If you study the history of NASA’s Apollo program in the 1960s, one thing you come to realize is that the tight timetable to reach the moon by the end of the decade meant that NASA didn’t have time to ossify into a bureaucracy, and they did things (i.e., took risks) in those days that would never be permitted today.
But you knew NASA had slipped into the maw of the administrative state when President Obama told NASA administrator Charles Bolden in 2010 that “Muslim outreach” should be a primary mission for the space agency.
Well now it appears NASA doesn’t even want to go to Mars even if it could go to Mars. Gizmodo offers an account of recent panel discussion about Mars hosted by Lucianne Walkowicz, the NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, and you have to read this, not to believe it, because of course the real problem with going to Mars is that it would represents “colonialism.” No, seriously, that’s what the thinking is:
Lucianne Walkowicz: I can’t give you an example of what a decolonized Mars looks like, but it starts by having multidisciplinary conversations about the things that happen here on Earth. I often give examples of Standing Rock as an Earth-based example of interests colliding, where you have indigenous people opposing a large-scale project that, much like space exploration, features cooperation between private industry and the government…
Gizmodo: What does decolonizing Mars mean to you?
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: I’m trying to think carefully about what our relationship to Mars should be, and whether we can avoid reproducing deeply entrenched colonial behaviors as we seek to better understand our Solar System. This includes thinking about why our language for developing understandings of environments that are new to us tends to still be colonial: “colonizing Mars” and “exploring” and “developing,” for example. These are deeply fraught terms that have traditionally referred to problematic behaviors by imperialists with those that we would call “indigenous” and “people of color” often on the receiving end of violent activities. . .
Decolonization in the Martian context requires asking questions about who is entitled to what land. Can we be trusted to be in balance with Mars if we refuse to be in balance with Earth? Can we be trusted to be equitable in our dealings with each other in a Martian context if the U.S. and Canadian governments continue to attack indigenous sovereignty, violate indigenous lands, and engage in genocidal activities against indigenous people?
I think the answer is no. I think we need to clean up our mess before we start making a new mess somewhere else.
If these folks had been with NASA in the 1960s, we’d have never made it to the moon.