Why is it important to send an American citizen into space

Outer space has been in the headlines for the past few months. The James Webb Space Telescope continues to amaze astronomers and audiences alike with unparalleled images of distant galaxies, star nurseries, Neptune’s rings and more.

Two weeks ago, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) altered an asteroid’s path by colliding with a spacecraft, a feat that could, in theory, help humanity avoid the fate of the dinosaurs. Even the three-time-delayed launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 spacecraft, which will eventually carry a crew to the Moon, keeps making news on the front page.

However, these other cosmic achievements overshadowed another cosmic achievement: On October 5, Nicole Mann, a registered member of the Wailaki tribe, became the first Aboriginal woman to go into space.

Space exploration has always been marked by priorities: the first person or nation in space, on the Moon, and one day on Mars. There are countless practical and symbolic reasons for representation to be important in space, just as it does elsewhere, particularly for indigenous peoples.

Rich white men have long dominated the agencies, organizations, and companies that drive space programs and interests. John Glenn testified before a congressional subcommittee that women should not participate in NASA’s astronaut program. The James Webb Space Telescope’s naming generated a lot of controversy because of Webb’s involvement in Lavender Scare, when the US government tried to identify and get rid of any employees who weren’t clearly heterosexual. The first female-free spaceflight took place just three years ago, and only after a disaster that included a shortage of spacesuits of the right size for non-male crew members.

Diversity and representation in NASA’s astronaut classes, as well as in other astronaut programs around the world, are slowly improving. But not fast enough.

The presence of crews of overwhelmingly white men – and space tourists – indicates a false homogeneity on Earth and perpetuates destructive power dynamics. Private space companies run by wealthy white men suggest that space is only accessible to certain people if they only “work and save.”

And the dominance of white and rich people in space projects paves the way for global capitalism. The “discoverers” and “frontier” mentality prioritizes exploration, not for knowledge or even species survival, but instead, for power. but spaceAnd the Like land, it is not a commodity and should not be treated as such.

Indigenous peoples have already lost a lot on Earth, and we need to prevent this from happening in space as well. The problematic discourse about “obvious destiny,” pushing space “the limits” or “colonizing” celestial bodies perpetuate those ideologies and behaviors. It is impossible to say how much the Native Americans lost; But what is entirely possible is to disrupt these patterns before they reach the stars.

Most of us don’t think much of the universe until we catch a glimpse of the occasional eclipse or meteor. However, this is not the case for indigenous communities, whose connection to the universe is spiritual, cultural, and practical. These societies use the stars to navigate and celebrate holidays dictated by the positions of the planets and incorporate constellations into religious and spiritual practices. Space X currently has more than 2,300 Starlink satellites orbiting the Earth (with about 30,000 more on deck), disrupting terrestrial astronomy and creating a chasm between Aboriginal communities and the natural elements that have guided their customs for centuries.

The aboriginal communities also had to fight to hold the land that offered superior access to the sky. The controversy over the planned thirty-meter telescope on Mount Maunaquia in Hawaii is one recent example. Maunakea, an inactive volcano with a sacred summit used for prayer, actually accommodates 13 independent observatories, each committed to sustainability and stewardship. The 30-meter telescope would be much larger than the current observatories, and most problematic, his plans did not include local Aboriginal communities or consider the impact of its construction on them.

Fortunately, the National Science Foundation is evaluating the environmental impacts of building the telescope, and the Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that the foundation find an alternative site that will not have such negative impacts on the lives of the indigenous population.

This July 14, 2019 image shows a telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest mountain.  (Caleb Jones/AFP)
This July 14, 2019 image shows a telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest mountain. (Caleb Jones/AFP)

However, the clear meaning is that Native American land is ready to be stolen, particularly in the name of “progress.” Powerful white people have yet to decide which indigenous beliefs, values, practices, and possessions they must respect and which must be demolished for their own use.

A group of astronomers concerned with the effects of such developments suggests treating space as a “heritable global commons that contains the legacy and future of humanity’s scientific and cultural practices.” This legacy, as well as the present and the future, must be within the reach of all people. From a corporate perspective, we are all contributors and stakeholders in the sky and in space, and this model should guide decisions about who does what in space, why and at what cost to whom.

In this context, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the first Native American woman in space. Mann, the commander of the CREW-5 mission, is the second Native American in space (20 years ago, John Harrington of the Chickasaw Nation became the first). She will live on the International Space Station for up to six months, during which she and other astronauts will conduct research on the effects of microgravity on the human body and other processes necessary for extraterrestrial life.

This mission paves the way for Artemis, which aims to return astronauts to the Moon and eventually to Mars. One of the goals of the Artemis mission is to put the first female and first people of color on the moon—about 50 years after Neil Armstrong set foot there. Whoever NASA chooses, like Mann, will be an inspiration for generations, and a reminder that cycles can be broken. When we think about the future, we can choose not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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