Are Women Allowed on the Moon?
What if they’re Black? And Disabled? Or Deaf?
The theme for Starship Congress 2017 is Space is for Everybody (What does the Moon mean to Interstellar?).
Starship Congress is the biennial conference-style summit staged by think tank Icarus Interstellar. It is where our broad membership convenes with varied scientists, artists, researchers and advocates to discuss interstellar space exploration.
As the strategic director of Starship Congress, over the past six months I have thought a great deal about this theme and its gently-asked-yet-curious collateral question about the Moon.
Now, here in the middle of our third Kickstarter campaign for our third Starship Congress, I realized the answer.
“What does the Moon mean to Interstellar?” you ask. Simple. It’s school.
It’s actual humanity-in-space school for space explorers. The Moon is humankind’s sandbox for space exploration. It’s where we can get space exploration wrong and do over. It’s where we can get space exploration right and go on.
But just what does it mean, we can get space exploration wrong? Point of information, this image holds the answer:
See it? Trust that many readers automatically do:
Every one of the twelve people pictured are 1) men who are 2) white, 3) abled, 4)(presumed) straight, and 5) American. The fact is there are a cool dozen Apollo program moonwalkers and these twelve figures represent all of humanity who have been on the Moon.
It’s really okay that the first person to walk on the Moon was a man and that he was white. It is tolerable but definitely less okay that the second person was also male and white. It wrong that the next ten people were all also men who are white.
Yet it actually gets even more awkward. On the Apollo lunar program missions, two astronauts went down to the Moon on a lunar lander while one astronaut remained aboard the orbiting space capsule. But lunar landings made up only six of twelve Apollo missions.
Here pictured are all thirty-six Apollo program astronauts:
Imagine if I showed this group of astronauts to a typical class of 5th or 6th graders in America. Do you understand what the underlying message is of such an comprehensive image?
The underlying message is that unless you are male and white you cannot be an astronaut. Amplification: Only men who are white can go to the Moon.
And believe me it is a message kids realize even if (when) grown-ups do not.
As an space educator, if I showed these images, or any of the countless like it, to a typical grade school class in America to inspire kids to consider pursuing careers in space and astronautics, I would stand to lose approximately 75% of the students.
Yet people still wonder what could have been done to prevent the Apollo program from stalling. Project Apollo was planned to have 20 missions yet was shut down at 17. Imagine if it had been announced we were sending a woman to the Moon. Or a person who was black. Yes, it would have been Apollo Eighteen–meaning there had been a previous seventeen missions with no women and no people of color–but then there would certainly have been an Apollo 18, 19, and 20.
Because: People who are women
…and people of color
…and people with disability
…and people who are LGBTQ
…and people who are economically disadvantaged
…and people who are not Americans have a vested interest in their (our) own success. Specifically, because people who are male and white and abled and straight and wealthy and American historically have not.
As in all other fields and pursuits, the same is just as true for space.
In pursuing the Moon, initially we did it wrong. The good news is that’s ok. The Moon is supposed to be where we get it wrong–so we can fix it and then get it right. The Moon is where we try out humanity off earth before taking it further off–to another planet much less another another solar system–as representatives of our planet, our species, and our worth.
In order to make space exploration further than the Moon even remotely feasible on any significant scale we must all have a place in the space future.
So when it comes to the Moon the time has come for a “do over”. The Moon and all of space is forgiving in this regard and awaits our return.
Fifty years have passed since human beings went to the Moon. Even then we knew what we did wrong. Fifty years ago we sent “men to the Moon”. This time let’s get it right and send people.
Starship Congress 2017
August 7–9, in Monterey, CA, convenes preeminent figures in space, arts, research and science to work on the most fantastic of space future aspirations–to BUILD A STARSHIP.
Mike Mongo is author of The Astronaut Instruction Manual. He is co-founder of Starship Congress, vice-president of Icarus Interstellar, and At-Large Chair of Students for Exploration of Space (SEDS). Mr Mongo has learned from students he teaches how we can solve every challenge we face on earth today–energy, health, sustainability, diversity, inclusion, even the illusion of scarcity–by solving for space.