Articles

Becoming Interplanetary


>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Thank you, everyone, so much for being here today. I have some brief opening
remarks before we get to our first wonderful panel. I wanted to begin with a
territorial acknowledgment, which I will read from because
I cannot memorize anything. We acknowledge the
Piscataway and Pamunke peoples, whose traditional and unseeded
territory we’re gathered upon today. Gathering here, we pay
respect to the elders, both past and present. We acknowledge the grave
harm that colonialism brought to these lands and
in particular, the erasure of both indigenous
and African identities under not only slavery
but racist laws that segregated all peoples into the binary classification
of white and black. We honor those who have
lived and do live now at the intersections of
identity and experience which we will be
exploring today. We also honor and thank
Piscataway Indian leader, Chief Turkey Tayac,
whose leadership in the indigenous
social justice movement of the 20th century
played a pivotal role in reclaiming indigenous
identity not only here but in communities aligned with
the American Indian Movement for self-determination
around the world. Thank you again, Dan
[assumed spelling], for such a nice introduction. It has been just an incredible
year to spend in what, I hope you’ll agree,
is an incredible space, in addition to the wonderful
reading and the conversations that I’ve been able to have
and events that I’ve been able to organize and participate in. One of my very favorite things about being here is just
wondering around the building which I hope you’ll take
the opportunity to do if you have time today. My work here is focused
on, as Dan mentioned, the ethics of Mars exploration,
specifically the ways in which our plans
for space intersect with our histories
here on earth. And in particular, the way in which we employ historical
narratives and use those to discuss space has a
way of reshaping the way that we interpret what
happened here on our own planet. And so these affect not only
our understanding of the past but of the present
and the things that we might do in the future. And so I’ve been spending time
here digging into the stories, we tell about why we go to
space and who we conceive of being an explorer,
and also, of course, the rapidly changing
policy landscape that is now shaping what
we will do in the future. So you heard a little bit about the chair’s
position here from Dan. I wanted to remark also that Barry Blumberg was not
himself an astrobiologist despite having been
the first head of the NASA Astrobiology
Institute. His specialty was actually in
infectious disease and he– I think it’s interesting that he
was the person who felt it was so important for there
to be this dialogue between the sciences
because he– between the sciences
and the humanities because he himself was a
person who was just interested in a wide variety of things. He won the Nobel Prize actually
for identifying hepatitis B. And so when I– some of their
reading that I got to do about him, he was allotted as
having prevented more cases of cancer than anyone
in history. So if anyone is looking
for something to put in their memorial, no pressure. But he was, it sounds
like, an incredible guy. And so it’s been a real
honor to spend time in such a unique position where
one has the opportunity to deal with both issues in
the humanity and– in the humanities and in science
as well because very few places or positions like
this exist, I think. So as I mentioned, one of the things I’ve really
enjoyed doing is wandering around the library aside from
our many incredible collections. We also have a wonderful
collection of Ethernet cables that are retrofitted
in the basement. But the thing that I
specifically wanted to touch on– is that somebody’s
alarm, I think, is going off. So, one of the things that I
happen to cross while walking around here was Thomas
Jefferson’s Library and just down across the way there. And, what was most
striking to me about it was not
necessarily books themselves but actually the exploration of
the organization that he is– which was based on
Francis Bacon’s method of organizing libraries into
memory, reason and imagine. And so, Bacon thought of this
as being memory being history, reason being philosophy and imagination being
specifically poetry. But I immediately saw how these
three categories could really shape the way that I was
thinking about this sort of multifaceted exploration
of Mars and the ethics surrounding
our going there of human beings actually
living beyond Earth. So today, we’ll dive into
memory from the standpoint of these historical narratives
that I mentioned earlier and how they reshape– how we
think about our own history. And we’ll also talk
about reason. So not just philosophy, as
Bacon [inaudible], but also some of the newer things that
we’ve discovered about Mars and its own history and
also the policy landscape that we’re now entering
into in space. And, we’ll end also
with imagination talking about futurisms from
perspectives that are often not centered in the conversation
about our future. And I hope that you’ll stay
the entire day if you can. I think it will be really fun. We’ll also have a number
of wonderful performances that we’ll speak to each one of
the panels that we have here. So, thank you all
so much for coming and thank you tremendously
to all of the panelists who are here today and who
have taken the time to travel and be part of this event. So without further ado, we’ll
move on to our first panel. So, the panels today are divided
into three beats, each augmented by a performance as
I mentioned before. And this first panel is
called the Right Stuff. So the overview for this
was that Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff”,
was really seminal in creating this archetype of
this sort of fighter pilot, space cowboy astronaut. And it really cemented that idea of like all astronauts being
Chuck Yeager in popular culture. And, in many ways, it also
drew on frontier themes that have been used
to talk about space. And so, in this first
panel, we’ll be talking about how these narratives of space exploration
influence our modern ideas about who can explore space. And what it means to really
have the right stuff and how that meeting might evolve
and how we could change it. So without further ado, I
will introduce our panelists. Our first panelist today
is Brenda J. Child. Brenda is Northrop professor
and chair of the Department of American Studies at
University of Minnesota, and former chair
of the Department of American Indian Studies. She is the author
of several books in American Indian history, including “Boarding
School Seasons: American Indian Families,
1900-1940”, which won the North
American Indian Prose Award, “Holding Our Worlds Together:
Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community”, “Indian Subjects:
Hemispheric Perspectives on the History of
Indigenous Education”. Her 2014 book, “My
Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks: Ojibwe Family Life and
Labor on the Reservation”, won the American Indian
Book Award and Best Book in the Midwestern History Award. She’s a member of the Board of
Trustees of the National Museum at the American
Indian-Smithsonian and past president of
the Native American and Indigenous Studies
Association. Child was born on the Red
Lake Ojibwe Reservation in northern Minnesota
where she’s a member of a committee writing
a new constitution for the 12,000 member nation. Please welcome Brenda Child. [ Applause ] Our next panelist is Brian Nord. Brian Nord’s current research is
in teaching intelligent machines to search for clues of the
universe’s origin and destiny. In particular, he uses
artificial intelligence to study the cosmos, including
dark energy, dark matter, and the early universe. Nord also communicates with
the public regarding science, science policy, diversity,
and inclusion. He trains scientists in
public communication, advocates for science
funding and works with high school
students in the classroom and in research environments. Nord is a visiting
research assistant professor in the Department of
Astronomy and Astrophysics and a senior member
of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, KICP,
at the University of Chicago. He leads a team of
researchers who apply AI to questions in cosmology. Nord is co-leader of education
and public engagement at KICP, where he organizes a
year-long institute that provides opportunities for
high school students to innovate in hands-on physics experiences
outside the classroom. Nord is also the co-creator
of ThisIsBlackLight.com, an online curriculum to teach
the black experience in America. Please welcome Brian Nord. [ Applause ] Our next panelist is
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. She’s a postdoctoral research
associate in theoretical physics at the University of Washington,
Seattle, and lead axion wrangler and social media team member for the NASA STROBE-X
Probe Concept Study. In 2019, she will be an
assistant professor of physics at the University
of New Hampshire. Her driving impulse is
to understand the origin of spacetime and the
particles that populate it, as well as how everything
got to be the way it is. Recognized as one of 15 Black
Women Who Are Paving the Way in STEM and Breaking
Barriers by Essence Magazine. Prescod-Weinstein studies
particle astrophysics and cosmology. And her research spans from
large scale cosmic acceleration to the very small
dark matter particles. She also has a strong interest
in feminist philosophies of science and science,
technology and society– excuse me, science
technology and society studies. And she was the recipient of the 2017 LGBT+ Plus
Physicists Acknowledgement of Excellence Award. Her work was featured in
Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Nylon and the African-American
Intellectual History Society. Please welcome Chanda
Prescod-Weinstein. [ Applause ] Our next panelist
is Ashley Shew. Ashley Shew is assistant
professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and
Society at Virginia Tech, and works in philosophy of
technology at its intersection with disability studies, emerging technology,
and animal studies. She is the author of
“Animal Constructions and Technological Knowledge”
and co-editor of “Spaces for the Future: A Companion to
the Philosophy of Technology”. Shew is a recent awardee of a National Science Foundation
CAREER Grant, running from 2018 to 2023, to study
narratives about technology from the disability community
that often stand in contrast to dominant media and engineering narratives
about disability. Please welcome Ashley Shew. [ Applause ] So each of the panels will
have a slightly different panel format. And for this morning, our
panelists have elected to give an opening statement. So we’ll just begin from
left to right with Dr. Child.>>Brenda J. Child: Great. Thank you. Is this on? Can you hear? OK. Great. So I spend most of my
time, my scholarly life, thinking about American Indian
lives in the early 20th century. And so when Lucianne
first invited me, I thought she must have
the wrong person in mind as someone who’s trained
in American Indian history. But I really appreciate
being invited in for the work that you’re doing and how
broadly you’re thinking about interdisciplinarity. It’s really exciting to be
part of this conversation and to read the work of
these, to me, young scholars and the work that they’re doing. It’s very exciting. American Indians often
use the word survival to describe the last 500 years
of European settler colonialism. In fact, just earlier this week,
I was reading a dissertation by a young scholar from
Canada who went a step further and used the term “surthivance”,
and I thought, well, that’s an interesting idea. As survivors, many of
us are thriving today and that’s really
exciting to see especially from the vantage point
of the university, the things that are going
on in Indian country today and with our students. Of course, not all of us are
thriving but it’s exciting to be part of some of the
work that’s taking place in Indian country today. As indigenous people, I
just want to say thinking about that term surthrivance, we
want to be around in the future and we, of course, have
been in this country and in North America and the
Americas for a very long time. So perhaps in the future, we
would like to travel to Mars. I’ll leave that open. That sounds like sort
of an exciting thing. Of course, this conversation
and the ideas that Lucianne has presented
made me think about how, as American Indian people,
we were very big players in the explorations that
took place 500 years ago. So why not participate in interplanetary
exploration as well. And I guess it got me
thinking just a little bit about what indigenous people
have to offer in thinking about interplanetary
exploration. Of course, as I mentioned,
we helped out a lot in the settlement of North and
South America, teaching settlers to do things famously like grow
corn and learn how to survive in this new environment. So we have that experience
to offer. Perhaps less well known or maybe
we don’t think of this as often because of the way that
American Indian people settle– have settled in more
recent centuries. And so, since the reservation
era, people tend to think about American Indians
as living within a kind of geographically bounded
space, but that’s not the way that we’ve always lived. We were, in fact, big settlers. We moved around through
the Americas. I’m from the Great Lakes from
Minnesota and in our part of the world, we traveled
by canoe and we know from new scholarship that’s
taking place in the Pacific that indigenous Hawaiians
and people from the Pacific were
amazing travelers. And in fact, we have a new
scholar who’s joined us at the University of
Minnesota who is teaching a– he’s from Guam and knows a lot about Pacific traditions
of canoeing. And he’s teaching a class
on comparative canoes at the University of Minnesota. And actually has a double-hulled
canoe that he stores in the University Boathouse. So, native people have been
travelers for quite a long time and we have had, of course, some famous native people
who’ve been travelers. You probably know thinking
about this part of the world that Pocahontas traveled from
the Chesapeake to London. She’s probably one of the most
famous of native travelers. And there’s– If you
head over to the NMAI and you see the Americans
exhibit, there is a large story about Pocahontas and
how she’s kind of played into American history and
even American imaginings of native people. There’s another famous traveler
that I often think about, a man named Black Elk, who was
a Lakota who traveled to Europe to perform in the
Wild West shows and this was a fairly
common experience. I have a friend who’s
just written a book about indigenous London,
about the early Inuit and other travelers
from the Americas who came sometimes
involuntarily, sometimes at their own
will to parts of Europe. At the University of Minnesota,
I feel really fortunate because I have a– you know, I
always have wonderful colleagues to rely on and I just
want to mention the work of David Chang who’s
written a recent book about Native American– or Native Hawaiian
global geographies. And what he has asked
us to do is to kind of shift the paradigm, and
he has a couple of questions that I’m just going to
kind of post to you. So he says in his new
book, what if we were to understand indigenous
people as active agents of global exploration rather
than the passive objects of that exploration,
which is I think what most of us have learned
in studying American or European or world history. So he also says, what
if instead of conceiving of global exploration as an
activity just of European men and we know the names, right,
even if we’re not experts, Columbus, Magellan, Cook. We thought of it
instead as an activity of the people they discovered. And this is the shift
that he tries to make. And so, Chang also says, what
could such a new perspective on the project of
global exploration reveal about the meaning of
geographical understanding and its place and
struggles overpower in the context of colonialism. So, I highly recommend his book. When I read a book
like this that is full of provocative ideas and
also beautifully written, I’m always really jealous. So I wish I could say
these were all my ideas, but I want to leave you
with some of those points that he makes and highly
recommend his new book which is called, “The World
and All the Things upon It.”>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Thank you.>>Brian Nord: Good morning. Thank you to Lucianne and the
Kluge Center for having us and having this discussion. And it’s a privilege
to be sitting here with you folks to
talk about this. The idea of continuing
to go out there that– as if it’s a necessity,
as if it’s our– as if it’s our destiny
is a clear question. I used to be on the side
of, oh, we have to go because it’s what’s next. And in the last decade, that whole perspective
has been changing for me. And, in the last couple of
years as I began to work on the intersection of
artificial intelligence and astrophysics, it has also
provided a new lens to think about what work and what work
means to us an individuals and what work means to society. If we are going to go out there,
if we’re going to go further, it is– very likely, it is
going to be highly automated. It is very likely that software and advanced algorithms are
going to be a key part of that. And if we think about
the huge complex machines that drive our society,
governments, corporations, those were already sort of like
advanced algorithms, in a way. They’re these complex things
that we can’t interpret that we don’t know
how they work. And they have commodified
human beings. That is how those
systems have survived. And so when we accelerate
that machinery with artificial intelligence,
what will that mean for work as we’re in space,
what will that mean for how human bodies are
continued to be treated? So I think if we are going to–
if we’re going to consider how– if we’re going to think
carefully about how we’re going to get out there, if we’re
going to refocus who we center, we need to ask how
we’ve been doing it here and if we’re ready
for that change. And if we’re ready for– if
we’re ready to say we’re going to out there and try to be
something different out there, what makes us think we can
do that if we weren’t ready to be something different here. I think we’re here
right now on Earth with these new technologies,
we’re in an inflection point. And, we have a decision to
make about whether we are going to continue to allow
power to accumulate through these technologies or
if we’re going to find a way to shift that power to folks
who haven’t had it before. So that’s one lens through
which I view this challenge. As– With my role in
University of Chicago as Lucianne mentioned,
I’m the faculty leader for the Space Explorers Program. This is a method– This is
a thing that’s being going on for 25 years. I recently joined it. And we’re trying to
shift it in a way to prepare a new generation of
thinkers and feelers and humans for approaching work and
research in a different way. So the nuts and bolts
of this program are that we have essentially
30 students per year, they’re from– they’re
in high school. And, right this year, it’s coming out their
rising sophomores. And we engage with them in– they’re in labs inside
the University of Chicago, but it’s meant to be a
non-classroom environment so that they can more experience
science as an everyday thing. So they can more experience
science and technologies and build a habit like what many of my colleagues are
researchers and scholars there. So there’s a habit of thinking, at least in our current
academic context. And so we want to develop– those students to develop those
skills so that they’re ready for the next set of
challenges which– it’s not about memorizing
things, it’s about knowing how to think. It’s about knowing how
to approach problems. So this last year, to put a
finer point on this, our– the idea was that– so how
do we have you learn how to do research that’s not
trying to think about things from the back of a book,
trying to figure out what’s in the back of a book. It’s how do you think about
a problem that matters to you and how do you apply
science and technology to it. And so this year,
the 30 students went through three different
teams, 10 students each, and we asked them, how would
you develop a civilization on a foreign terrestrial body,
on another terrestrial body, extraterrestrial
body, 400,000 people with the main considerations
being energy generation and energy distribution. And in a way more
critically, how do you engage with those questions from
an ethical point of view? And so they were charged
to answer questions about, how do you help people survive
and how do you ask about– how do you think about how human
bodies and humans are treated in that kind of environment. And, somewhat to my
amazement, but then again not, because these students
are amazing, they came back with
amazing answers. They only had a week
to think about this. And they blew us away. It was amazing. And so, I think about–
when we think about work from the context of AI and
automation, we think about work from the perspective of research
and how do we build skills from other generation. I’m asking myself, how do we
rethink how we train ourselves, how we rethink, how–
not only, you know, what the right stuff is, but how
do we think ahead to be ready for what the next important
kind of right stuff is. Thank you.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
So, you guys are amazing to follow Norse kind of way. So Spanish artist,
Santiago Sierra, recently told The Guardian U.K.
