We in the space community can, and must, do better to become part of the solution to the horrific challenges America faces today.
Like everyone, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the pandemic rolled into the mass protests against the senseless murder by a police officer of an unarmed citizen.
The morning after the historic SpaceX Commercial Crew launch, the front page of the New York Times was filled with stories of the pandemic, the protests sweeping the nation, and then one uplifting piece of news about the new commercial era of space exploration. It reminded me of when I was young, reading the same newspaper, and the Apollo launches were side by side with the protests of Civil Rights leaders such as Reverend Ralph Abernathy, protesting the income inequality between black and white communities of 1960s America.
The Civil Rights community and many young Black Americans were strongly opposed to the Apollo space program. Indeed, the Reverend Martin Luther King testified before Congress that:
“Without denying the value of scientific endeavor, there is a striking absurdity in committing billions to reach the moon where no people live, and from which none presently can benefit, while the densely populated slums are allocated minuscule appropriations. With the continuation of these strange values in a few years we can be assured that we will set a man on the moon and with an adequate telescope he will be able to see the slum on earth with their intensified congestion, decay, and turbulence. On what scale of values is this a program of progress?”
We have come far in the space community. We have a lot further to progress. I’ve come to realize our society is very good at short term solutions. Maybe too good. We show our appreciation for health care workers on the pandemic front lines by banging pots and clapping to show our respect for these professionals motivated to serve the community no matter the risk – simply because it’s the right thing to do. People went on to hand-sew masks and space companies quickly used their innovation to produce personal protective equipment and ventilators.
And then, not for the first time, there was the cold-blooded murder by a police officer of an unarmed Black man. The video emerged and the public’s voice began to raise. This was compounded from another incident just a few months earlier, when another Black man was gunned down by a father and son. The video emerged and the voices got louder.
In our industry, it is wonderful we name interplanetary missions for often marginalized members of our American society. It is wonderful that the space community is without a doubt more inclusive than during the Apollo-era. But our industry, our companies, our conferences, our space explorers, are still not reflective of the diversity of America today. We are far from it.
Let us resolve that in this summer of our collective nightmares, to build permanent long-term solutions.
Let’s assure we adhere to the science and facts, and not simply ‘wishful thinking,’ on a host of deeply rooted problems. Let’s promise we will budget for impending dynamic change that will threaten our children and grandchildren, whether it’s the next pandemic or the impact of climate change.
Let’s assure that we seek to resolve the systemic problem that so many in authority feel a license, or feel threatened enough, to harm Black men and women and other marginalized groups. But how do we do this? We must assure diversity in the workplace and in our kids’ school system – in such a manner that it is standard, not the exception, that your neighbors, your friends, your leaders, are people of color, women, or someone with a differing sexual orientation.
We are given a wonderful ‘license’ in our space community to represent not only America but the dreams of so many young people across the globe. We as an industry have to get serious about assuring equality in pay and equality in responsibility. These are the halting first steps that must be taken. In this treacherous summer of 2020, when we are reminded how fragile our way of living is, let us resolve to do more than be horrified.
At Nanoracks we are committed to assuring that the men and women here at our space exploration company reflect, as best we can, the diversity of this country. We also need to involve more of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions to join in our front-line space research and we seek to expand the growing number of wonderful engagement and hiring programs. It is a process, one where we need to welcome open conversations, reflection, and actionable change. I know we have a long way to go. But we must start now.
As explorers, we never leave the Earth behind. Humans are venturing further into the space frontier, and these humans must represent the best of our diverse planet – as we travel off Earth to help Earth.
I’m hopeful for an open conversation among the leaders of our space community, as we all must do better. And when the first woman, and the next man, land on the Moon, and take their telescope and look back at our pale blue dot, what they must see is tangible, real progress in correcting fundamental flaws in our society.