Problematic Assumptions about Space Exploration
Another Age of Space Exploration and the Dangerous Assumptions of Exploration that Need to be Addressed First
Trump’s administration is bringing about a reinvigoration in American excitement about space exploration. For example, last week, he signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act and gave the “go-ahead” for more NASA funding and plans for an exploration of Mars, which will supposedly be reached by 2033. It seems, in light of this news, that we are heading towards the second time we are all excited about space, and competing with other nations, etc.
However, there is one major problem with the assumption of exploring space, dating back to the beginning of the excitement about space in the 1960’s. Kennedy described space as “the furthest outpost on the new frontier,” using the well-known metaphor of space as a “frontier” that we must go and follow and conquer. This “frontier” metaphor has been the opposite of successful-despite making it to the moon and exploring a few other things in space, we haven’t actually started a civilization on another planet, like the idea of the “frontier” suggests, as it relates to the movement out West in the early days of America.
In addition, the metaphor is nationalistic and imperialistic in itself, similar to the growing sentiments in 19th century Europe of expansion and imperialism. It pits space as an activity between “us” and “them,” and it even ignores how settler colonialism in America worked out for Natives (not good!). In addition, it has led to things like visions of asteroid mining and extracting resources, like we did with gold in California. If space is just going to be seen as a new source for human sustenance, that should be disconcerting for climate scientists, as it just leads back to the same patterns of overconsumption that are destructive to our current planet. Finally, it ignores every single human struggle that has emerged from expansion and conquest, not taking into account disease, war, and environmental destruction. Who knows what infectious organisms are in space that are harmful to humans?
Anyway, if we are going to prepare for space, rethinking the metaphor of space as a “frontier” would be a good place to start, and provides an unlimiting framework for space as not just an empty abyss, but as an actual place that has real potential for the human race to start over, and imagines a world where current struggles don’t exist anymore. Because on the path that we are headed, we are on a collision course with the same exact ills that ravage through societies today and will ultimately lead to extinction.
I have nothing against space exploration, but there are parameters that need to be re-examined. Check out the article about the frontier metaphor below-it is amazing!
Until next week,
This Week on Earth
Info about the “frontier” metaphor: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2017/03/why_we_need_to_stop_talking_about_space_as_a_frontier.html