newspaper, this was actually in the newspaper, I think,
yesterday or the day before, “Planting a national flag in a hitherto unvisited
place has never been an innocent gesture. This is how colonial
processes always begin”. So because I am a black and
Caribbean-American descended from slaves, I’m more
familiar with the great law of the Iroquois than I
am with any moral rules that my African ancestors lived
by because I’m actually not sure who my African ancestors were. And my basic understanding of
this law is that it teaches that we must consider the
impact of our actions on those who will live seven
generations from now. And I know that when
colonial processes begin, no one is really thinking of
the next seven generations. It’s just not how
colonialism works. And so because of this, the list
of anxieties that I experience when thinking about the
right stuff is really about whether we are–
have the right stuff. When I think about humans
arriving on another planet like Mars, you know, questions
I’m asking myself, could– and when we go to the
moon which is actually one of the first destinations,
I think, is could mining on the moon forever alter how
our future generations see this majestic and natural
satellite of Earth? Who will profit, who will
perish in the expedition? Will such missions ultimately
exacerbate inequalities that already exist on Earth? And in fact, well, missions to
Mars make life on Earth worse. How can we have these
conversations with a language that refuses to untwine
itself with the lingua franca of settler colonialism,
so discovery, exploration, settlement, colonizing,
you dig a little bit deep and these words come back
to settler colonialism. And then, what are possible
future generations on Mars? So by this, I don’t
necessarily mean human or even Earth-originating life,
but who and what do we eclipse by choosing to lay
claim to land elsewhere. So I think about this
as a Star Trek fan. And, I mean, I’m in annual
Star Trek convention, gold ticket holding, seen every
episode of every series fan. Anyone who follows me on
social media had seen the many, many pictures to prove it. And we’ll only think the show
has its problems on the whole, I’ve lived its expansive
vision not just of humanity but of humanoidity of all
of us humanoids learning how to share not just a
planet but a galaxy. And so as a physicist,
I spend some time at the conventions
explaining to fellow fans that warp-speed travel,
travel at the speed of light, is probably not going to happen. And this means that the
key generative moment for first contact
with another species in the Star Trek universe,
humans reaching warp one and catching the attention of the Vulcans is probably
never going to happen. It’s probably not possible. And it’s likely possible that
even if Vulcans did exist and had better space travel
technology than we do, they still can’t
travel at warp either and more likely they figured out
how to live multigenerationally on a ship that could
take multiples of seven generations
to get anywhere. So, then again, physicists have
often been wrong in the past about what is possible
so I always like to include this caveat, so
maybe we will be wrong again. So as I was thinking about
coming to this event, I reached out to Connor Trinneer who played the engineer
Trip Trucker on the penultimate Star
Trek series, Enterprise. I don’t know if anybody
else is a Trip fan. I was. And I was especially
keen to hear from Connor because Enterprise is
the series that deals with Earth’s first forays
from the solar system and how humans go on to
form the storied federation of the Vulcans, so this is
kind of the origin story. So, he had to deal
with things like what if a planet didn’t have
animals but the air was filled with psychedelic Pollan, that was a great
acting episode for him. What if having sex with an
alien woman got a human cis man pregnant? These were just some of the
scenarios that he had to get into character for so that
Trip could grapple with them. So, I expected Connor to
tell me to mention something about the Prime Directive, the
Vulcan rule which is adapted by the federation and
teaches us not to interfere with the internal
development of other species. But instead, he said
something to me that perhaps reflects his
childhood in a community that had a strong presence of
both native and white people. He always thought that if
we did meet another species, it would be because they wanted
something from us and that that could get uncomfortable
pretty quickly. So I hadn’t really thought
about that going into this sort of ironically because I
guess it’s the storyline from pretty much
every alien film. You can tell I don’t really
actually watch alien films. They always want something
from us and it’s never good and much has been written
by indigenous scholars, both here in the Americas and
elsewhere, about how the style of storytelling reflects
the kind of white anxiety that one day they might
become the victims of the kind of colonial apocalypse they
visited on indigenous people in Africa, the Americas, the
Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand and
Asia, even sometimes on their own European
Peninsula of Asia. But what struck me in
thinking about Connor’s framing of it was, in fact, how
we could be the ones who want something
so it could be us. We could be the ones who
want something from Mars and from the moon, perhaps to
buy time by extracting resources that we learn– we
refuse to learn how to conserve here
on planet Earth. So a question that I think
we should ask ourselves is, in wanting something,
do we eclipse futures that we are not confident
to imagine, do we violate the Prime
Directive before there is a civilization to even disrupt. So some of you may be aware
that I became a bit notorious in the astronomy community
for supporting Kanaka Maoli, Native Hawaiians who
oppose the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope
on the Mauna Kea volcano. I have an undergraduate degree
in physics and astrophysics and astronomy, it’s actually
grammatically incorrect on my diploma and a master’s in
astronomy and a PhD in a field that blends astronomy
and physics, cosmology. So I got a lot of accusations
that I just hate science and that’s why I was doing this,
but my support for them was not because I hate science,
not because I don’t like pretty pictures of galaxies or think Kanaka Maoli shouldn’t
be allowed to participate in the kind of scientific
work that I do. I actually get an
extensive amount of hate mail with that particular accusation. I was accused of these things by
people who were more interested in character assassination
than dialogue, I think. But the truth is as a
descendant of slaves and a child of a small tropical
island, Barbados, I understood the terrible
entanglement between science and a failure to imagine
other ways of being and other ways of knowing. So much of– as my research is
about curiosity and imagination, my day-to-day realities as
a scientist are deeply tied to science as a tool that
enhances colonialism, and that has been one of
my struggles as a student and practitioner of science. So to give some examples,
astronomers were once funded to watch an eclipse
from Haiti in order to enhance our ability
to measure distances. And this was to ensure
that slaves and goods would move
faster across the Atlantic. Today, they are funded to
help develop adaptive optics and military technology that makes our beautiful
pictures clearer. All of the telescopes on
Mauna Kea have been fitted with adaptive optics technology. But they make their pictures
clearer whether they are spy images or galaxy images. We are only a few years out from
an award-winning white woman astronomer, Sandy Faber, referring to Kanaka Maoli
protectors as they are known of Mauna Kea as a “horde of
natives” attacking astronomy. Her words were recirculated
uncritically by leaders in our field such as the chair
of the astronomy department at UC Berkeley, until
students some of them Native American sounded
the alarm to the rest of us. So it is in this context I
ask about human travel to Mars or really anywhere, even
across the Atlantic, why now? Do we have the right stuff
to connect with other lands, when the most powerful
among us refuse to acknowledge our relationship
to the lands that we know or the lands that we knew? Do we have the right time in
human history for this new way of being in the solar system? What meaning does a
mission to Mars have for making black lives
matter, for being idle no more? Will it keep our waters safe? The promise of technological
advancement that will improve lives
and enhance exploration as tantalizing, but then what
of Ferguson, is a pipeline through standing rock progress
for the people of that land? Is the global warming we have
achieved through technology? And this can be read as
an achievement of a kind that we know how to
warm an entire planet. Is that progress? And in relation to that,
is our relationship to progress catastrophic? So these are the
questions that I have when we consider what is
the right stuff for us and what is the right stuff
for the solar system around us.>>Ashley Shew: Well, if she
had a hard job I have even more difficult one. It’s hard to go last
after a panel like this. So I work on disability
narratives. So what would I be doing here? The assumption with
the right stuff is that disabled people aren’t,
they don’t have the right stuff. My particular work
is on technoableism, meaning I think a lot about how
the narratives of technology that we have often
reinforce ableism. And, sometimes do this by using
the language of empowerment to cover up an ableist
narrative about disabled lives that would see us as defective
and needing to be fixed. But oh, yay, technology. So a lot of the ways
in which I think about how disabled people
have or have not been included in what counts is
having the right stuff, it takes three different veins. So, the first is, I’ve been
thinking about how everyone in space is going
to disabled anyway. So we don’t recruit people with
disabilities, but if you go up in space, the changes
to your body will mean that you come back
with some sort of disability whether it’s
a temporary disability or more long term if we’re
talking about changes to vision, if we’re talking about
things like osteoporosis. I’m also thinking in this vein
that everyone who goes to space, if we’re talking about
becoming interplanetary, might want to make themselves
more like disabled people. So when I think about how we
address different disabilities and the technologies of
those involved, my friend, Mallory Kay Nelson [assumed
spelling], when I started, we were having a
conversation about space poop because it’s my favorite. And, sorry, Lucianne. And, she– we were talking about
how hard it is to poop in space and all the different like
attempts to make good toilets in space, it’s really
hard, y’all. And, she was like, you know, astronauts should
just have ostomy bags. We should change their digestive
tracts, such that instead of taping a bag to your anus, you already have a
bag system worked out and all the equipment that’s
involved and that sort of thing. And it’s not– it’s going be a
lot less gross actually in terms of the accidents that
happen with space poop. So just to think about
cyborgyzing ourselves to think about both being and
becoming disabled in space, it’s one of the lines
through which I think about these things. The second has to
do with recent work from disabled and deaf artists. So if you follow the
#CripsInSpace on Twitter, there was a recent issue of the
Deaf Poets Society that focused on space narratives from
people with disabilities. And asked about what bodies
were actually best to send up and about the narratives
they’ve heard about space life. So part of it is, you know,
feeling as if when you’re told as a child you could do
anything, that’s not true a lot of times for disabled people. We know who gets recruited
for things, who can serve in military and space context,
and it’s not disabled people. But also in terms of how disabled people might
be better at going to space. So some of these
artist narratives, Sam de Leve [assumed spelling],
one of the co-editors, they talk about how navigating
the world on a wheelchair, they’re always pushing
off of other surfaces. Like this looks a lot
more like lower gravity. When you think about how
bodies move in space, in fact, physically disabled people might
be much more adept at movement in lower gravity just from all of the training they’ve
been doing on Earth on navigating surfaces in ways
that people who ambulate do not. The third way in which
I’m thinking about some of these things is
about how disabled and deaf people have been
included in space research but never considered
candidates for going. So during the 1950s and ’60s,
you have the Gallaudet Eleven, which it consisted of 11 people
who were deaf from Gallaudet. Yeah, I guess you guys just
could have filled that in from your prior knowledge. But, there were all these tests
about motion sickness, right? So, the people they recruited,
because of hearing loss that had to do with inner ear conditions,
they don’t get motion sick. So, in testing for how
people might go to space, they use deaf bodies
to figure out things about motion sickness
instead of saying, “Hey, maybe we should recruit deaf
people to actually be part of this test because they don’t
experience motion sickness in this way”, but they were used
as a test ground to help figure out how able-bodied people could
go space instead of saying, maybe these people
ought to be considered as candidates as well. So I think throughout in
these three different lenses when I’m thinking
about the relationship of disability narrative and
becoming interplanetary. And I think about the
discriminatory like things that are already built
in to what’s going to be the right stuff
that there is right stuff. And that someone can have it
at all and that we don’t need like a variety of
people with lots of different types of stuff. I’ll turn it over
to you, Lucianne.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: OK. Thank you to all the panelists for these wonderful
provocative opening statements. I promise we will return to
space poop later in the panel. I’d like to return momentarily
for our first question to really the central theme
of this particular panel. And that we’ve talked a lot about making science
more inclusive or space exploration
more diverse, or broadening the definition
of who can be an explorer. And I– One of the– And I
should mention also that in each of the panels that
you’ll see today, the panels have all
participated in pre-event calls, so I want to thank them for
being the co-creators of some of the questions that
we’ll be talking about. But I’d like to start with
what is diversity for, and maybe I can prompt
Chanda to do, as she is already
doing, reach of the mic.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
Yeah. So I think that this was
one of the things that came up in our pre-call and if
I were to do a little bit of self-advertising, I
have an article coming our in the science journal of feminism next year called
Making Black Women Scientists Under a White Empiricism. And one of the things that
I talk about is that all of our arguments for
diversity at the funding level, at the federal level, and this
is encoded in our documentation, is that it’s– diversity is
necessary for national security and it’s necessary for
workforce purposes. And so, this rubs me the wrong
way as an African American, as an Afro-Caribbean
person, because it returns us to black people being
necessary for labor purposes. I mean, at least this time,
the plan is to pay people so that’s good and to
sort of allow them to live where they want to,
redlining is still a thing. So, I think that when
we talk about diversity, somehow white people
continue to get to be curious and black people continue
to be there for the sake of supporting white
curiosity, in some sense. And so we’re still kind
of the support stuff. And so I’m very troubled by
that, and I think really want to turn towards an
intersectional post-colonial analysis rather than analyzing from a diverse–
diversity standpoint. I actually think that
diversity can be quite dangerous because it allows us to
sidestep these conversations about colonialism and about
having equal access to rights. So, we’re not talking about
the privilege of going to Mars or whatever, we’re talking
about having the same ability to access your right
to participate in whatever human society
has decided to do with itself that these are rights
that people are prevented from accessing rather
than privileges that are granted to some.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Anyone else? I think I’d like to hear from
you, Brian, about how you think about inclusion in this
particular context given your work with space explorers.>>Brian Nord: It’s hard– yeah,
so, echoing everything that is– that what you just said. When– So I’ll start with how
our academic institutions tend to train us for changing
our inclusive practices and diversity. They tend to say,
hey, let’s just– as Chanda said, let’s
side step this and talk about maybe your implicit
bias or maybe what it means for these additional
human bodies to come and provide this
commodity of knowledge. And that’s the only
way that we talk about in these academic
institutions. So, in spaces explorers,
we don’t do that at all. We ignore that entire
conversation and we go for the key deeper
questions, I think, which are, how do humans think about– how do humans approach
ideas of justice? How do we think about how
we just treat each other on a one-on-one level? So, in the Space
Explorers Program this year, when we’re in this building
for six or seven days, 10 hours a day and the
sophomores are thinking about these questions, they
end up approaching it by having to get along with each other. Yeah– Or in a context where
they are diverse group. And, the nuance comes in, in
the one-on-one conversations. And so we’re there to ask them
questions to– as they stumble, we’re there to ask them
questions to answer for themselves and
approach them– approach the difficulties
head on. And so, I look at it and
our program looks at it as justice first and none
of these other aspects.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. I had the great honor
of being a panelist on the Space Explorers Program
and I was really impressed with the depth of
thought and the centrality of the distribution
and ethics questions. Not just in the way it was
post to the students but also in the way that the
students dealt with those topics
first, I think.>>Brian Nord: They
were very honest. They didn’t hold anything back. They asked some very challenging
questions especially in one of the contexts for these
100,000 person civilizations is the spaceships or multigenerational
spaceship Earth. And, they came up with
some pretty crazy answers, I won’t go into them,
but there are things that we see our societies
using here that are not good. The control over the human
body was one of the ways that they were trying
to manage how do you– how you maintain this one
population on a spaceship. And so they answered those
questions in that, I think, negative way because they hadn’t
been exposed to real way– or other ways of thinking
about it that are– that– or thinking about humans as
humans and not as machines.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Interesting. You know, when we talk about the
commodification of people for, you know, some purpose being
used as tools, you know, this larger enterprise, one
of the things that you raised, Brenda, during our call is that
there have often been cases in history and you
brought up American Indians in the military, where
something was considered to be a good thing
about a stereotype that ultimately was
harmful to the person. So maybe you could
speak to that.>>Brenda J. Child: Yeah. So, as I was thinking about
these questions in terms of American Indian history, I
kind of was reflecting on some of my early work which was about
the history of Indian education and how native people
were thought of, I’ll get into the
military but, of course, when the federal government
was putting native people on reservations and wanted to
move to kind of privatization of land because Indians still
had a lot of real estate. They decided a companion
program would be to put children in off-reservation
boarding schools. And at that time, one of
the arguments for this in the late 19th century, I
mean, there were all sorts of reasons for doing it,
but one of the arguments from the perspective of
Washington and policymakers and people who kind of
thought about native issues is that native people seem to be
dying a lot in the 19th century or the late 19th century was our
kind of all-time population low and we’re very vulnerable to
problems like tuberculosis. And, so, the boarding schools
were argued for as, you know, a way to help native people who
had kind of inferior bodies. And so they could enter into
athletic programs and things that would help them because
of their, you know, the poor– you know, what had
happened to them because of their
hereditary– heredity. And so, that’s interesting
that that’s kind of one side of how people have
looked at and policymakers and reformers native bodies. And then, some– at some point,
things changed, and maybe it had to do with kind of high rates of native people’s
military participation in the 20th century, where
they were then thought of as having desirable bodies because they were
so good at hunting. They were so good at gathering. They were so good scouts. And so, to the detriment,
I think, of native people, they were often put on
the kind of frontlines in military conflict
since World War I. So, native people– the
ideas about native people and whether they have the right
stuff or not, has kind of comes and goes with federal policies.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. And I’m struck at how this
parallels the disability narratives that you brought
up in your opening comments about like the Gallaudet Eleven. What do you think
the underlying– well, I think I know the
answer to this question, but what is the underlying
pushback against people who are disabled here on Earth
having active participation? What do you hear most
often in response?>>Ashley Shew: If you
know the answer, no. Well, I mean, we have a
pervasive culture of ableism that almost everyone
participates in. You know, I’m disabled, I’m still on learning
ableism every day, right? The assumption that disabled
people are enable to do things in history that undergirds that, history that includes
institutionalization, push people out of sight,
right, if they don’t behave in the ways you hope they will. And often, that just
means they target people who are poor, right? We also have a history
of sheltered workshops. So when you talk about the
commodification of people, you can still pay disabled
people subminimum wage, right, in segregated workplaces. Those are beginning to
become undone, there’s a push to eliminate these things and
a push to get subminimum wages to not have that anymore,
but it’s also still there. You know, we’re still closing down institutions
in Virginia, right? We’re close to Virginia
that– what was the– Virginia, I think, Colony for
the Epileptics and Feebleminded, it has a new name since the ’80s but it won’t be shutdown
until 2020. Like we’re still in a history
that we’re dealing with, the legacies of ableism. Disabled people are–
have much higher rates of underemployment even under
good employment conditions. The idea that you have to
hide if you’re disabled if you’re going to go in for a
job interview is very common. I’m an amputee and my
amputee groups, they say, wear pants to an interview,
don’t wear a skirt. Don’t wear, you know, shoes
that’ll reveal in any way that you’re disabled because
they’ll think you can’t do things, right? Even when we have
technologized bodies that sometimes allow
different functionalities that people might expect,
it’s still the case that a lot of people hide they’re
disabled and they do that for military
service too, right, if you have any mental
health issue raised, you’re not getting
into the military. It’s not just about
physical disabilities here, the doubts people have
about whether you’ll be able to do things are huge. And I think that exists for a
lot of different populations but it’s one that, in terms of
recruitment for space, right, there’s a compulsory able
bodiedness to a lot of things that we do, but it’s much
more intensified when we talk about recruitment programs
for space exploration or for the military
or for anything where physical prowess is
valued, maybe mistakenly at times, right, because I can
think about different types of disabled bodies that might
navigate surfaces much better in space than actually
able-bodied people. But we’re not often
very creative about thinking about
bodies at all. Like one thing you find out when
you become disabled is you have to adapt every day and
work around surfaces in a way you never expected. That’s a lot like when
astronauts will go to space, right? You have then to
think creatively about the spaces you’re in
and how you’ll move in them and think ahead and plan
ahead or planning ahead. And, you know, there’s
this whole different world that you have to adapt to. And I think most humans don’t
necessarily think about that, because a lot of the
spaces are already made to suit people who
are non-disabled. So, you know, when I think about how we creatively
address spaces, thinking about disabled
bodies, I think, provides a lot of excitement for me about
what could be done differently in this vein by this
commodification, I think, underlies it all. I think you hit it in
your first comment, Brian, this commodification
bodies, whose bodies and minds do we value
is central here.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Yeah, go on, please.>>Brian Nord: So, I’m wondering
if I can ask a question of some panelists if they
have some thoughts about this. Over the weekend,
I was thinking, do we think that it would be
possible if one of the ideas of going into space,
one of the reasons, could it be to take everything
that we’ve learned about this and in a sense start over? Do you see that as a
reasonable reason to go?>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
So, I guess– you know, I think the first
question I would ask is, how can we get out of a
conversation where we’re talking about value and bodies at all. I– And I think partly
because in– you know, from a philosophical
standpoint, I’m in a history of knowledge, that’s
one knowledge system that we continue to operate in
that we never really get out of. And if we can’t get
out of assuming that that axiomatic
starting point, that bodies and objects are things to be
valued and that land is a thing to be valued, then if we take
that as our starting point, it follows us into space. So, I think we can’t
escape from ourselves. We always go with us. And, so, wherever we take the
experiment, we are running that experiment on,
can we be better, can we address knowledge
systems where– you know, to contextualize
for some people, some– one of the issues with Mauna
Kea because they didn’t talk about this at all, is that Mauna
Kea is a traditionally sacred space for not all Kanaka Maoli
because there’s quite a bit of diversity, but for people
who are spiritual practitioners, it was a burial ground. They don’t use European
style markers that this is where the bodies are, so in
fact, you dig up a telescope and you’re digging up
somebody’s grave essentially. And in– Not just
in native Hawaiian but several Pacific communities,
the land is a family member. So this is a violation
of a family member. And I think that when a
lot of people heard that, it can be read very
superficially, like, yeah, yeah, you think of the land as part of your culture,
part of your family. But I really think that the
challenge for those of us who did not grow up in that
knowledge system context is to sit with the idea, what
if this was my mother, what if this was my sister. And just to say to yourself, it doesn’t matter whether
that’s not intuitive for me, it is now my task to
make that intuitive. And I actually think as a
physicist, this is not hard because people come to me and
say, oh, quantum field theory, I’ll never got it, or
general relativity, how did– I’m a relativist by
background and by training, how did you get used to the
idea of curve space time instead of thinking of gravity
as a force. And I told students that if
you sit with it long enough, eventually it becomes
intuitive to you. Curve space time is much more
intuitive to me than gravity as a force is, which is
maybe why I’m a relativist, maybe there’s a– how my
brain works type thing happening there. But the point is, is
that you sit with it. And so, I don’t know if it
matters where we do the sitting but I think that we
have to do the sitting. And that’s one of the reasons
the why now question is so important, and it
was the question I asked for the Thirty Meter Telescope. I love the idea of
having something like the Thirty Meter Telescope. I think I might be interested
in the idea of, for example, nuclear power as an
alternative energy source. But I want us to
do it in a moment where we can do it responsibly. And I don’t know what
responsibly means, but I know that I don’t
think that we are there yet, particularly with the
Thirty Meter Telescope. And I actually think that there
would have been a possibility that had the TMT
Corporation gone about things in a different way, the outcome
now might have been different. But they never actually
tried to get the by-end from the community and
have the conversation. And so in fact, I spent a
lot of time during the height of those protests, nobody in the astronomy community
ever asked me about this because they were too
busy pillaring me. I spent a lot of time explaining to people what the Thirty
Meter Telescope would do and why it mattered so much
to astronomers, and realizing that a lot of the protectors,
nobody had bothered to have that basic conversation
with them.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Brenda, you wanted to– Just put it here, either way.>>Brenda J. Child:
Yeah, just in– I like your comments
very much, Chanda. I was thinking how another
sort of kind of a stereotype in another sort of
barrier to thinking about indigenous people
is having the right stuff, is that often we are not
thought of, I noticed, and even in the university
context, as not being modern people. And so, when you have something
like the telescope project and you have indigenous
people making, you know, an argument that this land is
sacred, it’s like our mother. People are thought of as, well, you don’t like science,
you’re not modern. Well– And in fact, indigenous
