Commentary: Woke NASA scientists think ‘exploration’ is ‘problematic’, oppose Mars missions

Caleb Howe

Adler astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz is the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, not to mention a guest star (as herself) on National Geographic’s Mars TV series. Cosmologist Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is with Department of Physics at the University of Washington, and fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. And together they are, counter-intuitively, not so keen on the exploration or colonization of Mars.

In fact, the very word “exploration” is inherently “problematic”, they would have us believe, as detailed in a panel discussion published at Gizmodo last week. It was highlighted Sunday by Powerline, with the observation that “if these folks had been with NASA in the 1960s, we’d have never made it to the moon.” That may seem like a snarky insult on the part of Powerline, but in fact it’s precisely the point that the scientists made.

Some here may remember past characterizations of science as being bold, fearless, and dedicated to the truth however inconvenient it may be. But those ideas about science haven’t been uttered in hours, not since the early days of this morning when progressives were angry with Rick Santorum’s views on whether scientists allow bias and grant money to influence their interpretation of facts.

But we must live in the present, which is to say, this moment of writing and reading about an article from earlier today referencing a transcript published last week about a panel discussion that took place previously. Let’s live in the now.

And in this, not only is science neither dispassionate nor bold, it is downright averse to its own precepts. Because they are “problematic” you see.

For background, the topic at hand is “Decolonizing Mars”, a concept and conference organized by Walkowicz and which both were part of, which in a quick layperson’s summary was dedicated to thinking about all the reasons not to explore or discover our solar system, and how doing so hurts everone’s feelings because of Christopher Columbus. Or something.

Here are the excerpts from the Gizmodo interview (cleverly filed under “Greed”). It’s not the discussion at the event itself, but rather the panelists speaking to Gizmodo about the event and its concepts.

On the question of what interested Walkowicz in the topic: Indigenous Martian’s rights.

There are a variety of scientific reasons why human presence might make certain investigations easier on Mars. But I’m disturbed by the way people talk about going to Mars as if the planet is ours… When we talk about terraforming, that’s a planetary-scale strip mining operation. If you transform a planetary environment, even if you think you know how to do it, that represents a total alteration of the chemistry and physics of the planet, which means you may erase the history of life that might be there.

It’s been troubling to me to hear people erasing what’s going on here on our own planet both from an environmental standpoint and an indigenous rights standpoint when they talk about going to other planets.

On the question of … well this didn’t really answer the question asked, so here’s an orphaned excerpt: Thinking about how we talk about who is in a conversation about who will go on missions to space if we even should do that (see above).

There’s a matter of inclusion—space exploration is something that we all take part in. That’s true of public missions and not private companies. Their aims are often different from what people think about. We have to think about the way we talk about who goes to space—who’s included in the conversation in who’s not. One of the fundamental things to do is just include [those normally left out of these discussions] in the conversation in a real way, such that they’re actually listened to.

On what ‘Decolonizing” means to Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: Exploring and develping are bad words.

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.

In this discussion of decolonizing and reframing and opposing “exploration” and “development” conceptually, Prescod-Weinstein doesn’t go to the natural matching word usage of “un-development” or even to the antonyms. (The antonym of “Exploration” and “discovery” being “ignorance”.)

On the topics of the advancement of science and technological progress, including whether exploring Mars is wrong: Science is evil and kills things.

I also want us to consider that as we interact with Mars, we may be precluding certain futures. Perhaps life hasn’t developed there yet. Perhaps life may develop in future. Will our interactions with Mars preclude that possibility? Do we have the right to make that choice for the ecosystem? Europeans and non-Indigenous, non-Black Americans have traditionally thought they could do whatever they wanted in an environment that is new to them. Thinking about Mars is a chance to think carefully about where this attitude has gotten us. So far, technological “advancement” has brought us many things, including potentially catastrophic global warming. Global warming is a technological development.

That’s a NASA scientist, asking “what have the Romans ever done for us?”

On the topic of whether humans can or should be “trusted” with exploring and populating the universe: No.

I think the answer is no. I think we need to clean up our mess before we start making a new mess somewhere else. I

Those are just the opening questions. The rest of the article remains true to the form. It’s remarkable, honestly. On the scale of discoveries you have to hand it to Powerline’s Stephen Hayward for uncovering this undiscovered country of intersectionality.

Science today, like every other aspect of modern life in America, and especially those aspects touched by millennials, is obliged first not to truth or bravery, or problematic concepts like discovery, but instead foremost and primarily to the social justice framework.

When Santorum said Sunday that climate researchers are beholden to their grant funding, the objection was not merely or even mostly that he was wrong, or that the truth is so certain it surpasses petty concerns. The objection was functionally an expression of outrage at the indignity of alleging bias or base motivation on the part of scientists, whom we hold pure and without flaw accofding to the current whims of societal favor.

Yet it is beyond question and demonstrated here that scientists become bound by their philosophies, and to their political views, in our modern cultural hybrid of science and grievance.

Thomas Aquinas said that “the study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is.” Modern woke philosophy holds oppositely that we must first know what people have thought, and what people think about what people thought, before we can know what truth is or allow it to be truth.

In science, and at NASA, that philosophical view supercedes the most basic function of scientific inquiry. To put it another way, the study of science and our universe is not that we may know what the truth of things is, but whether the truth of things is acceptable.

Or to put it even another way, I’ll stick with Elon Musk’s death wish and ill-advised tweeting, thanks.