American Spaceflight Has Always Been At Odds With Equality And Justice. How Do We Fix That?

I firmly believe that the manner in which spaceflight technology is seen as a constant universal good needs to be strongly re-examined in light of the actual history of spaceflight in America, multiple crises that’ve been going on, ranging from the pandemic to the systemic racism and fascism in the U.S… I’d like to start this thread to present evidence and arguments from others, as well as to discuss how we can potentially turn spaceflight into a true bastion for freedom, equality, and justice.

An article from WaPo earlier this summer. Archived since it’s usually paywalled:

“As astronauts rocket into space, protesters are beaten in the street — just like before”

History repeats itself:

New York police SUVs plowed into Floyd mourners on Saturday as our new astronauts made their way to the International Space Station, and I got to wondering: If the Mercury Seven astronauts had been black, would their ( pace John Glenn) reckless lads-being-lads behavior have been whitewashed by the right stuff? Not that the moon project was ever the spotless exercise in “freedom and peace” heralded by Kennedy. The Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts was built by a former Nazi, Wernher von Braun, who had previously invented the V-2 (for “vengeance”) missile with which Hitler had hoped to gain domination over the “lesser” races. The NASA center where von Braun achieved his Cold War triumph was in Alabama, the host state of the era’s epic civil rights showdowns. It was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s marches in Birmingham that provoked Kennedy’s other majestic initiative, the segregation-abolishing bill passed after his assassination as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Like the Saturn V, the Falcon 9 rocket that sent men into space last weekend was the creation of an immigrant. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s South African-born founder, has become a flash point in a civil rights crisis as well, this one over the inequities of essentialness laid bare by the novel coronavirus. By defying the county-mandated shutdown of his California Tesla factory, Musk articulated the reigning corporate ethos, picking the word “fascist” to describe local government interference into his freedom to jeopardize his workers’ lives for profit.

Elon Musk is not a role-model, he’s not a genius, he’s not an innovator. He’s the exact kind of selfish, greedy, pathetic Whitey On The Moon that Gil Scott-Heron wrote about.

Another article, from September 30th, Do Black Lives Matter In Outer Space?

As the poem conveys, for many African Americans, the Apollo program did not conjure fantastical images of human technological advancement. The first moon landing could not obscure the painful realities of social suffering that for centuries had gnawed viciously on the African American body and psyche, and resulted in the fever-like conditions of the 1960s civil rights era.

By dislodging U.S. space exploration from the realm of fantasy, Scott-Heron reminds his audience that, to the contrary, the social priorities that fueled the Apollo program and American space conquest—as envisaged by “Whitey”—were deeply implicated in Black socioeconomic dispossession and racial inequality.

Lastly, the artist Kavaeric on Twitter wrote a lengthy Twitter thread on his thoughts. I strongly encourage you read the whole thing. Of note are the parts where Kavaeric discusses how he vented his frustrations, a friend took him aside on Telegram, and told him:


This then led into thinking:



Next is his (very effective, in my opinion) dismantling of the hype and excitement around manned spaceflight, showing it for the nationalist and capitalist shitshow that it is:







I’ve finished presenting links, arguments, and evidence. I’d like to now move on to just one thought/opinion right now, given this post is way too long already.

My first thought is that I’d like to see reformed patent and IP law that ensures that private space companies can’t hold on to their technology eternally and I’d like to see NASA revise its strategy to incorporate tech from those patents and IP into their own rockets, capsules, life-support systems, space-suits, etc. so that the space agency has its own roster of technology that can serve as a public counter to profit-motivated private space corps. Opening up the IPs and patents for the numerous technologies would also let anybody from competing companies to private individuals tinker around and innovate. I swallowed all the pride and shittiness that I spewed out on the BBS these last few months and voted early for Biden because this plan of his is exactly what America needs. That, on top of SpaceX (which had said in the past that they don’t file patents but have more recently), Boeing and more having their IP relinquished, would do a ton of good for ensuring that the tech created from spaceflight winds up benefiting the largest amount of people possible.

What are your thoughts on these issues?

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I recently came up with another idea. The U.S. Federal government could establish a special multi-stakeholder commission made up of workers rights organizations, technology companies, and so forth. This commission could perform research and build out policies on how to ensure greater equality in space when certain plots on the moon or space stations are owned by the private sector.

The solution could be as simple as “No indentured servitude and no major disparities. If you don’t treat all of your workers and your colonists fairly and with dignity, then while you’re out galavanting in space we’ll freeze your assets on Earth and have some nice legal charges waiting for you on your next trip home.”

As well, through various equal-opportunity STEM education programs and initiatives, we could work to bring a more diverse group of people into the field of space and spaceflight technology so that they have a larger say in various processes and a true presence on missions. The face of space in America has been been far too white and far too male for far too long, and that needs to change.