people just like they conceive of themselves as travelers
and explorers also think of themselves as scientist but yet respect is a
really important part of how native people
conceptualize their science. And sometimes I noticed in
the university that we get into conflicts at
my university, we– the Department of American
Indian Studies has gotten into conflicts with–
over telescope projects, the one in Arizona
at Mount Graham. And the argument was just,
you know, you don’t– why are you oppose to
this, this is science and we have the right
to go in and do this. And it’s like, we’re not talking
about rights, we’re talking about our responsibilities.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. Yeah, certainly, it reminds
me also of some of the reading that I’ve been doing about like
the creation of national parks and the way that the
wilderness was thought about by settlers coming
in and thinking, well, like a wilderness is where
people aren’t and not caring for the fact that it was, you
know, used by multiple nations that there had been
longstanding, you know, habitation there and the way
that those two things, you know, national parks which
people now think of as these wonderful treasures
was actually really tied, I think, to Native American
reservation creation as well and the dispossession of lands. And I had a question
that’s totally gone now. So hopefully, it’ll come back. You know, I think one of the
things that comes up again and again also is just access
to education and to information. And, the narratives that exist about having either specialized
knowledge or being allowed in a particular space. And I think also a commonality
that I hear throughout some of the things that we’ve been
talking about is the ways in which access is often
offered at the expense of a person’s existing identity. And maybe, Ashley, you
could speak to this from the standpoint of the– one of the most dominant ableist
narratives which, of course, is that, you know, all of this
technology development will create people who are, you know, able-bodied in the
sort of typical sense.>>Ashley Shew: So, yeah. So, when we think about who
can go to a space, right, not just who can go to space,
but a lot of this is intention with people’s comfort, right? So to have bodies that could be
in comfortable spaces to be able to be comfortable as
someone who’s neurodivergent, for instance. The spaces are going to be
different or planned ahead in ways that we can plan
ahead for space, right? So when I think about creating
environments that are good, right, I think a lot
about, you know, curve cuts and things like that, too. But, who has to be uncomfortable
to be in a space often, and habits of my mind and
I’m sure it’s the same for my fellow panelists here
in thinking through their work, and what sort of compromises
must be made in terms of how you identify and
whether you identify and whether you care
to tell anyone. It’s why I actually am
pretty excited about the idea about thinking about how we’ll
be all the disabled in space. So, there’s this idea– it’s
gone on a favor in some ways, but people used to talk about– non-disabled people call
them TABs, which stands for temporarily able-bodied. I think there are all sorts of
problems with that narrative because you shouldn’t just
care about disabled people because you might be
one one day, right? That shouldn’t be– like I
shouldn’t have to make it like, you’ll be disabled too,
but I think because– and when we think about what
space we mean for our bodies, we’re already like
organisms that grew up in a particular niche
in the world, right? So, we’re animal type. And, already parts of the world
are not particularly accessible to us that are unfriendly to
our bodies in particular ways, and we’re going to be taking
that to even greater extremes. So to think about what that
looks like for moving bodies in places and how our
bodies will be compromised in different ways, and what
that will mean for thinking about all bodies if we
expect, especially even if we don’t leave this planet. Our success with global
warming, as Chanda pointed out, means that all of our bodies
are not going to be fit to the environmental niche that
is coming for us in the future. So to think about
disability as a category in which that’s permeable
for a lot of people, a lot of people don’t imagine
themselves becoming disabled in the future, they should. But that is not often
part of how anyone plans. I mean, that’s why we have sort
of a housing crisis for elderly and disabled folks and why– I don’t understand why
we keep building houses with stairs, right? There are just some basic things
about how we failed a plan, not just for space, but
for age and for our– what we’ve done to the planet, all of those things
in it together.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
I just kind of want to add something to this,
and I know I keep coming back to Mauna Kea, but I think for
me, it was a seminal point of having to evaluate what am I
still doing here and am I going to stay in the scientific
community. And coming back to the question
of modernity and who gets to be modern, one of
the protector science that was my favorite was
pono science is possible. And I’m not going to pretend
to explain what pono means to people, but essentially the
idea was that there is a way of doing science that
is ethical and keeping with Kanaka Maoli values. And, I think the second thing
that really stood out to me, there was a beautiful
essay by Bryan Kuwada, who’s one of the
people I got to know and someone I would
consider a friend, called, “We Come from the
Future, Join Us”, that he wrote in
response to this. And I would encourage everyone
to go and read his words. But in fact, you know, I meet– I drew the parallel between
general relativity and thinking about the land as a family
member for very specific reasons because GR is considered
advanced techno knowledge. And I think that having to
sit with this idea of land as family is equally, if not, more difficult material
to think through. And so maybe the difficulty
that scientists had with understanding that Kanaka
Maoli position was because it is so advanced if we
were to use that word. And I think that that’s a really
important thing to think about, which is, could our
science even be better? I don’t think that that
should be the reason to think about respect, but I think
that that’s certainly a feature in the same way that Ashley
is thinking about, I think.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. Sure.>>Brian Nord: So, my brief
thought is that, you know, centering the ableist
perspective and centering– or not even thinking about
indigenous people’s perspectives in how they live their
lives, not thinking about that is almost as willfully not
centering innovation. We’re saying we want to live
in an unimaginative way.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. And to build off of imagination,
one of the things that came up in our discussion, of course, is how we imagine
the scientists. So, pop culture depictions
of scientists and how they do or don’t describe what we do and how they also
influence the way we think of who is an explorer. So– And I’ll throw that out
to anyone who wants to take it.>>Ashley Shew: Disabled
explorers and scientists are always
depicted as evil, right? So as you were saying
that it was like, well, where does this intersection
happen when you have– when disabled people have
representation in some way? I mean, we have like Captain
Hook, you know, evil scientist, mad scientist, right, a
neurodivergent scientist that populate our
stories like even when we’re imaging how disabled
people when it’s possible to insert them in the
narratives we have with the narratives we’re given. It’s never on a positive light. It’s kind of– it
just prick me to think about that as you’ve said it. We don’t imagine good scientists
who have the right stuff perhaps as disabled people ever.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. Or we imagine them as
having a special skill. So I’m thinking about the
movie “Contact” where there’s–>>Ashley Shew: Oh, yeah.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: — you
know, he’s listening in the– but he doesn’t get to be
first author on the paper, the movie is not about him. You know, they just
sort of come in and like serve a special
place and then are jettisoned for the rest of the movie.>>Ashley Shew: Yeah. Yeah, the sidekick.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
I guess– I think about the film
“Hidden Figures” and I’m going to assume everyone in the room
knows what that film is about. And, maybe ironically,
something that really bugged me about the movie was– or
I shouldn’t say bugged me, but something I struggled with during the movie
was skin color because– well, a couple of things. So, first of all, the actual
hidden figures were paid so well, that with two
years of their salary, they could buy a house. And so actually sort of the
socioeconomic representation in the film is not accurate, and we all know Hollywood
likes to dramatize things. But I thought a lot about,
you know, what is the message that gets sent about who the
hidden figures are, if that’s– if you only watch the movie
and you don’t read the book. The other thing is, is that
they were light-skinned. And I want to highlight that
because as everyone can tell, Brian and I are fairly
light-skinned people. And we are two of really
three maybe black cosmologists in the United States
who hold PhDs right now. And so I think the other thing
that we have to think carefully about is even within our
narratives of diversity and inclusion that certain
people are more likely to get through the door. And I really struggled
with that dimension of hidden figures being
missing, the discourse that it was really only
light-skinned women of a certain socioeconomic class who were actually getting
those opportunities and it wasn’t working
class darker-skinned women who were getting
those opportunities. And I think that that needs to
be part of the conversation, even in the culture today,
that certainly I continue to experience racism, and
I’m occasionally very shocked by this because I’m like
I’m so pale, are you really like that invested in it. And not that I think it
shouldn’t happen to me, I’m just even because
people don’t always know that I’m black, I
continue to be impressed that like it finds me anyway in our one-drop deeply
committed anti-black culture. But I think that that is
really a feature that we have to think carefully
about how skin colorism. And I think, again, this
is written on the body, is maybe another way of putting
it, that all of these ways of how our bodies are perceived
and which ones are perceived as being closer to the
ideal, even if nonideal, become part of the conversation.>>Ashley Shew: No,
and this picks up on how we design things. So if we want inclusion
and diversity, sort of design team
is we need to have. There are so many good
examples of failures, of planning like the soap
dispensers, you know, automatic soap dispensers
and sinks that can’t see black
people, right? Because who is on that
design team testing that out? Yeah. And there’s the– if you– on YouTube, it’s
a wonderful video, it’s called, the HP is racist. And it has two best buy
employees who discovered that the HP cameras could not–
they were doing facial detection and following faces, but
only for people of skin of a certain lightness, and
it’s also a very funny video. But just in how we’re
programming things and how we’re attending the
things we’re already building with the people we already
have, what we’re failing in engineering teams on a
regular basis in those ways.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: And
this goes back to your point at the beginning, Brian,
about the increasing use of AI and machine learning in really
every aspect of our daily lives. If you’re not familiar
with machine learning, this a major part of how
your choices are given to you in terms of like its
probably greatest use, beside from the military,
is marketing. But when we think about, you
know, the design of algorithms, for example, a lot of the,
you know, skin detection or facial recognition, a
lot of that is used already in policing often without
the consent of the community that it’s deployed on. And, you know, all of the facial
recognition algorithms perform more poorly on people who
are darker skinned and women. And so, again, women
who are black and darker skin fear the worst in the technology
that we design. And a lot of those are
inseparable from science as an enterprise because
those are the same algorithms in many cases that we use on
pretty pictures of galaxies. Yeah. Did you have
another comment?>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
Yeah. I think– I just want to make
sure that I– I think the– there’s a debate
within, I guess, I’ll vaguely term it ethnic
studies about where we are in terms of how racial
identification works in society. So there are some
people who think we are in a black, not black society. And so you’re either black or
you’re not black and that’s kind of where the default
lines exist. And then there are other people who think it really falls
along skin color lines. And so, if you are
of African heritage but if you’re lady enough, then
it’s no longer kind of a factor. And I think of as– of
racist as social technology that was developed, and
I’ve written about this, so I wrote an essay
called “Physics of Melanin” where I talk about how
we could have used earwax to divide people because
some people have hard earwax and some people have
soft earwax. And instead– And it was
a technology that was kind of developed in hindsight,
well, oh now, we have all these
dark-skinned slaves, so how do we separate them and
make sure the Irish don’t think that they’re on the
same side with them? And also– And there’s a
complicated conversation about how indigenous people
were sort of fitted into that. But, again, I think that when
we talk about technology, I guess we have to think
about these concepts as social technologies
because race was really made into a scientific concept even
though it is a social concept. And, again, that’s something
that follows us into space. But coming back to Brian’s
question about, you know, what if we use space
as kind of a laboratory for experimenting
on these things. I think we do in the
sense that, you know, I scour the new astronaut class for where– how dark
is everyone. That’s always my first
question when I look at– when scientists are
selected, myself included. If I’m the only black
person in the room, I knew I’m the only
black person in the room and I am light-skinned. That’s part of the conversation. And so that would be
part of our conversation of who do we even send
up in that laboratory, and I’m sure Black Twitter
would have a lot to say about, are those people dark enough,
are there enough women, oh, that person is not cess. And I love that Black Twitter
has those conversations most of the time. But I think that in some sense, we can escape our social
technologies and we need to acknowledge that our
social technologies are fused with our physical technologies,
including who bears the brunt of our global warming that
it is the global south that felt it first and only
now are we really starting to feel it further up north. And so, I like to remind people that hurricanes have been
killing people in the Caribbean for a long, long time, and typhoons have been killing
people in Southeast Asia and South Asia for
a long, long time. But it’s only now that
people are like, oh, maybe we should really
do something about that, I mean, some people. So I think that we need
to not think of technology as a physical thing,
and I think race is kind of a central point for that.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: And
since I promised we would return to space poop, I will
use that to branch off into the physicality of us all
as human beings and the fact that we have these social
contracts that are on top of actual human bodies. And I think my– from
our pre-event call, my favorite quote was Chanda
saying there’s no freedom in poop. And that we have this
like wonderful noble image of the astronaut
out there exploring, being the representative,
and also having to deal with all of these things. I see you’re already
holding the mic, Ashley.>>Ashley Shew: You’re
explaining it well, yes, I mean managing bodies, right? I mean, what we’ve learned from
the history of space and pooping in space and peeing in space, like it’s been messy
and awkward. The image of the astronaut as
being like a buff white dude who is somehow a cut above
the rest, who have made it on the space program, but in the
end, he’s either strapping a bag to his anus or wearing a diaper
and like it just gets as patched like realizing that we’re
like meat bags all the time and managing these meat bags,
is a real, real challenge. Yeah.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. Anyone else?>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: I think I should
clarify my comment. [Laughter] I’m going to– Oh,
I’ll just say that I think the– one of the things we
talked about is how it came into the popular consciousness
that astronauts had to wear diapers or bags, which
was that there was a conflict between astronauts
who were a couple and I forget exactly what–>>Ashley Shew: Texas de Flores.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
Texas de Flores, the woman put on a diaper and drove
continuously. And she wore a diaper so
that she wouldn’t have to get out of the car. And I think I must
have been a first or second year graduate student
in astronomy and I had no idea that this was how
astronauts dealt with poop. But that, you know, even
when you go into space, you cannot escape your poop.>>Ashley Shew: Sometimes
you literally can’t. I mean, the backup of the one
toilet that sent like bits of fecal matter around the cabin
before they landed, like it’s– like we don’t think
about our bodies as engineering challenges
generally every day, especially if we’re able-bodied.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah.>>Ashley Shew: Right? But these– The mechanics
of these things that a lot of disabled people have to
think about every day, right, thinking about the
mechanics of using a restroom under particular
conditions, for instance, or even how close a restroom is. You have to, if we’re going
to make these huge plans, like most people just
take toilet thing as a given, and they shouldn’t.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: You
know, I think interestingly, even though we– you know, aside
from this news story bringing it into the public consciousness,
we often hide that aspect of the realities
of going to space. But when I worked with
students, for example, so we have a Gemini capsule
at the other planetarium and right next to it in the
display case is the poop bag. And it is the thing
that students are like, I had a couple of interns
who were working with me to write poetry during
part of their time to go around through the
museum and speak to different artifacts
in the museum. And one of them wrote an ode to the poop bag and
I was like, yeah. So, we’re coming to the
end of our time here. We’re going to have
some time for Q&A. But maybe if I could ask
all of the panelists, I’d love to return
to this concept of not just the right
stuff but the right time since we have people who
think about time in a variety of different ways here. And maybe if you can each
offer a closing remark if it moves you. Whoever wants to go first.>>Brian Nord: So, I’m not
sure I have a comment on time, but I think the thing that is
clarified for me at least sort of verbally in my head during
our discussions is, as you said, social technology, and if I can
turn that around a little bit and say that all
technology is social. And when we say the right
stuff, there’s this implication that there’s an objectivity
to these technologies or objectivity to the
scientific perspective. And there’s an objectivity to
what a scientist or someone who goes into space
looks like and that– but that objectivity is false
and that objectivity is just set up by the people who have
accumulated enough power to define that as the
objective perspective. And maybe that means that–
and maybe since, you know, living with that idea for so
long myself that our destiny is to be in space, maybe
that objective perspective that I thought I had is that
the time is always now to go. And we need– and maybe that
default, maybe that idea of objectivity as we
always progress outward and we always progress to expand
may be turning that around and saying– and just
continually asking maybe Chanda’s question of why now. Maybe that’s where
we need to just– we need to keep going
instead of always saying, yes now, yes next, yes next.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: And I’d
love to hear from you, Brenda, also from the standpoint of
somebody being deeply embedded in the history and not just
solely the young history of space exploration.>>Brenda J. Child: I’m afraid
at this point I just have– I keep thinking about jokes
and since we were talking about poop, we can
talk about jokes, too. So, I think about
different variations on Native American jokes about– that I’m reminding often
with the kind of debate on immigration to
the United States and native people always having
to remind folks that, you know, we’re the ones from here
and you folks are all from some place else and you’re
the settlers, and we always joke about what if the
settlers leave. So I’m thinking about kind
of a future where a fantasy for native people where, what
if the settlers leave and go to other planets, in Mars, and we get to stay here
with our ancestors?>>Ashley Shew: So the question
of when is the right time, you know, I don’t–
just as I don’t think that there is a good answer to
who has the right stuff, right, I don’t think the answer
should be linear or clear. I don’t think we’re ever
going to have an answer to what the right time might be. A mass of an asteroid is coming
that’ll really put a time clock on things, right? But, you know, I think it’s good to consider multiple
perspectives as we think about who belongs in space and
what the timeline is going to be for what that looks like and
who the stakeholders are. And, I mean, these things are–
there will be no right time. There is no right stuff
but there’s stuff and time. I’ll turn it over
to a physicist now.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: That’s actually a
really good lead in to what I was going to say. So thank you for the setup. So, the key insight
of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,
I think, is that there– and really the key insight
of special relativity is that there is no such thing
as an objective observer. And I went through a
PhD, two qualifying exams that cover this topic. I took GR, I taught GR
before I really realized that this was the key insight. And, I highlight this
because it came out in– I– my mom is a radio host
on the Pacific Network and she sent me a bunch of
archival material, and in there, buried, was a session from
the American Association for the Advancement of
Science 1983 meeting where the late Joseph
Johnson, a black physicist from Florida A&M University, who
had actually played a major role in my life much later, talked
about this insight and realizing that it took a black physicist
who doesn’t work on relativity to reframe the area that I
was a specialist in for me. And this was really–
it wasn’t– I heard the recording for
the first time last year and actually just wept through
it because I was so stunned to hear this recording of a
man that I’d admired so much. And so, in connection to
this question of, you know, what is the right time and
what is the right space and where bodies inhabit space
and are part of space time, I think about the Palikir
people who live in a region that we would, I guess, roughly
call the Peruvian Amazon. And they have a completely
different astronomical system than we do in, I guess, what you
call institutional astronomy. And, what’s interesting is
because– maybe because– I shouldn’t speak on this as
a big-time expert or anything, there are a lot of snakes in
the Amazon, there are a lot of big snakes in the Amazon. And this way of thinking of the
Palikir people reflects this. And so, in fact, instead of
using a Cartesian geometry, so a Cartesian, everything
is boxy and squary, they use what we would call a
curvilinear system that is built around snakes in the sky
and their spiritual system. And what’s interesting
about this is that they can actually account
for the movement of the stars across the night sky
through the seasons better than we can using their
geometrical system because their geometrical system
allows for things to be curved. And they also have five seasons. They don’t have four. And they can predict from
looking at the sky to the day when the rains are
going to change into a different rain season. So coming back to our
question of who is modern, we can’t do weather prediction
for crop, but they can. And so when I think about time, we have a particular
relationship to the Thirty Meter Telescope
timeline of when we need to see galaxies now because
careers need to evolve in a certain way in
the astronomy community because there’s a new
generation coming up. But I’m guessing that people
who are feeling the impact of global warming on their
systems, their technologies of knowing the weather,
for example, are thinking that now is the time to figure
out how to deal with the fact that these established
technologies are now being shifted by things that
people on the other side of the planet are doing
with their technologies. And so I can imagine that
people have very different relationships to what is
significant in this moment and in this time, and that
there’s no objective observer, that’s the thing we
have to sit with, is that astronomers are not
more objective about this. Astronomers who are for the
TMT are not more objective about this than astronomers who
were not for the TMT, et cetera. But I think that when we think
about now, we need to recognize that there are many
different nows and that our now may not be– comes with it in a position
of power perhaps or a position of disempowerment or a
sense of disempowerment, and that that is always tied
to our social technologies.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Right. We have some time for
questions, but first, let’s thank our panelists. [ Applause ] So, if you have a question,
please raise your hand. We have two people
with microphones. I see there’s a hand
up over there.>>Hi. Thank you very much
for the– for your thoughts. I have one question,
while coming here, I was reading the news and the
Atlantic Magazine just published the piece called, “Moon is
open for business,” and it’s about the private interest
and the business interest. And, you know, we talked
about– you talked about ethics. I was wondering if you can
comment on how do we talk about ethics in a society
that is driven by economics, accumulation of wealth
[Inaudible].>>Ashley Shew: Yeah, I mean,
so one way to think about ethics in terms of economics is
to think about what sort of economic system we want that could address a greater
number of people’s needs. So, a lot of how we think about
space at least is with SpaceX and other companies coming
on the fray is in terms of commercial interest, right? So the moon is open for business
and the things that Elon Musk is up to, for instance,
invoke a particular system by which perhaps some have
gathered, you know, free sources to be able to dream
these big dreams while– well, they don’t pay their
employees as much as we would like to see them paid,
or we have a system where people aren’t benefiting
from the labor that they put in, or are devalued and not– so being commodified
has a certain edge but being not a commodity
in terms of labor also has another edge. So to think about ethics
and economics together is to question if whether
the system we’re in will produce just results.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. I think also in terms of– since you brought up
the SpaceX narratives, the narratives coming out of new
space companies that say, “Oh, we’re going to make it
accessible by making it cheaper and it’ll only be
$200,000”, and, you know, not everybody will want
to sell their house that they definitely have
that is worth $200,000. But just the underlying
assumption, right, that, first, you will part with your worldly
possessions in order to, what, live on Mars and be at
the behest of the company that brought you there? You know, I think we have
many examples of company towns and exploitation here
on Earth that inform us that that is not a good
premise to be starting with. Oh, we have a question there.>>So, I think that a
key question for any sort of exploration is always how
do we prepare for something that we’ve never seen. So my question is practically,
how do you think that we as kind of a society at large prepare
to build a future for something that we have never experienced? So thinking that, it’s easy
to view astronauts as cowboys because we’ve seen cowboys. It’s easy to say that
we’re meant to go out and explore space because we’ve
experienced Manifest Destiny. So how do we build
visions for something that doesn’t exist
in a practical way?>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: So,
oh gosh, this is being recorded. I’m going to be nice about it. So, I love the new Star
Trek series, I really do. But I want to say that
actually, I think this connects to the last question,
which is that they went out in the Star Trek
universe anyway. They go out with a very
clear ethical guide. I actually think that the Prime
Directive is a pretty important one, and actually of the
problem of the first episode, I’m not really giving
it away for anyone who hasn’t watched
the series yet, but really the first 10
minutes is not really thinking through what happens if you
don’t hold the Prime Directive around you as a barrier to
choices that might violate it. And it comes up a lot
because they do violate it like all the time. Usually it’s not so catastrophic
as it is in this new series, but I think it really
does come down to, we have to prepare ourselves
ethically and morally and in terms of our
thinking about respect as Professor Child was saying
that you were never going to be able to prepare
for every scenario but you can prepare yourself
to be a decision maker in situations that
are unfamiliar to you.>>Brian Nord: Riffing off
that just a little bit, I think that some of the failure
of our educational system is that we prepare for tasks of the
past, because people are setting up the jobs of the future
for the people that they want to be in those positions. And so, I’m– I think we need to
