight at nine only on CNN.



WHITFIELD: Okay, it sounds like the plot of a Hollywood disaster movie, a comet is hurtling toward Earth and NASA needs to deflect it or it will destroy the planet. [VIDEO CLIP OF MOVIE "DEEP IMPACT" PLAYS]

WHITFIELD: Okay, that's a movie, that's a clip from "Deep Impact" and there are no asteroids currently threatening Earth. I like that.

NASA is concerned, however, that it is preparing for a worst case scenario. Next month, in fact, a spacecraft will be launched to ram into an asteroid's moon to see if it can actually change its trajectory. It's called the Double Redirection Test, or DART for short, and here to help us understand all of this because, of course, it's out of this world, the man who's out of this world, Neil deGrasse Tyson, he is an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium.

He's also coauthor of a new book -- because he's got a lot of books -- this one, "A Brief Welcome to the Universe." Neil, so good to see you.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: Yes, hey, thanks for having me. I just wanted to say upfront, Bruce Willis is not part of this mission. No.


WHITFIELD: Oh, okay, darn, I'm sure he's disappointed though. I'm sure he would be the first one to volunteer if he had a spot.


WHITFIELD: So help us understand this because this -- first of all, I didn't know an asteroid could have a moon, but of course, you knew that because you're an astrophysicist. But tell us about this asteroid, which is roughly the size of three aircraft carriers, and it is a moving target, and so what does NASA want to do?

TYSON: Yes, so if you look at movies about this sort of thing, what they want to do is blow the sucker out of the sky. You know, we're very good at blowing stuff up, because we have no end of weaponry to do this. But that's not the wisest path our engineering calculations tell us, because if you blow something up, while we're good at blowing it up, we're not as good as knowing where the pieces will go end up.


TYSON: So, while is safer, and it's more controlled to deflect an asteroid from harm's way. And what we found is a double asteroid. So the DA in DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirect Test, and we know the orbit of the moon, the moonlet, if you will.

That's about the size of a football stadium, and it is an orbit around its host asteroid, and we know that orbit with good enough precision, that if we slam our spacecraft into the moon, it will alter that orbit, and it should alter it in a measurable way.

And if we succeed at that, it's like, oh, yes, now we have methods and tools to deflect asteroids that we may one day discover have our name on it. WHITFIELD: Wow. And so any kind of pieces that might come from, you

know, chipping away of that moon that you said that is like a football field size, certainly much smaller than the aircraft carrier size of the asteroids. So tell me about the spacecraft that does that, that that could do this deflection.

TYSON: Yes, so this is a spacecraft that it's electrical ion propulsion, so this is -- it sounds very science-fictiony, and the engineers have been working on ion propulsion for quite some time. They've been very -- there's been good tests of it. And so what you have is you have sort of an ionized gas, and you direct charged particles out the back end, and it recoils in the other direction.

And if you have time, to wait for this course, to gain speed and go in its direction, it is ideal. You just can't launch people with ion drive. That's the problem.

But, so here you go. Think of if you're continuing the football analogy.


TYSON: If someone is running downfield, you can try to completely block them, but that's a lot of effort or you can just push them out of bounds, and then they don't head toward -- they are normally headed towards the goal line, and so what we have found is that if you get to an asteroid early enough that's otherwise headed towards you, and you just give it a little nudge that will slowly have it guide out of harm's way, and this is the whole point of this test.

WHITFIELD: And so that answers the why that I was about to ask you. So now I get it. So it's all preemptive, just to make sure that we've got a plan in place just in case one day that asteroid wants to come to Mother Earth.

TYSON: Yes, and it is -- you know, I think if the dinosaurs had a space program, they'd still be here. But you know, they had that walnut sized brain and didn't have opposable thumbs, it would be -- it would be embarrassing across the galaxy if we humans who had a space program went extinct, because we couldn't get our act together because it was like an asteroid that took us out of the equation.

WHITFIELD: Well, let me ask you about somebody else who is a very smart and admired actor, William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame. He'll be flying into space this week. And in your view, is putting a celebrity into space help, you know, spark more interest or keep the interest going with space exploration?

TYSON: Oh, by all means, and any celebrity because celebrities have followings, right?

WHITFIELD: What about you?

TYSON: And not only that, I think we should -- we should send journalists. We should send poets, people who represent society, and rather than just the right stuff, well, they're not me. So, I can maybe vicariously think about their voyage, but if they are people I otherwise care about and I followed and -- that makes a -- it turns space exploration into an activity we can all think of doing.

And I can tell you this, it's going to have to be a letdown if someone who was captain of a starship.

WHITFIELD: Well, I think --

TYSON: He is just going to go up and come back down a little bit, never reaching warp drive.

WHITFIELD: Well, you have to listen to his interview that he had with Andersen which was absolutely hilarious, and you get a better idea of what his plan is, so he is -- he has got some great ideas on why he is doing it and what he hopes to learn from it.

And who knows, I don't know. Maybe I'll sign up. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

In fact, I think this is our first time talking.

TYSON: Excellent.

WHITFIELD: Hey, this was fun.

TYSON: Yes, I think it is our first. I think so.

WHITFIELD: Yes, out of this world. Out of this world, I tell you. Thank you.

All right, the CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Jim Acosta.