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Astrofeminism
JAstrofeminism offers a different perspective for looking at spaceflight through different priorities and different participants.

Astrofeminism as a theory of change: save our planet, not escape from it


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Do you have a $55 million slush fund for a joyride up to the International Space Station (ISS)? Does a settler’s ticket to Mars include a fridge stocked with groceries and someone to feed the dog and help with homework for my family here on Earth? The macho space invasion is seriously lacking a critical assessment and careful consideration of implications. As in, what are some of the costs? Not the price but the cost.

Will we all be better off because of space race 2.0? Or is it more likely that the wealth gap will grow even wider and our future Earth reality will look more like something out of Elysium than Eden?

Some questions to chew on: Without a modern global space code in place, should ad hoc private sector space expansion continue at this “Mars or bust” pace? Why isn’t there more talk about the security concerns that accompany space development? The same mindset that made a mess of Earth is being applied to space. Is it likely that the very issues space cowboys are hoping to escape(here on Earth will be replicated rather than avoided? Does this mean that those left behind will be forced to clean up two catastrophes, instead of just one? If taxpayer money helps subsidize the space cowboys, how come we don’t get more of a say in what’s happening? Or, at least a discounted ticket to cross the Kármán Line and a souvenir cowboy hat.

The space cowboys are competing, and competition is a good thing. Heck, without competition who knows when we would’ve been inspired enough to race to the Moon. With that, there are some important caveats to consider: private sector competition is a completely different animal than competition between nations. Instead of kids at home chanting “USA” in front of the television (like, back in 1969), in 2021, the founders of a handful of American-based space companies are fighting it out. What happened to team USA? And where is team Earth in all this?

Now, it’s like people are picking their favorite member of a boy band: “I’m on team Blue Origin because it may come with a discount at Whole Foods in the future and I’m addicted to their vegan green goddess smoothies.” “Well, I’m on team SpaceX only because I am obsessed with Grimes.”[1] “Team Virgin rules because Branson is still totally dreamy.” Team NASA united Americans. This is not that.

It was President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, who was one of the key visionaries to establish a peace treaty for space in 1967. One core principle of the Outer Space Treaty (OST) is that space exploration should be for the benefit of all. That is not what is happening now. Why have the internationalist ideals of the OST been overshadowed by the mantra “progress, no matter the cost”? What would LBJ have to say about the private sector rodeo in the stars?

Let’s take into consideration both the space cowboys’ competing agendas and the projection of Earth’s hard-powered priorities to the stars. Consider the global commons and orbital debris mitigation situation (it’s your trash not mine), finite and lucrative GEO slots reserved faster than a VIP booth at Buddha Bar in the ’90s, LEO and MEO clogged with satellites that interfere with astronomers’ ability to study the stars, the ISS putting through orbit like a Santa Monica rent-controlled apartment in need of repair, asteroid mining revealing the possibility of a platinum rush and wealth in the Trillions with a capital “T” and the like. Considering all that, who exactly is most likely to prosper? Will we all be better off because of space race 2.0? Or is it more likely that the wealth gap will grow even wider and our future Earth reality will look more like something out of Elysium than Eden?

Space culture was conceived of, prioritized by, founded, and funded by men. I believe that it’s men who must truly desire to enact change within the sector if there is to be real change.

How about this: if we’re going to disregard the peaceful provisions and equality for all of humanity provision of the OST, why not simplify and ignore the Antarctic Treaty? As you know, the OST is based upon the Antarctic Treaty. Antarctica is closer than Mars and seems as good a place as any to settle and destroy. Plus, with global warming, soon we can all swim through the Drake Passage and crash the billionaire’s ice bar party on Artigas Base, Antarctica. It’s not an easy swim, but more doable than hitching a ride through the solar system to pop into a soirée on the Red Planet.

It’s outlandish and illegal to swim the Drake and show up uninvited and in search of an ice bar party in Antarctica. That’s obvious. Then why is it okay to do the same on Mars? (Taking out the hipsters at the ice bar and settling Mars like Pauly Shore in Biodome is still not cool.) Adam Mann said it best with, “Is Mars Ours?”

Theory of Change (ToC) is a way to plan for change. How? First: define long-term goals and map backwards to determine preconditions. Considering a shift in the way we interact with space is a substantial, long-term goal. So large, in fact, that just bringing it up is to address a lot of unknowns.

The first unknown is this: if we are using the same thinking that created the way we interact, prioritize, and view space, how do we uncover new ways of thinking? The answer is easy: uncover bias. How? Through encouraging ideas from different perspectives. Half the population would work but it’s not as easy “as add woman and stir.” Simply because you put a woman in a position of power does not mean that female-centric priorities are being carried out.

To back it up a bit: space culture was conceived of, prioritized by, founded, and funded by men.[2] I believe that it’s men who must truly desire to enact change within the sector if there is to be real change. The idea of female power is being used primarily as a marketing tool to post on social media and sell t-shirts boasting diversity. That needs to change. Female power must be desired and encouraged by space company founders themselves. I don’t mean appointing a woman the CEO of a male-founded space company. We have established that women are superb at carrying out man’s vision. After all, we’ve been making your dreams reality for a long time.

We need to work towards closing the gap between those who understand how reliant we are on space-based assets and those who don’t.

What I am proposing is a completely different approach to space. Where to begin? Begin at the beginning. Why aren’t there more female-founded space companies? I have a considerable amount of data-driven research to share but you’d have to want to hear it for it to be of any value. Token equality efforts don’t work because they’re just that.

Let’s consider Astrofeminism as a Theory of Change (ToC). Love them or hate them, initiating a dialogue is a good thing for the space community at large. Here are three proposed initiatives to get us started:

Increase space awareness.

  • Beyond stars and planets, we need to work towards closing the gap between those who understand how reliant we are on space-based assets and those who don’t.
  • The non-space people I’ve talked with over the years are surprised they didn’t know how critical space is to their everyday lives. Space people get it, but there are a lot of folks out there who don’t. Space education beyond fourth grade Styrofoam planet projects is wholly necessary.

Earth first.

  • Increase research and development of energy-tech and space solutions to address climate.
  • We can work towards the sci-fi space fantasies after we resolve climate here on Earth.

Increase the number of female and minority founded space companies.

  • A new perspective is crucial to secure potential benefits.
  • Barriers to entry within the space sector must be addressed to expand participation.
  • New solutions can only reveal themselves if provided an opportunity to do so.

The success or failure of efforts to address climate carries major implications. With more hot days and increased storms, droughts, fires, malaria, heatstroke, rising sea levels and food costs, things are likely to get much worse for most of us, but especially for the poorest one billion people on our planet. The good news is that things can change. One solution already exists. Power lies within the untapped resource of women’s equal participation.

Footnotes

  1. I love Grimes. She is the Queen of Middle Earth and all planets in-between. And, just for the record I’m on team Barbarella.
  2. Of the 60 global organizations I analyzed between 2018 and 2021, not one was founded by a woman (Martin, Layla. Astrofeminism. Dataset #3. Harvard University. 2021).

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