rethink how we approach training in technological tasks and I would include
social technology in that. And so, why don’t we– why
aren’t we training folks for solving problems
that they care about and then learning all the pieces
to get to that as they need to instead of saying, hey,
just go through all these steps and then, oh, eventually, you’ll
figure how to do research. So, in a sort of– in a
specific context like that, I think we need to innovate how
we’re educating each generation.>>Brenda J. Child: And I
guess I would just add to that to think about the history
of settler colonialism around the world, and there’s
been so much fantastic work in that area in the last
decade or so but a lot of it doesn’t make our– it’s way into public
school education. Just a few years ago,
there was a– we did a– we’re working on a grant, the
historians at the University of Minnesota was– teachers in
the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area and when they were
writing the grant, they asked how much history
education the teachers had and they discovered that the
average high school social studies history teacher, it had
1.5 history courses in college.>>So, going back both to the
there’s no objective observer and there’s no good time. A lot of what we– what a lot
of us think about when we think about colonizing Mars is,
oh, it’s a blank slate because nobody is
living there right now. But it’s not like we’re
only going to there once. How do we envision a way of sustaining whatever
structures we put up when people are going to be
going back and forth presumably to Mars and to other places?>>Brian Nord: You’re talking about gentrification
of Mars [laughter]?>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
I guess I kind of– I went through this quickly but
I think in my opening remarks, one of the things that was
kind of motivating me was what if the Vulcans had come to Earth
before humanity had a chance to develop? And, so there are lots
of scientific reasons that you might argue
that the probability of this being an actual
issue for Mars are small, but we also have often been
wrong like, for example, about the speed of light
about 140 years ago, right? So, we don’t actually know
what could happen on Mars if we didn’t mess with it. And, so that’s actually
before you even get to the– I mean, maybe the gentrification
metaphor here is maybe an interesting one and that like,
you know, maybe there are things that were going to
happen in that community and this actually stands
out to me in Washington D.C. as someone who’s been
part of her childhood and to come a perk, that
coming through the city now, it’s like it’s a
completely different city. And, one wonders, what are the
things that might have happened on U Street, if U Street had
been allowed to remain U Street, instead of so many businesses and black people
being forced to leave? And I actually think
that that has to be our question
before we even think about sustaining ourselves
there, is really sitting openly with the ethical question if
we have now made a decision about the future of Mars
and nothing will happen in a non-anthroposcenic
way on Mars ever again.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Also
point out that it’s true that we don’t, you know,
see like space giraffes or human beings walking
around in the surface of Mars. But, in many ways, we have often
quite literally only scratched the surface and we don’t know
what history might be there, we don’t know whether
there are microbial or even more complex communities
of life under the surface. You know, the results
of methane on Mars is– are very, very tantalizing. They could be geological. They could be– you
know, it could be oil, like there’s any number of
possible outcomes for that. And so I think– And we’ll
talk about this later with the concept of
environmental personhood and how we think
about environments and whether they have
life in them or not as being something
that belongs to us. So I hope you’ll stick around. Time for one last question. I see someone in the back there.>>So, assuming that we do
indeed want to colonize Mars, we want to give the first
colony every chance of success, and it could still fail even
if we do everything right. So it takes resources
to put people into space and picking the people
most likely to succeed is critical
to reducing the risk. So, I think that it’s
been a point well made that it’s very prickly
question to ask, but what are the characteristics
of the optimal first colonists? How do we pick those people?>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: Depends on whether your goal is
actually colonization, right? I think like– I think– I probably want someone
who doesn’t think about it as colonization. I’m sure that Donald Trump
disagrees with me about that.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Someone else? All right. Well, let’s thank
our panelists again. [Applause]>>Dexter Spits,
a.k.a. Jordan Holmes, was raised in Prince
George’s County, Maryland, a suburb of right
here in Washington DC. His curious mind has led him
to become a jack of all trades; a musician, an entrepreneur,
a scientist and an engineer, and a spoken word artist. Holmes relocated to Chicago
in 2014 after graduating from Virginia Tech where he
met his mentor, Nikki Giovanni. He began his music, pursuit of
his music career as Dxtr Spits, a witty, impactful,
energized lyricist. Holmes also launched his company
“Onli Packs” in August of 2017. Onli Packs are functional
backpacks with prints from local artists. And, without further audio, we’ll give it over
to Dexter Spits. [ Applause ]>>Dexter Spits: Raise
this up a little bit. Very, very, excited to
be here and to speak on such an amazing topic. Also, it’s nice to be the
dumbest person in the room, because clearly, I mean, the
entire panel was just filled with brilliant minds and
I love to just, you know, learn and kind of soak in. So I wrote a few pieces, kind
of related to my experience here on earth, because I think
a lot of the times we look out elsewhere and thinking about
colonizing and/or you know, moving on to new planets. Or we tend to look outward
at a lot of the problems and whatever is going
on within society. We look at, well this is the
problem [inaudible] a lot of the times. Whatever’s going on within
society are all reflections of something that’s
happening within us. So I think that our, the
key is actually to turn and look inward opposed
to outward. So I wrote something
kind of in the spirit, it’s called Visitors,
story time by the way. So I’m hanging with a
few friends in a park, not going to lie, couple of them
are inebriated I don’t know, this may or may not
have anything to do with the next part of the story. But we see this UFO,
we freak out a bit, we wonder if it’s real, our
eyes are glued to it as it moves without making a sound. It lands softly in front
of us, the door opens, smog pours out the entrance,
and a silhouette appears. A voice speaks to us, not
aloud, but in our minds, it says that they are
communicating telepathically and that they are from
a galaxy far, far, away. And they’re here to conduct
a study, they have questions, they have been listening
in on humanity for a while, long enough to be
confused, very confused. They ask can we help to clarify. They understand some
of the words but not the feeling behind them,
not the humanness behind them. Not the true experience
of being human, so they ask, can we help them. And I say yes. They ask me to explain love. I say I don’t know
exactly what it is, but I know it’s in our core. We can explain it biologically
but that’s not the fun part. I say the really amazing part is when you see it in
action between us. When you see us give a shirt
off the back, off our own back for another, when you see us
greet a stranger with open arms, as if they were family, when
you see a person so engulfed in another that they bond
to the best of their ability for the rest of eternity. They stop me there and ask,
well then what is hate? I say I don’t know exactly. But it seems like
it is in our core. It may be a leftover
from tribalism, manifesting in a modern way. Some think it’s deeper and tied
to the meaning of our existence. It’s painful to see it
in action between us, it shows up in the form of
violence, phobias, prejudice, racism, sexism, intolerance
between people that don’t look like us. And even worse sometimes
the ones that do. With too much of it we boil over
from the pressure of negativity, usually from a place of hurt. Then they proceed to
ask me, what is loss? I say it’s one of the
hardest things to cope with, we lose our family and friends
to time, they all pass away, and so will we but until you do
you have to process every bit of loss that you have taken on. Sometimes we lose so
much that we forgive, that we forget what
it is like to have. Where sometimes,
so much is taken that we forget what we deserve
to have in the first place. They ask me what is happiness? I say I’m not sure if
I’ve ever really known it. Let’s say it may be temporary and maybe that’s what
makes it so special. Knowing that loss is
omnipresent, still finding a way to be present enough to enjoy
our bodies in this space, our stories, smiling whether
it’s for a reason or not, and not as a front but because
something inside us gives us permission; permission
to be okay, permission to experience bliss. They ask me what is destiny? I say it’s wherever
we are headed. We feel like we know and we
think that it will be positive but we have no idea
where this will lead. The universe does not owe
us a fairy tale ending and that’s why we must be
so careful in this moment. AI is just a step away, our feet
will soon land on Martian soil, tension is high across nations and across the globe our
children are forgetting about a world without screens. Attention spans are decreasing
but attention is being brought to the ugliest pieces
of who we are, a brutal truth of our essence. So lastly they ask
me, what is hope? And do I have it? Hope is like I guess I first
have to start with who I am, I am a product of love that
my mother and father had for one another, their
relationship crumbled but it never transpired
to the point of hate. They lost each other and I
grew up in a lost period where, as a lost boy in a scary world,
doing my best to find a way to be happy, understanding
that it’s just as important to experience happiness
and sadness and that my personal destiny
is tied to our collective story in a way that hopefully
gives promise to our collective future. So do I have hope? I am hope, we all are. And although I cannot be sure
that we will figure it all out between us, at least I know
that there is hope inside of us. They stared deeply at us,
not just me and my friends at the park, but they
looked deeply in my eyes as if they were looking into our
entire species, and they say, that’s all we need to know. Without a name, a
goodbye, or another word, they closed the door, the ship
silently rose, and they left. I hope it mattered. That’s that piece. [ Applause ] Okay, so now for the
heavy stuff, you ready? So another piece of it, if
you haven’t figured out, I’m a black guy, right? So, that’s a piece of
some of my experience within this existence. Funny thing about the facial
recognition technologies that are happening, I
kept getting tagged as, what is the guy’s
name, Chadwick Boseman, for the whole black
panther campaigns when that movie was coming
out so it was kind of funny because I don’t think
we actually look alike. But it’s just kind of
interesting how you kind of get categorized and lumped
so for about a solid month, I was getting peppered
with being tagged, like Facebook auto tagging
and people made memes out of me, it was terrible. But anyway, the more
important part is, living in that experience, again
I turn inward when I’m looking to address a lot of the things
that kind of effect how I move through the world outwardly, and this piece is
called, Black Male. By default, every
letter that comes to my house is black
mail, get it? [ Laughter ] There it is. By default, every letter that
comes to my house is black mail. Black male looks for
a proper definition of what being a man is, preacher
man tells him to find God, politician man tells him in God
we trust but cannot be trusted, policeman tells black
male to raise his hands, fireman sees the smoke and
knows the heat is coming, black male only arise when
they want something from you. Black woman wonders why black
male only seems to listen to men for advice, black male feels
like the world is against him. Preacher man tells him to pray to a God whose image sometimes
looks like his slave master. Politician man says don’t
worry about the details, I will be your economic savior. Policeman puts his finger on the
trigger, fireman sees the spark and knows the heat is coming. Black male is impossible if you
burn all the evidence, right? Black woman concerned, woman
wants black male to open up his heart and let it all. Black male runs from
his feelings as a black woman
will blackmail him. Black male feels
disproportionately targeted. Preacher man tells him
his blessings will come in the next life but pay
your tithes in this one. Politician man tells
him everything is equal, those are only glitches
in the data. Policeman says stop
resisting arrest when black male’s
hands are already up. Fireman sees the embers
the flames have risen. Black male is impossible if you
burn all the evidence, right? Black woman, loving woman,
gives her love to black male, black male cannot receive
her message from a fear of being loved, return
to sender. Black male is so far from his
home address black male is lost. Preacher man tells him, follow
me I will be your profit. Politician man tells him
the exact same thing. Policeman says nothing
but pulls a trigger. Fireman sees the
flames burning the flesh but will not put it out. Black male’s evidence
turns to ashes. Black woman crying
woman, does what she can to revive black male, black male
fears death and love, equally. Black male just wants
to live in peace. Preacher man believes in peace, as long as you pray
to the same God. Politician man believes in
peace if the price is right. Policeman only seem to
shatter lives to pieces. Fireman just wanted a
piece of the action. Black woman, just a
piece of his heart. Black male does not
know where he belongs. That’s that piece. [ Applause ] Don’t worry, it only
gets heavier from there. So, no but that piece is,
I think, relevant just because I kind of dug deeply
in terms of how I grew up and things that were kind of
influencing me even to now as I walk through the world
and this next piece is kind of a deeper reflection of that, kind of on another
side of the coin. But these stories, when
I was thinking of them, were so relevant to these
points because these are a lot of things that manifest
that we can’t work out between one another
and we, as you know, it was kind of stated
many times with the panel, how can we expect to go
beyond and perform any better when we can’t quite
get it right here. So it’s not that I don’t think
that we can get it right, but just the conversations
need to be had in terms of how can we be better
towards one another. And this piece is
deeper reflection of it, rooted from a true story. [ Ambient Noise ] You would never realize
how much I love you, even though I never met you, and I will never have
the chance to tell you. I know that it hurts to be
you because it hurts to be me. As brothers our struggles
are so intertwined without ever sharing
your conversation. Never even crossing
paths but walking up the same slippery slope
that never seems to amount to the mountain top,
see the fact that [inaudible] is not fair. Because we are dealt of far
from a royal flush in this game of spades you are not supposed
to be born hating the black of your suit, I mean skin. Because it’s a learned action
from the rest of the world. We are not supposed to be
told that we are monkeys so these concrete jungles
are the proper housing place to be fitted, exchange
jungle with food desert, never having a proper
introduction to nutrients and if you are what you
eat, what good can come from this toxic diets
brother, I understand. You will never realize
how much I love you, even though I never met you, and I will never have
a chance to tell you. I understand what it’s
like to be hopeless. No one ever actually cares
to listen to your story, treating you like an
animal when, ironically, they say pigs come to round
us up like cattle to be held in barbed fences,
it’s the reason that they call it a trap house,
closest fluid trip most of us around here took was
closer to crack houses. Yes, there are a lot of us that
go on from here to do great, wonderful, successful,
and amazing things, but for every one success story
that we love to boast about, there are a thousand
whispers, I mean whimpers that go crying and die in pain. See brother, I know. [ Ambient Noise ] See brother I know that even
the exit routes sort of look like Lake Shore during rush
hour, I live in Chicago now, forgive me, even
the exit routes look like Lake Shore during rush
hour, seemingly impossible to get through so why
even burn the gas to try. See brother, I understand. You will never realize
how much I love you, even though I never met you, and I will never have
the chance to tell you. I understand what it’s like to
hurt, I understand what it’s like to hurt and not know why. I understand what it’s like to
have your hurt manifest itself into rage. I understand what it’s
like to lose hope. I understand that you can’t
lose what you never had. I understand what it’s
like when they tell you that you can be anything that
you want to be when you grow up and they barely believe
the words themself. I understand what it’s like
to want more even though it’s worthless after depreciation,
and they tell us that we are worthless from
$3 million trust fund, how I [inaudible] I understand. Brother I understand, I
understand, I understand, so when you point that
gun only to rob me, when you point the gun on me
to rob me for the same pennies that we both struggle to get. What hurt the most
is not the feeling of the bullet penetrating
the skin, what hurt the most was not
hitting the cold concrete floor and watching my blood
painted like a canvas. What hurt the most
is that brother, you will never realize
that I love you. And I understand, even
though I never met you, and I never had a
chance to tell you. That’s that piece. [ Applause ] Sorry, that one, it gets
me every once in a while. That was, I was about 20
feet away from walking into a bullet a couple
years ago in Chicago and was first responder for
just like a drive by shooting and I stopped and like took a
piss outside which is a thing that I never do,
it’s like I just, I just don’t usually
do it, I’m like ah, just wait until you
get in the house man. And for some reason I
stopped and essentially about 20 feet ahead of where
I would have been walking, a guy jumps out and just
opens fire on this kid. So I wrote that piece
from the story of how would have
wanted my story told if I wasn’t here
to tell you today. So I got one more, yeah okay. And this one is, we’ll
end on a lighter note, at least as light as it can be. I swear I try to not write
depressing stuff and it just. But this one is about
a very crucial part of us moving beyond planet earth
and it’s, it’s really a story of survival, and one that
is important to all of us because to some extent, your
lineage has survived for you to be here, it’s the only
way that you got here. And that’s one commonality
that we kind of have, so. I used to be afraid of blood, the thought of it would make me
cringe and squeeze my muscles as if I could keep
my blood contained if ever I was hurt or cut. I would avoid a cut at all
[inaudible] my skin is my armor, how dare anything think that
it can cut me deep enough to actually open a gash. And as I grew up,
it became apparent that cuts are inevitable,
they are part of life, and if you live long enough,
there’s a cut waiting, usually when you
least expect it. And if you’re really unlucky,
it will cut deep enough and cause enough damage
that it leaves a scar. A reminder for the rest of
your days that you were hurt. And nobody wants to be hurt,
remember pain, or the jagged or sharp edges the
left a reminder that you are not
invincible, a scar. See the funny thing about
scars though is that yes, they remind us that we are
only human and can be hurt, but they also remind
us that we survived. We made it to try another day. We survived a battle that day. We survived that paper cut, that
dagger the universe tried us and we reply, you
played yourself, because we’re still here. We made it to fight another day. I remember my first deep cut. It was across my tongue; as a
child I had a crippling stutter, it was so bad that I could
barely get words out, barely anyone would
listen or have the patience to even hear me finish
a sentence or for that matter, express myself. And it hurt. I wondered how could
this be fair? How could this heal? The second cut was
across my chest; at 14 years old a tumor
developed and it pushed me into a deep depression, I could
not understand how this could happen to someone so
young, what a cruel joke. And it hurt. I wondered, how could
this be fair? How could this heal? The third cut was the
deepest; it was in my mind, the most elusive and gradual,
I was cut by the feeling of not being enough, learned
from my environment and worsened by the lack of role models. I didn’t know scientists or
business owners or engineers and I realize this was
less of a cut and more of a void, but it still hurt. And I wondered how
it could be fair? And how could it heal? They all cut deep and
they all left scars, but from all three, I healed. From my first cut on my tongue,
and, I’m sorry, side note, I was not planning on being
this emotional up here today. My father’s here though
and he’s one of the people that has witnessed this, so. From my first cut on my
tongue, because of my stutter, I began to heal by writing. Since no one listened, I turned
to pages and let it all out, and eventually gained
confidence in what I had to say, and began to say
it stutter or not. And as I kept writing
and speaking and trying, the cut began to clot, the
scars heal, and I grew stronger. I still have them to remember
but I do not let them stop me. From my second cut on my chest
from the tumor, I began to heal by learning to face my fears. I couldn’t control
the circumstances but I could control
at least who I was. I learned to calm my
mind through meditation, I learned to receive help
and that it was okay. I went through the surgery and
treatment and got a clean bill of health and walked
away knowing that I could have courage even
in the most ultimate fear. The cut began to clot, the seal
got stronger, a scar formed. I still have it to remember
but it does not stop me. The last cut in my mind was
the hardest to overcome. Not feeling enough,
I healed slowly, from years of self-taught,
I used my writing and speech that I learned in my first
cut to write and perform, but I needed to hear, I healed
from the courage that I learned in my second cut to step
out and try and try again, and be vulnerable
enough to ask for help. And eventually I found mentors
that assured me that as long as I gave it my best, I
would always be enough. The cut began to clot, the seal
got stronger, the scar formed. I still have it to remember
but it doesn’t stop me. See, the funny thing about scars
is that yes, they remind us that we are human and can be
hurt, but they also remind us that we survived, we
made it another day, we survived another battle,
another paper cut, a dagger, the universe tried us, and we
replied, you played yourself, because we’re still here. Thank you. [ Applause ] Random– [ Applause ] — thank you, so random
anyway, it’s fine, it’s fine. Random, random side note, so I
am a material science engineer by day, when I’m not writing
tremendously depressing stuff. But it’s kind of interesting
because full circle, I researched at John’s
Hopkins, I went to school at Virginia Tech and
I thank University of Washington, correct? Also, no wait, who’s, wait,
you’re University of Washington, okay I’m sorry, because
I mixed it up, okay. But I also did research there
so it’s kind of full circle and just interesting
be involved in an event with so many great minds so, thank you so much
everybody, I’m around. I promise you that I’m not
always this like, depressed and intense, we can have normal
conversations if you want. And thank you so much for just
coordinating this amazing event, I know you put so
much work and effort into it and it’s beautiful. So thank you. [ Applause ]>>So our second panel today
is called Mars on Earth. And, this deals with the
intersections between Mars as a planet, a real physical
space, and the way that we think about environments
on Earth history. And, nowadays, we know more
than we ever have before about the Martian environment
and some of the history there. But, as I mentioned this
morning in many ways, we still just scratch
the surface. And so, we want to look in this
panel at what we can do to think about the exploration
of other worlds or human beings living off
world in light of the history that we’ve had here
on our own planet. So, without further ado, I
will introduce our panelists and if I can ask you to walk
up as you saw this morning. Dana Burton is a PhD student at George Washington
University’s Anthropology Department. Her research follows the search
for life on Mars and seeks to understand the epistemologies
of value and order which come to be applied to Martian life by
various policymakers, scientists and private entrepreneurs. With attention to feminist
and multispecies literature, her work explorer visions
of life and living in space and how it shapes our
conceptions of the environment, sociality, and governance. Thus far, her work has taken her
to myriad conferences, lectures and laboratories, in D.C.,
Texas, and California. She plans to be a part of
projects further a-field, whether they be space
analog sites in Iceland or Chile or beyond. Dana is also an avid fiction
reader and enjoys blues dancing. And above all, she loves
drinking tea and getting into conversations
about affect, presence, and the intricacies
of everyday life. Nathalie Cabrol is the director
of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the
SETI Institute, where she leads the
strategic vision for science and exploration. She heads projects in planetary
science and astrobiology, develops science exploration
strategies for Mars, Titan, and the Outer Solar
System icy moons, and designs robotic
field experiments. She’s a member of the NASA Mars
Exploration Rover science team. Nathalie explores high
altitude lakes in the Andes as analogs to early Mars. She documents life’s adaptation
to extreme environments, the effect of rapid climate
change on lake ecosystems and habitats, its geobiological
signatures, and relevance to planetary exploration. Nathalie counts over 410
peer-reviewed publications and proceedings of
professional conferences. She’s authored three books
and 10 chapters of books on the subject of planetary
science and exploration, astrobiology, and terrestrial
extreme environments. Her work is featured on US–
in US and international media as well as in popular books. Bobak Ferdowsi is known for
such things as Battlebots, Cupcake Wars, and Sharknado 3. But by day, he’s the
Fault Protection lead for the joint NASA-ISRO mission, an Earth-observing satellite
evaluating global environmental change and hazards. His prior positions have
included the Europa Clipper flight system engineer,
Integrated Launch and Cruise Engineer on Mars
Science Laboratory Curiosity, and Science Planner on
the Cassini mission. In addition, he served
as flight director during Curiosity operations. Bobak earned his Bachelor of
Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2001 from
the University of Washington and subsequently his Master
of Science in the same area from Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. Bobak has always wanted
to explore the universe. He plays shortstop in the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory softball league, with a career
0.817 batting average and usually rides
his bike to work. Margaret Huettl is a descendant
of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibweg, Assyrian– well, let me just
try that entire thing again. Margaret Huettl, a descendant
of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibweg– I practiced this and I apologize
for what I’m currently doing, Ojibweg, Assyrian
refugees, European settlers, is assistant professor
in History and Ethic– History and Ethnic Studies at the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln. She earned her PhD in History
from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, her M.A. in
Native American History from the University of
Oklahoma, and her B.A. from the University
of Rochester. She’s a scholar of
Native American history and North American Wests, and her research examines
indigenous sovereignty and settler colonialism in
a transnational context. Her current project,
“Ojibwe Peoplehood in the North American West,
1854-1954”, explores Ojibwe and Anishinaabe sovereignty
in the United States and Canada during the
19th and 20th centuries, centering her research on
Anishinaabe ways of knowing. Thank you so much, the
panelists, for joining us today. In this panel, we’ll
be directing questions to specific folks here on
the panel, but I hope to hear from each one of you in
turn about your thoughts. So, the very first thing that
I’d like to talk about, again, goes back to this
theme of narratives that we have been
revisiting here today. And, my first question
is for you, Margaret. So one of the things that
often comes up in space is that we often use a
comparison to the frontier. And I think often times,
that’s invoked in a way that is not particularly
critical that invokes frontiers and the American West in a very
positive sense when, in fact, the exploration of the American
West was harmful to many people. And, given your scholarship,
you know, how do you think the narratives that we use shape our
understanding of history and the way that we
envision the future?>>Margaret Huettl: I
think talking about space in that language of the
frontier, one of the things that it does is it goes back
to these settler fantasies about what the West was, what
North America was, right, the language of the
new world, the language of this virgin wilderness
that is untouched by any real habitation
despite the fact, of course, that there’s, you know,
millions, maybe even tens of millions of Native Americans
living in North America, not to mention South America,
but the language of the frontier of discovery imagines virgin
wilderness, untouched space that exists for one
purpose and that purpose is for the exploitation of the
new commerce, the exploitation of the settlers rather than as like a fully developed
space place on its own.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: And
do you see parallels to that in the way that we
talk about space?>>Margaret Huettl: I do. And the language comes up
a lot like when various– I know there is– I don’t
remember who it was from SpaceX that was talking about not
wanting space to be a wild west. There’s lots of language about,
you know, going out and carrying on this narrative
of exploration. When people talk about
exploring space, the language that they use often references
the past using the language like frontier. I mean, that’s inherently
invoking the story about the exploration of
North America, the settling of North America that doesn’t
actually match the reality of what happened, but
instead puts, you know, these fictional explorers
in kind of, you know, glowing lights where
they’re, you know, doing good for the
rest of humanity.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. So– And if I can broaden this
to the entire panel, you know, the use even of the word
colonization was very heavily debated back in the ’70s. There were all these
meetings at NASA EMS about imagining life human
beings living off world with one camp sort
of exemplified by Stewart Brand being that, you
know, we should use colonization because it would help us
remember, in his words, I think it was, what was good
and bad about colonization, which we could take
into in and of itself. And then folks like
Carl Sagan saying that we should use
something like space cities because cities have a lot of
different kinds of people. But one of the things that I’ve
really been wondering about is to what extent does our
choice of wording matter. You know, many of the
things that I think a lot of scientists even who shy away from saying colonization
will use like discovery or exploration as sort of
neutral words, and I’d love to hear from the panel
how you choose your words when you talk about
these things. I see now that you’re
reaching for the–>>Nathalie Cabrol:
Yes, no, just– it reminds me, and Bobak might
be also sensitive to that. Words are, you know, very
important, but engineers and scientists, when they’re
preparing mission to Mars on where they have to operate
the mission in Mars, well, for the Mars Exploration
Rover team, we had to work on a dictionary, because
I was saying something and I had somebody right
next to me who was nodding and hearing the words
but we realize that sometimes we’re not
saying the same thing at all. So, there is a perception. As an environmental scientist,
I can tell you that, for me, there is no negative
connotation to say that bacteria colonize a rock. They do what they do. They are just expanding their
territory, but for them, there is no negative
connotation. I think that the
negative connotation comes from the interaction of– in human history when people
actually did nasty things to each other. But, I think that this
is the weight of history that we put behind the
words, and we have to be, you know, acknowledging this. But you can also say, well,
OK, we are colonizing Mars as the bacteria is
colonizing the next rock because this is what they
do, they need to grow and they are going
to this other space. So, I would say, yes, we need
to be very sensitive to history, but we also have to understand that sometimes we could go
beyond the words themselves.>>Dana Burton: Just to quickly
follow up with that as well as also, you know, along
the line of being sensitive to words is also
not hiding the fact that those histories
happened either, right? Exactly. So, like the
idea that if we’re going to replace the word colonization
with something else, is it actually changing the
actions that are happening or is it just invoking a
different kind of mask? And then what would get smuggled
in with those different types of activities if we call it
habitation or something else?>>Bobak Ferdowsi: So I also
find it rather interesting because 10 years ago, I’m
sure I was guilty of some of the Manifest Destiny sort of
things as well and, you know, trying to be more
aware of the situation as a representative of NASA. I think one of the things
that’s interesting is a lot of this comes up from
an American dominance in the space exploration field. You don’t necessarily hear the
same words, in my experience, with some of the
other space agencies that I’ve had the
opportunity to work with. And so, as kind of the de
facto owners of sort of this, you know, whether it’s
NASA, whether it’s SpaceX, whether it’s, you know, kind
of industry, going to Mars, that certainly does mean
that we sort of tend to the familiar terms. And you see even in the
current administration, right, there’s sometimes some almost
a religious-like aspect of divinity, of a sort of
amount of– you know, again, a Manifest Destiny,
but as imparted to us by a supreme being version
of that in our conversations. But I think also to your point
is we definitely do strive, right, in engineering even and
we’re very technical people, but we also work very hard
to define the semantics of what we’re talking about. And that those things
really do matter in our– you know, in our case
often times is just because if I make the
wrong choice based on an interpretation of what
you’re doing, we’ve lost, you know, a billion dollar
mission but also because it’s– you know, it’s the way that
we come to a common framework. So I’m willing to accept,
of course, any term, but I think we also have
to, you know, as a society, agree on what the
meaning of that term as in what the connotations are.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
So, if we can explore some of these narratives
a little bit more. Dana, I wanted to particularly
ask you, given your background in anthropology and your work. Another thing that I hear a lot,
when we talk about this stuff, is not just necessarily
references specifically to the American west or the
frontier, but we also hear a lot about like what humans do
and don’t do, and I wonder if you could speak to that.>>Dana Burton: So, I guess one
of the first things you learn as an anthropologist is that
people are very different and it’s very difficult to wrap
your head around difference because often in so much of our
everyday lives, we’re trying to relate to each other, we’re
trying to find similarities. Society and institutions are
all about making categories and then fitting people or
objects or beings into them. So, particularly with
space exploration, you have to be very
careful about the ways in which the human or
personhood is evoked because it can also not
give enough attention to the myriad different types
of experiences that people have. So, I think a really
good example would be from what we talked about in the
first panel, which is, you know, how people relate
to their bodies. Humanity has multiple
different types of ways in which we understand
privacy or intimacy and the ways bodies
get visualized or recognized or acknowledged. And so, it will be interesting
to see how these projects that push people
outside of known and recognizable environments
will shift how we understand bodies and people and humanity
in relation with each other as well as relationship
with the environment.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: What do
you think– if there exists one, do you think that
there’s a concrete effect to making statements
about what humans do?>>Dana Burton: A concrete
statement to what humans do?>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah,
so I’m asking specifically about how these shape
or ideas of– you know, to return to actually
to that first panel of like who is an explorer or how we
include or disinclude people. You know, I think often times
when that phrase of like it’s– it is in human’s
nature to explore, I think that often shapes
the way that we think about who an explorer is. So I wonder if anyone
wants to speak to that. And I throw it out, not only
to you, but to the whole panel.>>Dana Burton: I
can start at least. It’s– I’ve also heard that
a lot in terms of, you know, people want to explore its
human’s destiny to go forth and know and– know
the universe. But, I think that
something that we could say with the humans are is,
we relate to each other, we interact with each other, and
we have these common experiences that deeply affect
who we are and it’s through these different
experiences that we are able to comprehend a lot of the
narratives around space. And so, you know, the
idea that even thinking of the word exploration is going
to have different resonances with a lot of different people
and yet at the same time, we may be able to understand
what those resonances are and where those common grounds
are and have conversations that would promote in theory
of respectful or a type of exploration hopefully
that isn’t all exploitative.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Anyone
else want to comment on that?>>Nathalie Cabrol:
Obviously, you know, this aspect of anthropology
and relationship, et cetera, isn’t on my expertise. What I can relate to is, once
again, going back to looking at life on this planet, we
say humans are explorer, you can take this statement
and take life as an explorer. And the reason why we’re
still here today is because life has given itself
a chance to adapt and evolve and survive by multiplying
its environment and the habitat it has been
colonizing for 4 billion years. So it’s not just human, this is
not something that is specific to us, what is specific to us is that now we have the
technology to take it farther. We also have a society
that allows human to relate to each other, but it’s
not specific to human, it’s specific to life. So, if you want to take the
interaction between humans and how it’s going
to color exploration, you can say this also of
symbiotic systems of life. How you’re successful
or less successful in an extreme environment
is who you are going to associate yourself
with and use the strength of the next body of yours,
the next microorganism to make the system function. As a human, we can see this
this way, and it is that– and when we’re having this
discussion just before the panel and we had it even, you know,
a few days prior to that. For me, I see all of you in
this room not as gender or races or as an environmental
scientist, I see you as the product of environment, climate
and history. The differences in our bodies, difference in our
culture reflect where we have been evolving,
where our history reside, what kind of climate
we have been under. How we have perceived
the environment and how we relate
it structurally as organism, we are
all the same. The difference we are showing
here is really about that. And it’s true for all system. What is really interesting
is how are we going to use this reflection of who
we are which is a reflection of biodiversity and adaptation
into the next exploration. The same– that is true
for microorganic colonies, it’s true for us as well. But on top of this, we
have brought what we call intelligence and, again, as
an environmental scientist, I would say that, you know,
anybody will make it this far, you know, on our planet has to
be intelligent in some ways. But we brought a society and
we brought an interaction which is negative or positive
but we all have strength. Beyond our diversity,
we are here, we are survivors,
we’re adaptable. And I think that this is what
is going to take us next, this is what we need
to use beyond the terms of colonization, between
the– beyond the terms of, you know, cultures, et cetera. We need to bring our
strength like symbiotic system if we want to make it.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah.>>Margaret Huettl:
One of the things that this conversation makes
me think about and, I’m sorry, I guess today finds
me in a little bit of a pessimistic mood,
is the way that appeals to the public good or
universal truce have been used to violate the rights of minority peoples
throughout history. I think maybe an example that
fits this space is, I mean, not too far from here,
there have been drawers full of native people’s bodies,
ancestor’s bodies in drawers for decades, right, stolen
from graves, heads cut off by US military generals
and reduced to data for the public good. And when native people asked to
have their ancestors returned to them, they were said,
well, you’re standing in the way of science. We all need this knowledge,
this is something that– you know, that is
for everybody’s good and your objection
doesn’t, you know, carry as much weight
in this conversation. And so, I have questions
about how this– you know, this appeal to a common humanity could
potentially, not necessarily, but potentially be
used in a similar way to override the perspectives
of people who don’t necessarily
agree with, you know, yes, with people who are
making decisions.>>Bobak Ferdowsi: I think you
are right, we are talking kind of similar theme to
climate change, right, where we are making
decisions on behalf of everybody whether
we like it or not. I think you hit an interesting
point of technology because, you know, the technology allows
us to explore is also some of the technology that allows
us to survive and thrive in our environments, right, the
fact that we can get crop yields that are, you know, hundreds
of times what they were and also can, you know, the
[inaudible] the extract oil from sand essentially and make
our cars go for years to come. It is an interesting dilemma,
though, because, right, those are things
that both have the– you know, the benefits
to some of us and not necessarily equal
benefits to all people. And it’s a really difficult
challenge, and I was thinking about the earlier panelists, it’s from a narrative
perspective, it’s very easy for me to be like– ask all
of you to close your eyes and imagine, for example, a
world without homelessness. And for most of us in this room, it really doesn’t change our
life in a significant way. But if I ask you to close your
eyes and imagine you’re living on Mars, the life story is a
very dramatically different one. And I think that’s one of the
problems that we sort of have, is the sort of the
ability to put ourselves in these other perspective and how do you tell the
narrative of, well, obviously, if I was a homeless person– the life that I’m not homeless
is a significant difference to me. So how do I then put
myself into that perspective and I think that’s
the challenge that, you know, each of us faces. I think, you know, the way
that I’m slowly learning to do this is, right, through
conversations like this and to kind of think
about, OK, what is it not like to have my own experience but to have other
people’s experiences. And amazingly, right, we slowly
see, I think, overtime that some of these differences
come full circle, right? I think of L.A., for
example, where we used to have bike paths throughout
the city that were torn out for, you know, freeways to be made and now we’re going back
to bike paths, right? So what’s– you know,
what’s old becomes new again and it is an interesting thing. So, to start thinking
about some of that like, what are the things that
we are missing out on because of so-called progress
but as in return like sort of cyclical process, you know,
not that we can cut corners but maybe there is a way for us
to sort of think in those terms.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. You know, the point that
you both have brought up about not everyone
necessarily agreeing with space exploration, I guess,
I would say as an enterprise or even the language that
we use around it, right? I– It makes me think actually
of some of the questions that exist about
astronaut health and, again, returning to this idea of
bodies in space, right? That essentially for
long duration missions, if we were to go to Mars
or something like that, there’s no way for those health
standards to actually be met. So the way that it’s
currently done is that NASA has to evaluate whether they
will violate the standards for astronaut health in
every single mission case. And so, there’s also this
slightly more subtle issue, right, of informed consent. So you can say with astronauts
individually could, you know, we love thinking about
the individual here in the United States,
a lot of [inaudible]. And so you could say, well,
an astronaut can choose to undertake a mission that
might create damage to them. However, when we think about
things like Mars sample return, you– or even just private
space industry being in charge of flight, you know, when you
launch something into space, you launch over other people. You have the potential for risk
in which people are not able to actually consent
to being part of that, either because they don’t
know what’s going to happen or because they are– you know, space doesn’t obey
national boundaries. And then you also have things
like planetary protection which is this series of
policies which we’ll get into momentarily, where you
could bring something back into the Earth environment that
would compromise us in some way. I wonder if we can
turn to thinking about policy and treaties. So, the Outer Space
Treaty which dates from 1967 is this governing
document of all of the things that one can and
can’t do in space. I think my– well,
prior to this year, myself and my fellow scientists
have a pretty warm fuzzy feeling towards the Outer Space Treaty that it’s this very aspirational
document, and we’ll dig into that in a moment. But first, I wanted
to look specifically at planetary protection. So, maybe I’ll throw this
to Bobak, can you talk about planetary protection,
probably what it is and then how it’s
implemented in missions?>>Bobak Ferdowsi: Yeah. So for those of you
who don’t know, right, we do also have essentially
kind of our own Prime Directive when it comes to exploring other
places which is as we go there, we are– for– largely for–
honestly, for selfish reasons, which is we are trying to
preserve the environment as is. So that if we ask additional
scientific questions about those environments, then we haven’t compromised
the readings. So, what that boils doubting for our missions is
essentially places where we think there’s a
credible chance of habitability like Mars, like the moons
of Jupiter and Saturn. We deliberately clean
our traveling spacecraft and make an assessment
of how dirty they are from a biological perspective. And the probability that
they reach an environment where they could contaminate
that environment and say, you know, it has to be less in a
certain combined chance, right? So, I say, there is some
number of spores, you know, essentially of various microbial
life on my rover, the likelihood that it reaches a place that
has water or something else where they can survive, likely
they survive the whole trip from Earth to Mars, and then I
multiply that out and I figure, OK, it’s less than
one in a billion, that’s an acceptable risk. But also of course, as Lucianne
mentioned, it comes back to Earth which when we took
a sample and return, well, from preserving the
sample as a pure lunar or Martian environment. And as a preventative measure
for us somehow, you know, bringing back Andromeda strain
and like, you know, taking over. So, with that regard, it’s,
you know, as an engineer, it’s one of my– it’s
like one of those rules that we deal with, right? Like an essentially as an
engineer, I don’t want to have to worry about how
clean my parts are because it makes my
job a little harder. But as, you know,
as the big picture, we’re able to understand,
OK, the context of this is if we are looking for a life
on Mars, the last thing we want to find is life that we
brought with us and be unable to answer the question. And to me, the question is very
different difficult in part because we’re not entirely sure of whether life could’ve
originated at Mars or the places can [inaudible]
essentially life propagates with or without us like through
asteroids and other means, and whether life would look
the same in it’s origin, so meaning that even if
it’s independently derived, it doesn’t have to be
DNA-based, it doesn’t have to have other similar
trait star life. So, we use those rules in
order to protect those kind of boundaries and be able
to ask scientific questions. But I think it’s really selfish,
I don’ think we are thinking of that, oh, from the good of
Mars perspective that we’re in, you know, from the good of
the science perspective.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: And,
you know, I think currently, the current administration
is very pro-relaxation of regulation. And I know that there
are some people, at least within like the
scientific community as well as maybe new space companies and
enterprises who don’t want have to pay for planetary
protection, who have suggested that one should relax
planetary protection. And you’ve written
about this, Nathalie. Can you speak to what you
think planetary protection requirements, how and
if they should evolve as we move forward?>>Nathalie Cabrol:
Yeah, well, you know, I like to flip questions on
their head just to make sure that I’m looking at
different perspectives. And I think there is a
misperception right now about planetary protection. And I will go with
Bobak on this. It makes his life
very complicated but that’s a good thing. We could discuss scientifically,
you know, would it be difficult to recognize terrestrial
life and Mars life? You look at coevolution and I
think it would be pretty easy to see who is coming from where,
because the evolution of Mars and the Earth very early– even
very early was very different. But given that, we still want
to send the cleaner spacecraft. On the other hand,
there is this perception of planetary protection
as, you know, the bad guy who’s
preventing you from going to the really cool place
where you want to explore. See? See this smirk. Well, you know, that’s
a misperception. In fact, what planetary
protection is doing– should be doing and should
continue doing is really to bring in front of you
the question, what they are, what are the potential
issues, but just not to let you know that,
no, you cannot go there, to put you to work and
say, how I am going to be able solve that question. In fact, this is a source of
progress for me as somebody who was thinking in terms
of exploration strategies. Now, I’m just thinking
in terms of what kind of technology can I develop to
complete a cleaner spacecraft, to do penetration
of the subsurface where life actually could
be that is completely clean or are there ways from
biological experiment that I’m going to able to
recognize that life is coming from Mars or the Earth. And we are running against
time here because as you said, you know, there was a time
where space exploration was NASA or ESA or the Russian agencies. That’s not the case anymore. I don’t know if you are aware of there is a Tesla
going to Mars right now. And there are no real policies
in place at this point in time and also as for biologists, I would like to discover whether
there is life on Mars like not if life on Mars before humans
go, because once we’re there, we will find life on Mars. I’m not being fastidious. We’re just a microbio factory. And we already know
that some microbes that we are carrying would
survive to some extent in some places on Mars. So, for me, planetary
protection has to become an enabler
of exploration. And that’s something that
prevents us from exploring. And I think that a lot of
good can come out of this because as usual, you’re
pushing the envelope of thinking as exploration does and we
can come back to the question of climate change where
technologies we are, you know, developing for planetary
exploration are actually helping us monitor faster and better
environmental change on Earth. But– So that would be my
viewpoint on these things. And right now, it still
fuzzy, a fuzzy discipline where we don’t have
real policies. And we’re asking all the
questions and everybody is going out there to the “final
frontier of space” without real guide lines on
what is harmful, what is not.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. And if we can go to talk about
that policy, you know, Margaret, given your scholarship with
a, you know, nation head and sovereignty throughout
history for indigenous people, I wonder if you could speak
to the outer space treaty as, you know, should
scientists be as sanguine about its aspirational nature
as they perhaps are sometimes?>>Margaret Huetttl: So, I
think one thing that the history of treaty-making in the
United States specifically, and I think you could expand
this to Canada, Australia, and other places where
European nations have colonized, I think it teaches
us to be cautious. We’re in a building that has
hundreds of native treaties, treaties with native nations and the United States has
broken every single one. And it’s especially bad when
resources are involved, right? I think the good example of this
is the Treaty of Fort Laramie from 1868, which was
a treaty primarily with the Lakota people. And it protected
the Black Hills. Inside the Black Hills
are Lakota territory, the United States can’t go here. And the United States’
responsibility is to make sure any US citizens
who go into Lakota territory, the military will
help remove them. But then, some of those white
citizens who weren’t supposed to be in Lakota territory in
the first place found gold. And as has so often
happened in US history, it became a free-for-all, right? The US military ended up actually supporting the
settler miners who were looking for resources, violating
the treaties, starting a really
terrible genocidal war, and completely violating
the terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which they
continue to violate to this day. The pipeline controversy is
also related to violations of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. So when there’s resources
at stake, these kind of really grandiose
treaty terms often are not carried through. And part of the reason
for that is that baked into the United States’ legal
system is a legal system that privileges private
enterprise and both individuals’ and incorporations’ access
to resources and access– and the United States’
right to certain territory, going back to the
Doctrine of Discovery, which said that it
started out as a papal bull in the 15th century and says that whatever Christian nation
discovers a territory has the rights to the territory
everything that is in that territory. And this concept is baked
into the US legal system and makes it really
easy to defend actions that would walk back, you know,
like the Outer Space Treaty. And I mean, we saw it under the
previous administration as well when they passed– when
Congress passed a law that said that the products of, I
think it was asteroid mining and maybe more generally
that whoever is mining that has a right to profit
from those resources. And so, you know, there’s
already been some undermining of the principles of
the Outer Space Treaty within just the United
States, and that’s not talking about other nations
around the world as well.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: I
think one of the things that always strikes me is
that a lot of, you know, the move to extract resources,
so for example the Space Act from 2015 that you’ve just
referenced really clears the path for, sure, you can’t
own a celestial body which is what the Outer Space
Treaty says, but you can, you know, own its resources. And particularly, I
was struck by the fact that water was explicitly
included in the Space Act. But at the same time,
a lot of the companies that are expressly
interested in doing that will also use this
rhetoric about how going to space will change us. And I wonder, Dana, maybe
you can speak to this. You know, I think there’s
certainly the possibility for space to be something
that challenges us and perhaps makes us grow
but what do you think of that assertion, you know, in light of things
humans do and don’t do.>>Dana Burton: Well,
I guess it depends on how people define
being better. So, what protections
make me think of is that there is a certain
type of valuation being put on whatever you’re
trying to protect and that there are certain
people who are privileged to ensure that protection
and are pretty good. And particularly in terms of
like resource extraction, right, we have to ask the question
of who would be benefiting and how those benefits
would be redistributed if they are redistributed. And it seems as if, and this
is something the first panel touched on as well, like if
space is to become a place or a space where we can
experiment with different types of socialities where we can
finally hopefully acknowledge personhood in a different way
or just being in different ways, then it’s going to also have
to ask questions of like, well, how do we value people? When people become
objects, then what kind of different manners
do we have in relating to them and using them? Who has all these different
powers and privileges that can decide those things? So, will space make us better? Hopefully, it will make us
actually ask these questions and maybe even put into
dialogue with public forums. And that’s something
that I feel as if I need to do more exploration of, which
is like how often do we engage in public events like
this on these topics? Often, they’re held in
either scientific conferences or academic conferences or at least those
spaces that I’ve been in. So how can we expand
these conversations so that it’s not just
us talking to each other but actually talking about
what we imagine to be– space to be, and
how it could help us to grow beyond just catalyst or extractivist dialogues
and discourses?>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. I guess I’d be curious to
hear from the whole panel or whoever wants to take it. What do you think of the
rhetoric coming out of new space or some of the plans
that are thrown out there that are sometimes I think
out of the realm of fiction? But what do you think the effect
is of those ideas to things like the Tesla in space that
you mentioned, Nathalie, terraforming some
of these plans/ideas for these off-world
environments?>>Nathalie Cabrol: Well, you
know, I think at this point in time we’re confronted
with two things. There is the, I do this thing
because I can, you know. And there is a little
bit of that and what’s– and this is great. Don’t get me wrong, I
really do appreciate and I think this is a
great opportunity for us to have other people than
just elite and government. We’re capable now of putting,
you know, assets in space and help the development
of technologies and maybe moving humans
around, et cetera. On the other hand, there is
also a little bit of catching up into, you know, what
it entails really to, and sorry to utilize
that word, colonize, but right now we are going
with that, to settle Mars and really what happens
when you are there. There is a little bit a
romantic vision of exploration where we are going to land on
Mars and, you know, we are going to send 100,000 people and they
will stay there and from there, we are going to become an
interplanetary species. Ultimately, this is going
to happen but it’s not going to be easy, it’s not–
it’s going to be messy, and it is going to
humble us very much. And I think that there is
an understanding that going to Mars is not easy, it’s hard. It’s hard even to
land robots on Mars. It’s hard to keep people alive
during the flight to Mars. The first thing that’s going to
happen when they land on Mars, they are going to be
weakened by the travel. They won’t be able to get out of the habitat
for at least a month. I think that the old studies
were showing something like that. But when you’re an astronaut,
you have plenty of, you know, to keep you busy in your
spacecraft before you go out. But once you go out and
that’s the main difference between the romantic
vision that is inherited from the exploration on Earth
and the reality of going to Mars is not even
being on the moon. When you are on the moon,
you look up at the sky and you see your planet is
right there, you communicate in three seconds, all right? And if something goes wrong,
well, you’re back pretty fast. Once you are on Mars
and especially when somebody is going to
tell you, you are going there and you are staying there,
there is no ticket back. Then what happens? You’re in this confined
environment. When you’re on Earth
wherever you are, even in the most
lost place on earth, if you want to take a walk
because you are mad at the rest of the crew, you take
a walk, all right, you go out and you walk. And so on Mars, there is
a limited amount of time that you can spend
out per day just because of the radiation
environment. The people you are with, you
better go along with them because you are going to be with
them for a very, very long time. And you know, so the idea
of going back to Mars, colonizing Mars, I
think needs to be– excuse me, refrained
into what we know of Mars, the reality of Mars. I think there is a little
bit of romanticism right now that is infused into the vision
of some corporate companies. But at the same time, the
dream is the driver, you know, we first dream of things. It’s just like a kid who
wants to be a firefighter, why they want to do that,
because there is a red truck, you know, and they are heroes, or in explorers, a
little bit of that. There is no red truck but if
you survive, if you made it, you come back, you’ve
discovered something new. And then as the kid grows
up, they need that– you know, they learn that
they need to have skills and they need to, you know, being a firefighter is
not only the red track. And this is going to
be the same thing here with the romantic vision of
exploration of a planet that is so far away that you cannot
just take the next cab and come back home. So, for me, this is what
I– you know, right now, this is a little
bit of the danger because of the romantic
approach to exploration. There are steps that are taken that might not be too
wise or too smart. But if we work together, I
think there is a great deal of good things that can
come up with the merging of the experience that NASA
or ESA or other agencies have with the– we can do type of
approach of corporate companies.>>Bobak Ferdowsi: I mean, I–
obviously I love new space. It enables us to do a ton of
things that we weren’t able to do, you know, 10 years
ago, which is great. I think the big concern and
sort of what you’re getting on, right, which is the narrative
and sort of being seen as a very romantic, all these
habitats and these, you know, various– when we walked by the
botany building on the way here and I kind of imagined like that
could be like a Mars settlement, right, with the glass
and I’m look out and I got plants growing
inside, making air for me. But I do think it’s some sort
of– yeah, and to be fair, right, I mean my own institution
is sometimes guilty of this, the romanticized vision of,
you know, astronauts walking on the surface of Mars
for the first time. The challenge is real. I think that the big concern
with that narrative is always that if you don’t want–
if you don’t need it, you get discouraged which
then sets back the legitimate, all the stuff that
we’re trying to do, but also the setting
of that precedent. And it was kind of, you
know, I mentioned earlier where like people talk about
the time for doing things and of course I think if so many
people including myself, right, the time is always now because
I’m only going to be alive for, you know, any years
more and I want to discover life somewhere
else in my lifetime. I want to see people
do certain things. I want to accomplish
certain things. And so it’s always this– And
part of that is because I grew up on a vision of, oh,
these are achievable things in my lifetime, so therefore
I want to achieve them. And I think that’s part of
the issue with the narrative of this, you know, let’s expand
to Mars kind of thing which is– again, if we sell everybody
on a very romantic narrative and we either don’t deliver
or even if we do, it just sort of sets us up to have to do
these things and not necessarily in the– and I don’t want to
say it like in a calculating way but in a sort of
methodical systematic way where we really appreciate
what we’re doing. And, you know, someone
like myself, the dream is very
much alive with space. I love the challenge of it. So honestly, at the end
of the day, if I don’t get to do all these things, I’m
going to be happy because it’s– the fun is in trying to do it. And some– you know, most of the
time, when we try to succeed– I mean, we are trying
to succeed, most of the time, we succeed. But if there wasn’t a little
bit of a gamble or a risk to it, it would certainly be
a lot less exciting. But I think, right, it’s one of
the we’re really need to find, is what is the balance of
storytelling that we strike between encouraging
people to sort of wants to tackle these seemingly
insurmountable challenges and, you know, dream big and
do certain, you know, things and how do we do that
in a way that’s constructive for society, right? Is it focusing in
on different areas? Is it telling a story
that is more about the journey than the end? You know, I don’t have
an answer for that, but I think that’s kind of one
other things that are, you know, as you were talking,
it sort of reminded me. And again, I’m very optimistic about the work that’s
being done. I think that’s incredible stuff. But I am concerned about
the subdivision of it all, or sort of the salesmanship
of it all.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Nathalie,
do you have something–>>Nathalie Cabrol: Yeah,
just to add something. I think that with
becoming interplanetary, there is something that, you
know, that was not present for– in the exploration of our
own planet, and which is that now you are
adding a new world. And it’s not a new planet Earth. We’re not starting with that. We’re starting with a world that is very hostile
in the first place. And I think this is– when
you think about implications, you have to think at two levels. So the first implication
is, OK, how is this going to serve society as a whole, you
know, here and somewhere else? But there is also, you
know, what’s happening on this humankind on Mars? What are they becoming, especially if they
are not coming back? So we have to– You
know, maybe this is where the big difference
is between exploration here on Earth and what has happened
with the exploration of Mars, is that when you are on Mars,
you are completely on your own, which you were somewhere,
you know, on Earth as well
and in some places. But here, you are
in an environment that you were not
the master of it. The environment is going to
dominate you for very long time. And you have to count
on each other. You have to use each
other smart. It’s the big equalizer, yeah, the environment will
completely dominate you for hundreds of times. And by the way, those
beautiful spheres that you see, you know as much as I
do how many, you know, asteroids are falling
at the surface of Mars every single year. So we better be under the
surface for quite some time. But what I’m saying
is that unlike Earth, you just cannot take a walk
and find the next spring, the next cascade and, you
know, leave off and ride away. You’re going to have
to count on each other. You have to– So this is where
maybe differences between people and race and gender,
et cetera is going to be maybe a little less
important, because well, you are one against
the environment.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
I think I’m– I actually wanted to spend
the last couple of moments of our panel here talking about
Mars as a physical environment because I think, you know, often
we think of ourselves as masters of our environment,
which we objectively on this planet are clearly not. And also, you know, the
relationship of the environment as being something
we can or should try to control I think is not
shared by every culture. You know, one of the
things that came up, and since I haven’t specifically
mention it in this panel, all of us where co-creators of
the things that we’re talking about here, so we did
these pre-event calls. And one of the things
you brought up, Margaret, was environmental personhood
and some of the ways in which indigenous cultures
have thought of environments but also engaged with the
level system and with policy, so maybe if you could
speak to that.>>Margaret Huettl: Yeah. So, I was thinking of an
example from New Zealand where the indigenous
people there were able to get legal personhood
protections for a particular river,
so that any violations of the river are the same as
violations of like a human body, and the treat– you know,
they have legal recourse to environmental damage done
to this like physical entity that represents their
relationship with this place. So that’s one way that
indigenous people have, you know, used the legal
system both to their advantage and to the advantage of
the environment, right? I know India has also given
personhood status to at least to two of its rivers in
order to fight pollution. And so, you know, for me,
the question is there’s a– if there isn’t– like there’s
not necessarily other people, right, out on Mars? But does Mars, right, as
an entity have a same right to some sort of status,
you know, equivalent to the
personhood status that this river in
New Zealand has?>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah. And this also came up in our
call in the sense of I think one of the ways I hear people
sometimes split the difference, right, is well, you know,
we’ll be able to do whatever or industry can do whatever to
an environment after we’re sure that life is not there. And I don’t know when that could
possibly ever actually happen. Yeah. So, what are– And I’ll
throw this out to the panel as a whole just as a parting
thought, what are your thoughts about how we should conceive
of Mars as an environment or even why we study
other planets? And maybe I’ll give
that to you first, Dana.>>Dana Burton: So, a couple
of kind of branching thoughts with this is that Mars
as an environment is as much an environment
here on Earth. And in preparing to go
to Mars, there are lots of different strategies and
protocols and programs being put into effect that are
changing the landscape. So, just thinking of new
space, right, they’re trying to create different types of
rockets, so reusable rockets which could technically
land in different places and don’t necessarily have to
be launched from certain places, I don’t know, the science stuff,
I could move to these guys. But just taking into
consideration like what places are we
then changing in order to fulfill these goals
of space exploration? So, if we’re thinking
about Mars and we need to understand constables of life
or, you know, is it organic, is it carbon-base, again the
science, we also have to think about what kind of tests are
we performing on entities and bodies here in
order to understand that type of environment. So, I think these
larger questions of like the Mars environment
are as much a reflection of how we’ve treated the
environment here on Earth. And I think that would– as
a parting thought would be to really take a good reflection
of how our search for knowledge and our understandings of life
are impacting how we work with and see life here and
I wonder if we could– you know, maybe that would be a
point of doing something better, is incorporating a more
perspective that is respectful and incorporates– or is
collaborative with difference and understands difference
better.>>Nathalie Cabrol: I’m going to
take a slightly different take at this obviously and I
don’t have your expertise and I’m dealing with the aspects
of, well, yeah, carbon-based and environment and
things like that. So I think that we are
doing our homework, astrobiology is doing its
homework right now in trying to figure out what kind of
environment and what kind of coevolusion Mars
could have been. Because if you’re looking
for a life on a planet, you have to think about
coevolusion, you have to think of Mars as a biosphere. And that goes back a
little bit to the personhood that you are mentioning that
is not exactly the same thing. I know exact– I think I
understand very well what’s happening here where you’re
giving, you know, legal rights to a planet, to a
river, et cetera. But in terms of environment
where you are recognizing that we are part of a
biosphere, we are not outside of a biosphere, we
are part of a system, and then if you are
hurting that system, you are hurting the
entire biosphere. Then there is a little bit of
that too, there is a respect of the system you are part of. I think that what we
are doing is trying to put ourselves
outside of that. We’re seeing this with the
environmental change right now. But to go back to your question,
as in astrobiology going to extreme environments
and looking at what we think could be
the most evolved type of life that could be on Mars right now,
which basically are microbes because there’s not
enough energy to just sustain complex
life on Mars, I’m looking at what these
microbes are in an environment that is very relevant to what
Mars was 3.5 billion years ago. And they are telling me
something very profound about humans, and which is that
in those places where we go, the earliest organism we see
are blue and green algae. And you see them and they
can’t thrive in radiation, in places where radiation
is extremely strong, in places that are a little
bit cold where there is a lot of aridity, et cetera,
et cetera. Fundamentally, they are the same but they become a
little different. They are developing
different pigment. They are developing different
capabilities to adapt because of the place
they are at. And so this is telling
me about, you know, something about our humanity, our new evolution,
we are adaptable. We are the product of our
environment of our history. Going back to Mars, I am
wondering if by going to a place that is environmentally
completely different is going to help us finally figure
out what it means to be human when you are removed from
your planet of origin. And when you are getting, you
know, confronted to something that is completely different,
you finally all of a sudden, you know, what is– what it
means to be human is going to, you know, get to the surface but
being on another planet then all of a sudden you will lose your
humanity what was making you human in the first place. So it’s an interesting paradox
that exploration of environment and the Martian environment
could bring to humans finally
discover of who they are. What it means to be us.>>Bobak Ferdowsi: So to–
one of your points, right, in terms of that the
developments, right, I do know, right, for example
that Mars sample return which is a robotic mission
is effectively, right, being very high priority– its
always been a high priority from a scientific perspective but is being pushed forward very
quickly because of the potential for humans to go to Mars
and contaminate environment. That is not obviously,
you know, the dozen, two dozens samples I will get
back is certainly not what you would ideally want but I know that there is some
pressure to do that. Because we’re afraid that the
environment is contaminated then once that happens then
there’s no going back. I think for me the exploration
that kind of keys for it as far as– and I work really
in robotic exploration, is I think of it
mostly as a kind of way of reflecting upon ourselves,
you know, there is sort of an inherent curiosity
to me, of course, about whether we’re
alone in the universe. Statistically speaking I would
say it seems very unlikely but there was sort of sense of
looking at these other places as reflections upon like how did
we– what is our origin story? How did we arrive here? How does a place
like Earth form? What is the context for
life showing up like ours? Mars is in so many ways
are very obvious reflection and from the fact that
when we see pictures of it, we can imagine ourselves there. We can– there is a gravity
that’s similar to ours, there was, you know, a warmer
weather environment in the past. There’s still a lot of things. As inhospitable as Mars is
there are far more, you know, inhospitable places
in our solar system. So there is a fair amount of
ability to sort of reflect on our own planet like
kind of hope that some of these are opportunities
to do that I think. Yeah, there are most
powerful images of course of space [inaudible] are
often the once that show earth in the context of the places that we’re visiting whether
the Earth on the horizon, Mars or the [inaudible]
picture from the voyagers. So I do sort of see them as
a way of looking at ourselves and being introspective. And I hope that many of
the people who continue to do this will also see that
as a motivating factor for this. It’s not necessarily to
accomplish something there as much as to sort of a kind of
accomplish something here about, you know, an understanding
or some of us have a deeper
understanding of ourselves. And I think if someone will
speaks to the commonality of experience, what
I mean it’s very hard to imagine we’re very different
when you see earth as, you know, a pixel on a, you
know, an image. It makes you feel a lot–
I think a lot more– a lot more alone but
also lot more connected, so I hope that that’s
kind of the version of exploration that
we take forward.>>Margaret Huettl:
I’m not really sure how to answer this question,
but I think Nathalie when you’re talking about, you
know, that seeing everything as a system, that is very
similar to, you know, my own understanding of things
from a slightly more, you know, not claiming this is a universal
[inaudible] perspective but you know, that’s
how I was taught to understand my relationship
not just with things on earth but with, you know,
the sun the moon, and the larger system
as well and things. You know, it’s important to
maintain some sort of balance. And so I would think that,
you know, it would be– I mean and I guess
my ideal situation, Mars would be viewed not just– again as this blank slate
resource for us to learn about, you know, ourselves which I
think is an important part of it, but also as an entity
in a self that deserves respect and we can learn about as well. If that makes sense.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
All right.>>Nathalie Cabrol: That
makes a lot of sense because when you look–>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Sorry we’re– I know we have a lot of
wonderful comments to make but we have time for questions
and answers now and I don’t want to cut into that so, let’s
everybody thank our panelists. [ Applause ] And as in the morning
we have mic runners, so if you have a question,
please just raise your hand and someone will
bring a mic to you.>>So, first of all, great
responses and answers. So, it seems like there’s a kind
of like a talker or center point around us being connected
as, you know, one. How do you navigate– this can
be for anybody on the panel. How do you navigate a
political landscape or kind of media landscape now that is
kind of not in that interest? It’s a bit more divided
and kind of pitting people against each other, so
maybe even through your work or into your personal, you
know, lives how do you kind of navigate that component
so that people can resonate with the fact that we
have more of a connection on a fundamental base?>>Bobak Ferdowsi: So, I think
for me personally, right, it definitely do try of
connect at an individual level with what resonates with me
and hopefully share that kind of excitement passion. In terms of a more broad
perspective, I think, it has been an effort
on my part. It become easier over time of
trying to use more inclusive, you know, terminology
in terms of, you know, of course NASA is– right,
we made the transition from man’s space to human
space volume, things like that but just trying to sort of
bring that perspective into it. And ultimately, you know,
I don’t necessarily expect that any of these
things is going to connect with 100% of people. But in the interest of sort
of including as many people as possible is trying to convey
what are the benefits to people and I think while, you know,
NASA does an incredible amount for our science, we
are not necessary– that’s not the set of division that we always tell
to the public. Whereas, working with
Indian now, right, the thing when they talk
about their space program, they are literally
talking in, OK, we are able to grow more crops,
we’re able to better predict, you know, meteorological
events, evacuate areas so that even though the
storms are getting worse, we’re actually seeing fewer
casualties in places like that. And that is a direct
tangible thing that, right, that benefits, you
know, people directly. And I think that’s–
to try to talk about to those point is sort
of where I think that’s, again, it’s a newer thing
for me when I’m– it’s kind of the direction
that I feel like I’m going.>>Nathalie Cabrol: I will
add to what Bobak is saying. This is something that I
presented a few years ago. When I’m making public
presentation, I always talk about from the Earth
to Mars and back. And it can be Mars or it
can be something else. It a planetary exploration
of world is that– and I’m going to take the
example of environmental change. In that case, you can
see the climate change on Earth a little bit
like a planetary mission where you have very finite
resources, very limited amount of time to understand
what you have. You have a scientific goal. You have very little
bandwidth to communicate and very little time together as
much as that as we can to figure out the question or the
answer to your question or articulate your
question better. And this is exactly what we
have with climate change. We have something
that’s upon us. I’m– I cannot even say
now that it’s coming at us like a freight train,
it’s there. It’s all over the place. And we have very,
very little time to understand what’s going on. And what people don’t realize
is that with this, you know, our mindset of having to
solve question really fast, very efficiently, planetary
exploration is developing tools, new tools and new way of approaching planetary
environment that you can take back to the
Earth and use it for the benefit of everybody trying to
understand, you know, what is the next best thing to–
not only monitor the environment but maybe help, you know,
slow down what’s going on. So, I think this– even if people don’t realize it
day-to-day, there are a couple of reason for that is that everybody is busy
doing their own thing but as Bobak was saying, NASA
is not doing a very good job at mentioning the good
stuff that happens on Earth because of planetary exploration
and what they are doing. And I think they should
do that a lot more. So, this is happening,
this is not necessary because it’s not happening
is because you don’t know about them and so the
effort maybe you should be about those agency and
this is NASA and this ISA and this everybody else. Maybe the Indian agency
is doing a better job at is relating what
we are doing as far of an endeavor for mankind. And which is actually true
it’s not like a small amount of people doing something
for an elite. That’s not right. This is not out to be presented. How many things you are wearing
or using that is actually, you know, the result of
planetary exploration. You don’t know it, you know,
you don’t even know about it. So, there is an effort
for us to be made of. And, of course, for people like
us go out and talk to the public and say what’s happening. And also maybe, you know,
take the kids and say well, you know, be part of this. And also find on your way, we’re having this
interesting discussion early on about how kids have their own
judgment and mindset et cetera. They probably have very good
idea on how we can make this– the exploration for humanity.>>Dana Burton: Very
briefly also. Fiction and fantasy
and imagination offers so many different ways
of re-imagining spaces and as things are right now,
probably if you just take cut and dry the political
or commercial sector, you’re not going to
really get that far. But if we start thinking and I
think the next panel will talk about this a lot too, right? If we start imagining different
ways of relating to each other, resonating and also knowing that consensus is not
necessarily possible and that we don’t want to all
agree with each other that is through contestation that our
best efforts and explorations and discussions occur and
I think we can go at that and hopefully that will build
into something productive and generative and creative.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Any questions? Chanda.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
So I guess, you know, obviously I’m reading
things through the lens of the conversation we had on
the first panel this morning. And thinking a little bit
about vocabulary and, you know, the word “explore”
and I have been trying in just my every day life
to get away from, oh, I discovered this new
artist and say I’ve learned about a new artist because often
the artist existed before I discovered them. And so, I’m kind of wondering and maybe I’ll put this question
particularly to Margaret because I think that this
falls along some of the things that you’ve been thinking
about and talking about. How does something a transition
like that shape the conversation that we have in terms of
thinking about learning about Mars versus
exploring Mars?>>Margaret Huettl: Are
you saying that like you– [ Inaudible ] OK. Yeah I think that I like
that shift to thinking not just by exploring but learning. And I don’t– I think part
of the reason why it’s so important is because
language has power beyond just like the stories we tell but I
mean, I guess thinking about it from a legal perspective, again, the way that this
language gets embedded and in the legal system. Also, you know, shapes
peoples’ lives on a day-to-day basis as well. So, I think that, yeah, I’ve– I mean I don’t know what
language would be best but I like the idea using less
exploring more learning. Thinking about relationships. Yeah.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Questions? Anyone more?>>I was wondering, why Mars? Why not colonize the moon or some independent
free floating habitat?>>Nathalie Cabro: Well,
I’ll go first then you guys. Well, I think we are
going back to the moon. And frankly as a scientist I
think this is an excellent idea. This is next to home. This is a place where we
can learn a lot about how to do things right which
basically we’ll be messing up a lot before we learn
how to make things right but it’s closer to home,
so maybe the repercussions of that will be lesser. And there are also different
layers to that question. I would say that the
moon makes a lot of sense to try technologies, habitat
and the number of things. As far as why Mars,
then you go back maybe astrobiology question. And Mars is really about,
you know, this connection that we seem to have, you
know, we have had for so long. Mars makes humanity dream. It was first, the
agreement which turn out they are not there. The [inaudible] of
Mars, et cetera. Why? Because when you are
looking at the landscape of Mars you don’t need
to invent any vocabulary to describe the landscapes. You have mountains. You have sunset. You have sunrises. You have valleys. You have [inaudible]
and dunes and wind. This is how we describe Earth. It’s Earth that’s dry
now on and, you know, at least less alive than we are. We don’t know if there is
life actually out there but the fact is that early
Mars was fairly close– was not the same
but fairly close to what we know early Earth was. And if there is life somewhere
in the Solar System that’s close to what we are at least in
theory, Mars would be the place. And there is something
that I really like that, I repeat all the time. There is something
special about Mars. And I still, as an
astrobiologist, don’t know if there
is really a transition between what we called prebiotic
chemistry or I mean a line between prebiotic
chemistry and life, I really think there
is a transition that could, you know, that can. But what I know is that
our planet is so dynamic that whatever habits between
those two states of matter and something else is not
recorded anymore on our planet. It’s gone. Erosion, it’s– to
plate tectonics. This record is gone, which
means that if we want to understand how life
started, what’s the process, we are not going to find it
necessarily in our own planet. So, now you have to imagine
being an orphan and trying to figure out who
your parents are. They are gone, all right? So, where you go to, you
go to your, next of kin, aunt and uncle or, you
know, somebody close to you. Mars is that. And there is another plate
tectonic, the erosion is less, geology collectivity
is lesser on Mars too. And there are very, very,
very old rocks on Mars and that was still
exposed at the surface. Just because of panspermia, because of planetary exchange
there is a good chance that the same material
that created life on Earth maybe somewhere
on Mars. And it may be that Mars is going to be the place gives us a
response to, you know, how life, our own life formed, how
we got started, who we are. So, this is what’s
special about Mars. This is the why behind Mars. This is the why beyond at least
the astrobiology part of it. As for the human part of
it, I think this is the– our old story of explaining
from going to, you know, a rock to the next rock, to the next continent
to the next ocean. It happens so that the next
rock is 50 million miles away from here.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: So I know
we probably have other questions but we have a break
in the afternoon and a reception following
this and I don’t want to get us off track
but I want to thank all of are panelists again. [ Applause ] So, the overview of
this particular panel if you understand the program
is called alternative futurism. And this of– as we
should probably be evident of by now is centered on science
fiction in the imagination. It has really has a power
to inspire and instruct us as we invention the future. But it’s also long bit a vehicle
for myths of Manifest Destiny. And so, we wanted to start today
by talking about the view points of humanities future that
are alternative to some of these mainstream narratives and how we might
conceptualize life off world in radically different ways. And so, I’m going to
start by throwing this out to the entire panel probably
the central concern that came up in our pre-event call
which is alternative to what? So, if we could take a moment
to talk about distinctions between kinds of science
fiction and how they interface with your work to whoever
wants to take it first.>>Hi everyone, I’m
so happy to be here. So, one of the things that
comes up for me in response to that question is I think about Bell Hooks
centering the margins. I also think about some
problems as I continue to teach that her text in
that particular one. The problems that I’m
beginning to have around the– even the term margin, and so
that’s something where I think about what does that mean to be
centered or to center oneself, and what does it mean
to claim the margin or to reject that terminology? And so, for myself, I
really approach Afrofuturism and the teaching of it as a
kind of shape shifters art. And I think that that is also
something that draws people and students in particular
to my classes and to that particular approach, where
it offers a kind of inclusivity and space for people
who are coming from many different
backgrounds and ways of being and seeing themselves an
identity to enter into that and see it as a kind of radical
space for creative production.>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo:
Thank you. I think there are a few kind of
cultural myths that Afrofuturism as some of the related works
they’re trying to reject and specifically in regards
to science and technology, I think one of the most
prominent ones is that, you know, black folks are like
a modern outside of modernity that they exist in some sort
of primitive or above or beyond or like extrapolated away
from technology and science. And then the other thing
that I’ve encountered a lot in regards to my work is this
idea of being an anomaly. I found that when I perform, a lot of white folks
will approach me as though I’m an
anomaly and I’m saying– and a big part of what
I want to do is say– is express that this is
the perspective that a lot of black folks have, right,
that I’m not a unicorn, and so I think Afrofuturism
has helped me to figure out how to kind of work through
that, but that’s one of the myths I think that
there can only be one or that there’s– we represent
one particular perspective or one group, when that’s
not necessarily the case.>>Willi Lemper: Test. We’re absolutely thinking on
what you said about Bell Hooks. I’ve been thinking a
lot about this book by Ngugi wa Thiong’o,
“Moving the Center”. And similar to what’s come
up a lot today about who’s in the center in a variety
of ways and who’s not in the center, who’s
at the margin, but also who’s just not
there at all, who’s absent. And that’s harder to see
because it’s not present and requires a critical eye. Another quote that comes
to mind that was written by Peter Gourevitch,
about the Rwandan genocide that I come back to a lot
around this question is that power largely
consist in the ability to make others inhabit your
story of their reality. I think that’s powerful
and specially this panel, I think there is this
connection between creative work and scholarship, and there’s
something that happens in that space that
doesn’t happen in purely journal
articles alone. And that imagining the future
is very much about the image or some sort of engagement
that’s not one way and through this very old
colonial structure is not as essential. Yeah.>>Ytasha L. Womack: Hi. This is so exciting. I guess when I think about– whenever I talk about
Afrofuturism, I like to give sort of a ground
floor reference definition for it. One of the definitions I
often you don’t use is to say that it’s a way of
looking at their future or ultimate realities, but
through a black cultural ends. And then I have to define black,
you know, and say that that’s, you know, people of the
African continent and, you know, people of the African Diaspora. And then I also say that it
intersects the imagination, technology, mysticism. I highlight mysticism,
because that separates it from the way we usually
talk about science fiction. And that it obviously
intersects black culture, but that there is a lot of
appreciation for the concept of the divine feminine,
a lot of women creators, but also this idea
of valuing intuition or the emotions is being a
valued space for information. Intuition is a valued space
for information in the same way that logic is and looking
at that as a balance. So, if you take something
like the oak, and you think about masculinity and femininity
in sort of these larger not in a binary space per se but
just sort of this concept that there are ideas we both
connect with and that express, you know, very much
these different ways that we can process information, and come to understand
ourselves. And then, you know, this
relationship with time, you know, with the future
and the past and the present, being various expressions
of what and these are all
concepts you see coming out of the Afrofuturism which
also overlap in a lot of ways with indigenous futurism. But what is interesting about
Afrofuturism which is different from how we kind of
talk about this sci-fi, this is why the whole
alternative futurism gets really interesting, Afrofuturism
at least acknowledges that it’s a perspective, right? And so, we start talking
about this idea of, oh science fiction, and then
there is this general assumption that this is the way, right? And that there’s
one approach to it, and a lot of times
it’s very nationalistic or militaristic and, you know,
it might explore various things. So, I mean, I’ve been on
a science fiction panels and I just have to say,
“Look, I don’t speak from a marginalized space.” I don’t know what that is. That’s not my background. That’s not my perspective,
and there was gasp. Like, oh my goodness, but that’s
what you’re here to inform us of in a psychology sorry, you
know, because I don’t relate to that concept, right? And so generally
speaking, you know, this is the point I’m talking
about these perspectives is to integrate and share and look
at how we can integrate them, how we can overlap them and
how we can pull the best so you create this sort
of societies in the world that makes the most
sense for us.>>D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem:
I wanted to kind of respond and just, you know, affirm
what you said in terms of to throwing this idea of
the black object and the need that people have where the
largest societies seems to have for depictions of
black objection. And so that, you know,
this idea that no, I’m not speaking from a margin. I’m– you know, and I’m
speaking from a point of joy, of radical joy, which is
something that Wanuri Kahiu, a filmmaker who did Pumzi,
the film and many others, and Rafiki which is now
showing in Kenya, it was banned and now it’s currently
showing which is awesome. But, you know, thinking about
depictions and how we are, you know, there’s a sort of
consumption of black object. And so, the Afrofuturism
as a genre is the space where we can vary directly,
you know, go up against that in a sense, you
know, at the same time, I also reject the idea and this
is connected with, you know, in terms of definitions that
Afrofuturism is a response to whiteness in the same way
that black guards movement, authors, and practitioners
were saying, you know, basically Malcolm
was assassinated and Baraka [assumed spelling]
moved up North to Harlem and said, you know, this
basically, we are going to address ourselves, two black
people, four black people, about black people,
we are not going to be responding to whiteness. And so, it was art as action,
and so I really root my approach to Afrofuturism, very much
in the black guards movement in that time period I thought
about that for a long times, and I feel and very
connected with a number of the practitioners who
are still working today. And one of the things
I want to say too about the term Afrofuturism
is there’s also and I guess, this is a little more detailed
in terms of the specifics of this– the genre, but there
are sometimes arguments about, well, what should it be called
and the more Afrofuturism gets to be this phenomena, you
know, as the years go by. Some folks would say,
“Well, I don’t want to– Afrofuturism, that term
was invented by white men. I don’t want this to be
something that I’m using to define this radical
practice.” Which I understand and I
think that’s why I go back to shape shifting,
Afrofuturism, black sci-fi, a black speculative
science, you know, all of these terminologies
have space, and I think they’re
all connected. One of the reasons I hold
to that term at least for the moment, giving myself
space to shape shift out of that if I should so desire
is there’s an article by Mark Rockymore called
“What is Afrofuturism?” that really has moved
me over the years. And he talks about the afro. So for me it’s kind
of two parts, one is the form of the afro. It can’t be contained. It can’t be constrained,
spirals, moving this way and that, you know,
of their own volition. And so, his beautiful poetic
description of the afro for me is what roots
the practice. And then also, thinking
about Malcolm rooted in Black Arts Movement as well,
and in that particular moment in time, where there
was a constant speaking to the Afro-American. And so something about
using the term Afro for me also roots
it in that moment. And so, I really, for myself
I think about Afrofuturism as an action, it’s a practice. I describe it as a
methodology of black liberation. So it’s definitely a space
where people can express and be creative, and all
of that is part of it. For me, I’m very invested
in it, it not necessarily to say political,
but just an action, a statement, a methodology.>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo:
And I think leaping on that, just quickly in the anthology
Octavia’s Brood distinction is made in the introduction between
sort of speculative fiction and visionary fiction
and this idea that this is explicitly rooted
in sort of social justice ideas, and that there’s no
shying away from that, and sort of what you’re
expressing around, the recognition of a
perspective, like acknowledging that is a big part of the work. Not saying that they
occupy the view from nowhere that there’s an objective
perspective there, right, instead, that’s a full part
of kind of visionary fictions, so I think– and kind
of this distinction that you were talking about
around kind of the action of it that there’s this social justice
framework for a lot of the work that falls in that category.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Willi,
I wonder if you could speak to this from the standpoint
of indigenous futurism and how it functions for you in the communities
that you work with.>>Willi Lemper: Yeah. I mean it operates in a very
practical way for people because in Australia,
for example, there is– there are no treaties
sort of as much as treaties have been
broken in North America. There are no treaties. [Inaudible] is established
that there were no people there and so it was considered moral. And so the way that citizens
imagine indigenous futures in Australia has a huge impact on whether communities
will be funded. There’s a reason that for to
close half of all communities– aboriginal communities
in Australia. And it would have happen except
there was a public outcry. So a lot hangs on sort
of broader coalitions of people imagining that
there’s a future for people, but it’s very stark funding,
it was cut by 40% recently, and there’s this larger
way, I think especially in indigenous futurisms
around temporality in which the past
becomes a place for– in which indigenous people are
slotted into the mythic at best, and then it gets
worse from there. Then the present is about
suffering in problems and the future is absent. And so there’s this
way in which– there’s this great books
“Silencing the Past” by Michel-Rolph Trouillot. He talks about how the past
is a bundle of silence. It’s more than it
is anything else. And the future is also silenced,
that the future mostly has to do with things that
have been edited out. But we focused on the
things that are there because that makes sense to do, especially for indigenous
people. Western civilization is
dependent on them not existing and always has been in
Southern colonization. And so, I think temporality
becomes especially important in that case, yeah.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: You know
one of the things that came up in our pre-event call
was the potentiality of these frameworks
for transformation. And I think that’s something,
even though you each work well, you use work in a variety of
different media, then different from each other and wide in
scope in each one of your work. And I wonder if you could
speak a little to the way that transformation
is realized during or at least implemented
in your work. So, I know Ytasha, you had done
a dance therapy workshop this summer, is that correct?>>Ytasha L. Womack: Right.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Yeah.>>Ytasha L. Womack: Yes,
very eventful program. I worked with teenage girls
which is always great. And the program was really based
on this concept of using dance as a way to connect people
with ideas about the future. And to connect them with more
of a historical grounding around identity in
culture and so forth, but more importantly
just to kind touch on all aspect of ourselves. So the course, it included
breathing exercises, meditation, but then they also
learned a little about different dances of– from different parts of the African continents
and Diasporas. So they learned West
African traditional dance, they’re learning
Chicago style stepping, they’re learning samba, salsa
and seeing the relationship between the music and
the rhythm patterns. But then also there would
be some essay writing. They would journal. Talk about themselves. We would do group exercises where they would pick a
celestial phenomenon and then do like a freestyle dance
movement thinking about Andromeda or
a particular star. And what it did over
time was they started to see a relationship between
themselves and the earth and then the larger universe. And with, you know, start
to speak in that way and they saw the value of art
in going to museums and thinking about dance and movement
as being art forms that had been preserved
in some respect for several thousand years. Looking at a dance
like samba and looking at how old it really is, so
some of the rhythms from– some of the music
from West African, the West African dances
they were learning. And seeing that, you
know, in different spaces, there was sometimes, they were
different symbolism with that. And then you say, “Well,
what does that have to do with the future?” Well they saw a relationship
between themselves, people in the past and
people in the future. And that the dances that they
were doing were connected to people who were doing
those dances before. And that the ideas and the
actions they were taking now were going to shape things
for people in the future and it also help them to feel
like they have more agency in part because of
the physical activity, they’re pushing through,
you know, body limitations to do things they weren’t
normally used to doing. And that made them think
more about their own futures. And so, it was, you know,
very holistic in that sense, but of course, you can imagine
certain things come up as well that kind of had
to be addressed. And so it was a very
transformative experience, but from me as a person who is a
writer and a dancer growing up, most people would think there
wasn’t much of a relationship and to– so– but the
natural evolution of that is to see this logic connectivity. So I did do a film called a
“Love Letter to the Ancestors from Chicago” which also
dealt with dance as a kind of like the body as a– the
body as a portal of sorts between the future, the past
and the present specifically around kind of house music. I’m from Chicago and
I’m excited about that. But looking at freestyle
dances being part of the sort of interconnected way
of reminding ourselves that we have a relationship
with one another, with the universe
and with the earth.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Yeah, and I don’t know if you all are familiar
with the dancer PhD contest or I guess it’s a contest. So this was something that
started a number of years ago that I think, well, for lack
of less punny word embodies, a lot of the ways that people from scientific disciplines
think about the dialogue between the arts and sciences that it will be an
interpretive relationship. And I think one of the
things that’s really missing from the way folks from the
science side, city arts is that they don’t realize that there’s this possible
relationship they can form just through movement
through from physicality. Yeah. I wonder and whoever
wants to take it first, if you can speak a little bit
about some of the projects that you’ve worked on and
their relationships to the sort of transformative
potentialities.>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo:
I think touching on what Ytasha was
talking about. Actually my PhD work has helped
me in some regards in thinking about transformative potentials
of spaces and in myself and my community in a sense
that one of the areas of science and technology studies, it was
kind of history of technology, and broadening our definitions
of technology, broadening them to think less about kind of
discrete specific objects that often kind of thrive
or are tied in deeply to like masculinity or
particular, you know, constructs of power and instead
thinking more about, you know, “Monday in Technologies”
or even– not even technologies as objects
but as ways of doing things. And so opening up this idea that technology could be
something more, and that is part of a– it only has meaning. And so far as the people around
it give it that meaning, it– I think as Ytasha
was saying, it gave– it felt like I had agency,
right, that the things that we do in our
actions were not just sort of dropped from the sky. There’s a context. There’s a broader history. There’s a relationship
with other things that have happened before. And I think power functions
by cutting people off from their past, right, by
not allowing people to feel like there’s a connection
and that the things that you do actually matter. And I think once I
started to recognize that, that’s when I dug into my music. And explicitly talking about,
you know, hardships that I’d had but not in the sort of
like grand, you know, black suffering narrative
but instead this is a thing that I’ve dealt with
personally in my life. And let me share my
testimony with you. And in doing that, you know,
people have come up to me after shows and said, you know,
I started going to therapy because you started talking about the importance
of that in your life. Or I had a conversation
with my adviser that I have been
putting off for forever because we were talking
about the breakdown. And so, I think I started to
realized what I do matters, the music that I make matters
and the words that I put down should be well intention
because it reverberates.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
If I could ask, there’s a quick follow
up to that. How often do you engage
with your students? So for example, you
just thought the science of feminism course at NYU. How often do you engage
with your students also through like a musical lens. Is that all what we’ve been
entering together for you or is that sort of different parts of
your life that you separate or?>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo:
So I’ve kind of separated them
from my sanity. I’ve got my academic stuff over
here and then my musical self, but of course they sort of
bleed and it was really cool because one of my students at
the beginning of the class was like maybe this sounds
awkward, but are you a rapper? And I guess he had
done some research. And so it was cool, we got a
chance to have a conversation. We started taking my headphones
and other stuff and sort of opened up this,
this dialogue. But I still haven’t figured out
how to weave it all together but I would like to because
I think that they are– they do speak to each other.>>D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem:
I love that question because I think just
thinking about that as well. It’s something that
I’ve been thinking how– what are the ways that I incorporate my
performative nature into my teaching practice. One if– my kind of funny
story, there’s a shaman, multiple PhD having a– his
name is Malidoma Patrice Some, some of you may know him. He’s a Dagara from Burkina Faso. And I’ve been studying his
work following what he does for many years. And I had the chance to do
divination with him last year which was deeply transformative. And one of the stories in his
book, Of Water and the Spirit, he talks about his grandfather– he was very close and how
grandfather would hypnotize small children. If you ever saw a
small child walking around the village just
wordlessly doing a task, you know, handling a task, you knew that they had been
hypnotized by grandfather. And so, I think about that in
the context of my teaching. You know, one of the ways that
I can sort of hypnotize and, you know– and use the voice. And, you know, I’m trained as
a jazz singer and trained– My voice is my mother’s voice
so I used it very much in terms of self soothing, my sister is
a speech pathologist, you know, she taught me about
my performance that I’ll be doing later. So I’m really, really
interested in the use of voice, word force thinking
about Yoruba Oriki. The power of drawing forts,
the person’s essential nature through the use of voice. And so that’s something
that I think about a lot, and I do ritual engaging
ritual with students and that sort of thing. I also wanted to kind of,
you know, speak to, Willi, what you’re talking
about in terms of Ongogi who actually was I
took a class with him as an undergrad at Smith. He was recently out of
prison and an exile. And he talks about the cultural
bomb in decolonizing the mind. And that has been deeply
meaningful to me in terms of this idea of how it destroys
the people’s belief in terms of the colonial project in
their own culture, in their own. And so thinking about that
belief and one’s performance, the belief in one’s–
what one has to share. And one of the interesting
things is that years ago and I won’t say the
exact year but I was– when I was at Smith I was chosen
for this Smithsonian Internship where they sent 12 students
per year to different museums at the Smithsonian and I was
stationed at the National Museum of African Art to work on
King Ajman [inaudible] cloth and exhibition. At that time doing an
interactive exhibit, having a play written about
Ajman [inaudible] life, having [inaudible] family that
come from Ghana doing libations and a procession, this was
radical for the Smithsonian, you know, all kinds of
permissions to have libations and processions and all of
that may still be, you know, but to come back
here now, you know, and I will say it almost
20 years after that, it really makes me think about
this idea of engaged practice. And one of the things that I was
writing about and interviewing and working with the museum was
how do you exhibit African art in the western museum context. And I had– many of my
teachers were doing performances with works of art and
moving through the museum, dancing to the, you know,
exhibitions and all of that. And so, that was really
the foundation, you know, Andrea Hairston, Tony
Baka [assumed spelling] and so many others for my
understanding of what it means to activate not only a space. And so, I think of
myself a space sculptor. But to activate not just the
physical space but the space of your body thinking of our
bodies as vessels of liberation as much as the music
as a vessel, the mothership as a vessel. And so, what are the
ways that we use voice or we use other methodologies
to activate that individual and in response to works
of art or otherwise. So, that I think, you know,
for me the idea of immersion, interaction, performitivity,
the ritual practice within the space
of Afrofuturism. You know, for me, it’s
all in my work it ends up being a really collage. And in that the same
time when I was at Smith, I remember having
a tarot reading. And I remember the woman
who read my cards said, “The thing that you’re going
to end up doing doesn’t exist. You’re going to create it.” And so now,, you know, it’s–
that many years later, you know, I real– and it can
be very scary because this performance style,
this collage style, this thing, this Afrofuturism thing, a lot of it hasn’t existed till
what I’ve put out there and or that particular style. And so, you know, it’s a sort of
continual evolution into being– into the being that
I already am I guess. Yeah.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Willi,
I wonder if you could speak to your process so– you
refer yourself and what you do as collaborative film making
with indigenous communities. So, can you tell us a little
bit about how that process works and for you, for
them, for everyone?>>Willi Lemper: Yeah. Collaboration is a word
that’s turned around a lot now and it can mean a lot of things. Some, you know, very
admirable, some, some not. So, I’ve tried to
think for collab– about collaboration for a long
time and what that really means. So, for me, it involves trying
to– from the very beginning and through the very end, through the writing
process as well. Start off with not the question
of can I do this or anything like that, but would you like
to do something together? And at a sort of larger metal
level trying to create a dynamic in which to the extent that’s
possible instead of studying of people or that sort of
history of anthropology of doing projects with people. Working on something and looking
the same direction together. And so, going– asking if you
would like to work on a project. And if so, what would–
and the second step for me at least is what would be the
single most useful thing for me to do in this context. And then, and still leave out
the research, a complete list at that point then go
home, think about it. And then build a project
from that foundation so that the Venn diagram
of what your project is and what would be on a daily
level productive in their point of view are not in
conflict to extent possible. And then, build the
project from there. So, for me, I’ve been
following the social life with film projects. So, whatever was happening with
the project, I was just get in the land cruise
and off, we were. And the collaboration
is often discussed as a sort of ethical issue. And ethics is a very sort of
western mentality too because, of course, for addition
scholars, it’s obligation. So, ethics present it
as a sort of option that you should feel good about. But beyond that as well, I think
it has profound implications as to what you find because I
was interested in futurism and, you know, speculative thinking from following native
science fiction from many years and those films. But what I also found is that
when you approach your project to certain way, different
types of things come out. Whereas, generally, there’s
assumption that anthropologist or why people in general
are always just trying to learn more dreaming
stories, song lines. But when things open up
to in a more options, people are very interested
in telling other stories. And what I found is people often
want you talk about the future which is something I think that they feel is perhaps
silence specially in Australia where people are sort of
symbolically understood to be the oldest living
societies, set of societies. And that is taken as being
sort of the window into a past and there’s a long
history of that. So, I think engaging in the
future is also lot about process and understanding the history
of how things have often work and the research process.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: Do
you think that there’s– and I think– oh actually before
I ask this question, Denenge, I wondered if you
could talk a little bit to the Mars project just
building off of the sort of emerging theme of
education and collaboration. You are doing this
project with your students to envision competing to go or to be envisioned being
a person chosen to go Mars. And also, you have a new
course in the fall this year that I think we’d be interested
to hear about as well?>>D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem:
So, this was– Thank you for that question. This was for Afrofuturism. I started teaching Afrofuturism at Columbia College
Chicago in 2010. I knew there were other
courses here and there about it. Many of them, I believe, tended
to be focus perhaps on music in particular or specific area. This was I think one
of the first courses that was looking really across
disciplinary at the subject. I had students in the class, 13 different countries
represented 14 different majors across the college. So, it was really diverse as
far as classes, you know, go. It was a pretty diverse group. And this was– there
was the announcement of Mars 1 planning
to settle by 2023. So, we were 10 years
out and I thought, “OK. Let’s do– we got to
something with this.” And one of the big
points with Mars 1 is many of you probably know is
that they were doing a sort of reality TV style so you
could, you know, upload people from all over the world. And you could track the
demographics which I did because I want to see, you
know, how many Nigerians out. I’m very, you know,
being from Nigeria, I’m interested how many
Nigerians had actually, you know, submitted in
the application to go. But, you know, really
interested in kind of the data around that as well. Who is submitting
and why and what? So, anyway, we have all
these– oh goodness, costuming. All of these individuals from
around the world who are– I think it was in the
hundreds of thousands of people who had submitted. So, I thought let’s
do something similar. We didn’t use the application
online but I wanted students to have the experience
of applying. I did a poll. I think there were 27
students in the class. And out of that number, only
two said they would actually go. So, this wasn’t based on
the actual desire to travel to Mars just sort
of hypotheticals. And so, I created
an application. And every class session was
basically completing another step in that application. Part of that was discussing
your strengths and kind of– and it would be everything. Strengths, what do
you have to offer? So, one person in the class,
young man who’s very tall. So, he said, “Well, my height,
you know, I can reach things.” So, if I’m claiming out of
Mars, you know, a cavern, you know, I’d be useful. And then someone else said,
“I’m really, really short. I can fit into small spaces. So, if there’s, you know,
technological things, things that need to be
fixed, I can get in there.” So, they were really
thinking, you know, really practically
someone else– I’m just going to mention
some of the fun ones here. Someone said, you
know, hockey sack. You know, I’m really
good at that. It promotes community,
friendship and it’s really good for exercise and
keeping the body limber when you’re, you know. So, there were– they were
really getting into it. And, but really, we read a lot. Of course, always in my
class is reading a lot for from a wide range of authors
and thinking about what some of the problems might be. And then, they created as part
of the application package, they developed a work of
art that would be included to be sent off to the committee. And so, everything,
I’ll be sharing in the performance later. Kelsey came up. She’s a vocal composition major. So, she created a Mars Anthem
complete with the salute. And we all sang and she
brought in a drummer. We had someone who was
combination of graphic design and also health food– I’m not
sure exactly what her major was. So she researched
what astronauts eat, what some of the initiatives
were for Mars and growing plants and that sort of thing. So they were– they
really just went into all their different areas. Some went out just really
about designing and recycling and just she said, you
know, rather than F up, Mars just that way we have
Earth, let’s set up the system from the get go so that it’s
already connected directly to your pad and when you need
something it comes to you and then when you need
to, you send it out and there’s essential. So they all have these
amazing designs and ideas and it was just incredible. So that was exciting and then,
yeah, and then this fall, I’m teaching a course on Octavia
Butler’s Parable of the Sower which is a prophetic text for
this moment in times especially down to whole “Make
America Great Again.” Yeah. So basically we are–
it’s a seminar studio. We’re doing urban
foraging with Nance Klehm who is very well-known
especially in Chicago. We are meeting with Jessica
Charlesworth [assumed spelling] who teaches in the design
objects to do survival packs. So we are looking also at
disaster scenarios and thinking about what are the
ways that we want to develop these packs
based on current situations and what we envision to be our
ideas of what might be needed. So it’s just a– it’s an
exciting class and it’s a way to really kind of get it to
parable and think about future, past, present all in
this moment right now.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
Thank you. Ytasha, I wanted to ask
you since you [inaudible] for futures but you
literally wrote the book. And I wonder– and you
touched on this a little bit at the beginning of the panel,
but I wonder if you can you talk about the way in which that as
a label functions for you both as something that can be
productive, but do you ever find that it’s limiting or doesn’t
allow you access to the spaces that you would like to have?>>Ytasha L. Womack: No. I don’t find it to
be limiting at all. As a matter of fact, it’s been
very liberating in a lot of ways and there’s something
about naming power that I think really opens
the door to helping people to recognize that what
they are doing exist or to really synergize
ideas of– Denenge was– Denenge I think in a
conversation with Denenge and I put this in the book,
it was through a conversation with her that I remember first
hearing the term Afrofuturism. Now, in retrospect,
I heard it before but I– it didn’t click then. And hearing the term, you
know, I would research then– and talk to these people and what I realize was I’ve
been having conversations and engaging in Afrofuturism
in my entire life. It really synergize
for me when I was at Clark Atlanta University and
the Atlanta University Center because everyone was
creating this Afrofuturism. Art and work and contemplating
the future and really working with the concepts of– we were
even reading some of the essays, but again the term just
did not really click. And so for– so when I
had that conversation, and Denenge brought up the
term and then retroactively, you know, starting to
look at how they were– all these relationships in
music and science and the art that you’d see within a
culture and then in my own life, it really pushed my
storytelling ability– excuse me, my storytelling
ability’s further and that I was primarily
doing a lot of nonfiction. And, you know, working as
a journalist and then some of the fiction I did
was very off the time. And I felt like that
was limiting. Something about these narratives
of talking about love found, love lost in the present, this didn’t really make
a lot of sense to me. And when I started thing
about Afrofuturism, I felt very compelled
to tell a story, the first one is the Rayla 2212
story about a woman who lived in the distant planet. She’s third generation deep on
this planet and asked to kind of reconnect with Earth. And find these missing
astronauts who got stuck in space in time trying to
travel with their minds. And for me, it really became
a deconstruction around a lot of assumptions about identity
because there’s the question of are you– you know, what perspective am I
writing about her from? You know, I can’t say that she
is, you know, in my perspective of being African-American
are being the black woman, I can’t entirely
project that onto her because those identities shift
when you’re on another planet, in another solar system and
or another galaxy, you know. What does it mean to be a woman
in another galaxy, you know? What does it mean to– is she
thinking in the default terms of being American in
the way that I would. Probably not, but how do you
recognize some of these concepts and how they might
shape her perspective? And then that became really
interesting, but then that goes into the whole time travel
dynamic of seeing relationships between the future,
the past, the present. You know, these names, names
of schools, names of months of the year and so forth. So for me Afrofuturism really
opened me up to doing a lot of writing and story
telling that it– I could have deemed as
being very nontraditional and kind of stuck myself. And I think that’s one of the
beauties of the term itself is that it helps people to feel
comfortable creating stories and creating works that they
didn’t feel working were validated in very
specific spaces. And that helps to really
free the imagination or in some cases
decolonize the mind. And that’s when you can
start talking about futures. And people feel comfortable
looking at their own lives and their own ideas and
saying, “Hey, you know I think that these are ways that we
can really build together.”>>Lucianne Walkowicz: And
Enongo, maybe you can add to this as well because I know
that this has been something that you’ve actively
adapted as a lens for your music career after,
you know, being kind of lumped in with the nerdcore thing>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasong: Yeah. So I reference video
games and cartoons a lot because that’s the
stuff that I love. That’s what I grew up with
and that shaped my world view. And so I found that as an emcee
who does that quite a bit, my work started to be attached
to the subgenre called nerdcore which is basically a lot of
white guys who can’t rap. And they, you know, and they’ll
kind of have their references to Star Wars and
whatever– whatever else. But I was– I think very
offended by the fact that I didn’t get to
shape that narrative. But I saw this term and
started to be associated with me I didn’t even
know where it came from, but I would see nerdcore
rapper Samus. There’s nerdcore artist. And so I think, at first I tried
to wrestle with it and say, “OK, maybe I can adopt it. Maybe– black perspective
that I’m trying to assert through my work, it’s not
just that I love video games and it’s not just
that I’m a black girl who loves videos games, I
have a particular perspective, and I think that Afrofuturism
as a term for thinking about like repurposing was like
a really interesting way for me to engage with the idea of
repurposing this character. This character who’s a white
blonde lady and putting my face in that, you know,
cybernetic power suit. And all of the work that I ended
up doing, I mean I’ve have had so many folks who have come
up to me and said, “You know, I didn’t know who
Mae Jemison was but I did know what Metroid was. And so I listen to your album
and now I’m following her and then now I think she’s
amazing and vice versa. You know, folks who are
interested black feminist thought or who are
interested in engaging with, you know, the academy. Who don’t care about video
games or cartoons but they’re– my favorite story from
this is a woman in Ithaca and she started playing
the video game Metroid with her daughter after her
daughter started asking, who’s Samus? Like I see this rapper
and she looks like me. And I want to know more
about this video game. So now, they’ve started to play with that the kind
realities of that universe. So I think that the term
as Ytasha was saying it, I find that it’s not
restrictive in the ways that that nerdcore was
to me because built in to the understanding of it
is this idea on reprocessing or shape shifting or a kind
of movement that it’s not sort of a fluid or not
sort of a static thing and that fluid it is a part
of kind of essentially working with an Afrofuture’s frameworks. So it was– it allowed me to
reject this whole other part of music that I did not
feel like I wasn’t making.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: You know,
I want to return to as something that I think has a reason
in different ways and each of the panels today which
is the relationship of time. And I believe you brought it up
at the beginning of this panel that outside of, you know, to– let’s remove the
position from nowhere and call it white
western futurism. It seems like in a
indigenous and Afrofuturism, there is a much more
nonlinear relationship to time and much more of a
relationship to both deep time and history and into the future. And I wonder if you can
speak to that in the light of how we talk about,
well, now is the moment that we must go to space. Now is the moment that
humans must live off world. How do you think those two
ideas interact with each other?>>Ytasha L. Womack: That’s it. Well it’s fascinating
because you can be in– you can be very present
and still be connected to what we call a
future or past. And it’s being so present that you can really feel
how they’re all interweave or interwoven rather into a
way to really express and be. And to see that these actions
of now can impact the future and the past and I think that’s where it gets really
interesting. So when we usually talk about
the feature this is linear like now is the time
to move forward, right? But any action that you take
now at least in this way we talk about time it can impact
the so called feature and it can impact
the so called past. You know, it can be a healing
process in both directions. And that’s where it gets really
intriguing because there’s a– there’s just– it’s
a holistic recog– it’s a holistic way
of recognizing that your actions always
have some sort of impact. And so then now is the time I
think it’s really fascinating because you can look, you know,
back in linear past you can say, “Well, now is always
the time, wasn’t it?” You know, often times I
hear people, you know, they’ll describe, you
know, if you’re talking about the antebellum
south, right, and they’ll describe someone
who’s very noble figure supposedly and that they may
have a lot of isms attached to their philosophy
and they’ll say, “Oh, he was a man of his time.” It’s like, yeah, but you also
had people who were fighting against slavery, people
who were advocating to protect native communities. So, you know, this
whole retroactive man of its time thing or woman
of its time, it’s really, really interesting and I’m
starting to hear people say that around times that
I’ve lived in, you know. It’s like, well, wait
a second, you know. They’ll say, “Oh, well,
you can’t indict the people of the ’80s because
of their kind of their perspective
on sexuality.” OK. Where are we going
with this at some point? You know, is this just always
going to be the conversation where we don’t acknowledge that
there were always a variety of voices in the so
called linear past. And that gets into something that our previous
panelist mentioned, the gentlemen over here. My apologies for not remembering
your name exactly, but– and that was this whole concept
of the narrative, you know, what is the narrative around
going to Mars, you know, because it’s the dominant
narrative that we seem to remember sometimes almost
more than the actual actions of people in the so called past
that gets really fascinating. So now is the time, now
is always been the time to do any number of things. But the narratives we
associate with that and then the actions
people taking, why they take those actions? Is– it says more
about our belief around agency in our lives. And that’s why it’s so great
to talk about the future and to talk about Afrofuturism
and indigenous featurism and other– and bringing
people to the table or making them feel
comfortable about who they are so that they can have agency
to make the now moment of– be the now moment and
create these holistic spaces that help all of us.>>D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem:
Excuse me. [Inaudible] here. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. In terms of the narrative,
I think one of the reasons that I love being in the
art history department which is a little strange but
also perfect and I kind of go in between art history and
sculpture and, you know. But thinking a lot of the work
that I do with students is around decolonizing the canon. And so thinking about
going back to the story, what are the narratives. That is a kind of
active reclamation that for me is I believe a kind
of time travel and a shifting because we are reframing
the narrative, we’re reframing how
we see the center. And a lot of that is through the
action of students themselves. You know, we do projects
that just with the grad students
this summer. The final offering that we gave
to the other low rez students and to the library is who are
very amazing and receptive. Basically out of the 30 students in the class everyone brought
an artist that they felt needed to be included in the canon. We also unpack people
to find how, you know, how are you defining the canon and then created basically a
sheet with images and names and titles of books to be
given to the library to order, but just, you know,
small actions like that actually are not small
but thinking about this idea of a kind of a healing
of the past as you were mentioning
Ytasha, which is why I also go so much back to the
black guards movement in this idea of an action. What are the actions
that we’re taking? I look also to Rasheedah
Phillips and Moor Mother and Philly, North Philly
with Black Quantum Futurism and not only with their
community future’s lab that they’ve setup, which is
basically and now has been, you know, the work
that’s come from that. It’s being shown at, you
know, museums and everything. And so there’s that sense of
agency that people have in terms of wait a minute, our neighborhood is
being rapidly gentrified. What can we do? And setting up almost like sun
runs bases the place, you know, that remember Spaceways
Incorporated that sort of storefront and having the
storefront and transforming it and saying, “Wait a minute. We can like claim.” I also love– I had the
fortune to experience one of Rasheedah’s time travel
exercises that she does where she takes you through
the steps of imagining, taking your something from
the past physically, you know, just through her
instruction locating it in a different place, sending it
back, something from the future, putting it in the past and
through that sort of gesture of that exercise, what
was in the past and what’s in the future– it all of a
sudden it starts to shift. And your relationship
to it starts to shift. And the power that things
have start to shift. So even for instance
with the performance that I’ll be doing
later, I was imagining it as having already occurred then and it’s also something
that runners do. You know, in sports,
you know, you imagine– and this is related but,
you know, somewhat different but thinking about how we, where
we place information in our mind and in our energy field and
Wendy Walters in speaking about electronic
science in Detroit, city of past, present, future. She talks about this in
relationship to the creation of techno music and
traveling the digital pathways and how Detroit is sort
of situated, you know, at the simultaneously
in all of these moments and resisting a particular
location and time is nonlinear. And so there’s so much in that
that I find very inspiring as to thinking about how
do we understand now. In Rasheedah’s Black
Quantum Futurism, she posits that now is only
ever about three seconds. I mean there’s much more to
it and much more in-depth, you know, which is
genius, but, you know, if we think about what’s
now, I mean now is– it’s already gone before you
can even say the word now. So things like that,
I like to just kind of play with that in my mind. I’m not a scientist but, yeah, that kind of stuff
gets me going.>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo:
And just quickly to jump on some names that
were mentioned. So Moor Mother is
absolutely incredible. She– I don’t want to say
just musician because she’s so much more than that
as M-O-O-R Mother. And one of the things that she
says and some of her experiences and I think this is drawing on
summer from sunrise that the end of the world has already
happened that we are in the post apocalypse–
post-apocalyptic times. And I think it’s a really
interesting way to think about our existence because
on the one hand, you know, you could sort of frame it
through this sort of perspective where it’s gloom and doom
but I think in other ways that invites us to do the
stuff that we would do in the post-apocalyptic time,
right, to kind of come together to figure out new
possibilities, to repurpose and to really see this as an
opportunity to reshape some of the existence of power that existed before
the apocalypse happen. So, I think I always love
coming back to this idea that the world has
already ended.>>Willi Lemper: And
relating to a lot of these topics including
the power of a term or its limitations, I
think indigenous futures since had that impact as well. It was developed by someone
Anishinaabe scholar named Grace Dillon who’s at Portland
State University. She has this great book
called “Walking the Clouds.” And what she essentially
did is take all this work that was indigenous futurist
and put it into conversation and theorized it and bring it
together around a certain issue so that people were part
of the conversation. It wasn’t fringe,
something science fiction. And one of the themes that
she develops is this idea of slipstream which is this way
of thinking about how time works that strikes this
balance of honoring that time works differently in
a lot of indigenous societies but not uttering it in a
way that depoliticizes it which could be difficult
balance. Another thing that she talks
about is the native apocalypse and she says this powerful thing
in the intro that, you know, if contemplated seriously, the native apocalypse
has already happened. But it’s a very nuance and
thoughtful discussion about– also how there’s a difference between post-apocalyptic
and dystopian. All right, dystopian
is an end point. Post-apocalyptic is
a beginning point. Since that have kind of
considering through health stats and everything is equal, if
you start from a point of view in which communities are in a post apocalyptic
situation then it’s like, well, communities are doing
really well in that way of changing the frame and
comparing them in all sorts of ways that stops making sense. And there’s just a lot of
great, I think films coming back to the creative side of things
that they’re doing this. Most related perhaps to this
discussion is the 6th World by Nanobah Becker who’s Navajo. And you see some stills
on floating through. And I really recommend watching. It’s called the 6th World,
it’s streaming online. But long story short, it
centers the Navajo nation as the leading funder in
organizing kind of organization that is pushing for
this mission to Mars. And it stars scientist who is
Navajo woman who’s an astronaut and the lead scientist and sort
to causing the question GMO and the way that what Mars
is becomes very different. If it’s into the cosmology
of Navajo in broad strokes around the 6th World is
not just in an earth rock. And there’s great
work that’s been done on understanding
perspectives on the moon landing from indigenous communities where the moon is not just
some an earth rock either, it’s a sacred space for a lot of
people in going there trampling on it, driving around,
taking things from it. For a lot of people is a
violation of something. And that’s often, you know,
we had discussions about sort of personhood for
places and these kind of things are not even
in the discussion. And the other piece I wanted to mention very briefly
is Lisa Jackson. She has this short
called “The Visit” and it involves extraterrestrial
space saucer visiting earth. And they don’t go to a
Kansas farm, they don’t go to Washington D.C., they go
to a native reserve in Canada. And there’s not a colonial
interaction and it’s hard to think of extraterrestrial,
any narratives that don’t have some sort
of colonial engagement. It’s an engagement that’s
spiritual, it’s part of the sort of the coyote sign in the
sky and it’s constellation. It’s something else,
it’s the sort of otherwise you’ve mentioned
and I think that’s the power of a lot of the stuff
that it involves things that are not already
known sort of at the edge of what could can be imagined
which makes some people or some people have challenged
with because it’s a ephemeral in a way but I think it’s very
practical and politically, you know, potent especially
to creative endeavors. And that’s where the edge of
what can be imagined comes into being even more so
than academic settings. Yeah.>>Lucianne Walkowicz: So I
want to sure that we have time for audience questions but
first let’s thank our panel. [ Applause ] And as before, we
have mic runners. So just raise your hand if
you’d like to ask a question.>>Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
So, I guess I’m thinking about the discussion that we
had during the first panel about modernity and who’s
allowed to be modern in this conversation
and Afrofuturisms. So I’d like to say isms because
I think I want to avoid the idea that we all have the same
sort of vision of the future. And so one of the things
that I think concerns me and I also think came out of Professor Child’s
comments this morning is the idea that cultures– some cultures are forced into
a positionality of staticness. And so the moon will
always be a sacred place that we can never visit and
this static idea is then held as an excuse for
colonial activities. And so, I was kind of wondering
about how you all kind of think about the idea of indigeneity
as static and Afrofuturisms and indigenous futurisms
as kind of a way around that narrative about us.>>D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem:
Thank you. I love that. I think that’s why I
keep coming back to– I feel like my rule as
educator and in the classroom or in creating projects,
I guess, with students to explore their own
relationships, you know, so there’s this kind of–
to keep that dynamic aspect and incorporating especially
for people who may not be– you know I don’t teach in
the performance departments. So most of the people I get– you know, they might
becoming from, you know, who knows what department. And so to incorporate ritual or
preformative or– yeah, that– because that’s big issue,
you know, I teach African art as well and so that’s
always this idea of– yes there’s this static
pass that we’re looking at versus understanding
it, the dynamism. So, I think for me and
it sort of in the action in the engagement and seeing
Afrofuturism as been and stating that it is a space
of shape shifting. We’re really, really
clear about that. There has a lot of portals
and an entry points. That’s that kind of how
I sort of deal with that. So a little more
general but yeah.>>Willi Lemper: Very
briefly, I think with a lot of indigenous futurist creative
filmmakers and writers talk about is that asserting
something in the future which is often silence is a way
of breaking out of this sort of endless binaries around
authenticity versus modernity that become– unless they
reinscribe and they’re so baked into the entire settler
colonial project and language. And so the future– by imagining
and envisioning the future like in the 6th World,
it’s envisioning a future that it’s very Navajo and
it’s very technological and like the white
people have to be saved. And their science is the one
that has limitations and it’s– you know, the Navajo corn that
it is what works in the end. So, I think it’s– an
imaginative space that can to some extent break
out of things and Grace Dillon talks a lot about how the pluralist
is essential. The futurisms is important for
the reasons that you mentioned.>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo:
I’m so sorry.>>Ytasha L. Womack:
No, go ahead.>>Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo: So I
thinking in a teaching context, one of the questions– one of the things that
I always push back against with my students is
when we talk about progress. Always asking progress for
whom like forcing them to stick that in there because it
starts to dislodge all of these assumptions, I think, for them about exactly
what you’re speaking about these ideas about
what modernity looks like or like I was saying earlier
what technology looks like, what technology means,
what science means. So always sticking
for whom, I think, at the end of their
statement is a way that I’ve been able
to trouble that. And then on my personal
work, I’ve started thinking about how I can cooperate ideas
around sort of cyborg feminism or the idea of sitting
in the discomfort between all these different
aspects of ourselves and knowing that those things can’t be
reconciled and trying to figure out how to speak
to parts of myself that I’ll later contradicts
and in other works and feeling like that’s a part of
the work and that helps to reject this sort of static
ideas of what, you know, conscious rap looks
like or what, you know, rap from a black women
looks like or sounds like. And like always trying to
challenge myself in that regard but that’s an awesome question,
something to think about.>>Ytasha L. Womack: Oh,
I was just going to note that even the way we talk about
the past, there’s an assumption around technologies,
there’s an assumption around how people function,
how they lived their lives. I mean so many records from so
many societies no longer exist. And many of the records that
do exist we’re trying to put in a framework of who we think
they should have been as opposed to who they actually were. So we read all the time
about objects that are found and people don’t know
what it is and they say “Oh must be a religious
symbol,” you know, so if someone found a television
set, you know, 10,000 years from now and say “Oh it must
have been a religious symbol. Look at these pictures. They’re all staring at it.” Right? How to you explain
what a television was and the electricity and
plugging it into a wall of those systems don’t
exist in the same ways. So, so I just always
question, you know, how we talk about the past
particularly because of some of the records that
we’re working with and because we don’t
always value oral histories in the same way. And, you know, the arguments that one can get
into about that. And when you start talking
about that kind of a past where there was more
technological advancement, then we really understand
even if it was just sometimes of how societies work that
sometimes mirrors the same sort of futures, we say that
we’re working towards. And that’s where the
storytelling gets fun because you can leap over
these traumatic moments and in cultural paradigms
and you can, in some ways, ague that you’re intuitively
trying to tap into the ideas of what this other past
could be and you’re at least putting
it into a story. And the fact that that’s
challenge sometimes I think says a lot about what it
means to tell a story and how stories really
function for human beings and for our ideas of–
for how ideas are spread or what we think is
valuable to preserve.>>D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem:
On that note, I wanted to just quickly add
if I might about Malidoma in his introduction to
“Of Water and the Spirit”. He actually talks about
introducing the elders in the village and
at Dagara in Dano where he is from to Star Trek. He was doing this as a kind of
an experiment just to understand because the Dagara people
don’t have a word for fiction. They only have a
word “Yielbongura” which means the thing
that knowledge can’t eat. So, if you know– And again
this is a book that I share with every student, every person
that I– because, you know, I think there’s so much in
that, you know to shifting. And so, he showed them an
episode and the elders looked at that and they
said “Well, Spock,” is “kontombili” he’s just too
tall but he’s at, you know, the seventh dimension
kontombili. So they recognized, you
know, Spock as being someone who is part of their, you know,
world view and but then also with the teleportation
they thought that the Star Trek episode
was from a people in the past because they looked and they
said, “We do this without all of those [inaudible]”
then we don’t need all that junk and it’s so slow. You know, what is all of these? So in their eyes this was the
Star Trek as a future vision from the West was a vision
of past clanky process as far as they were concerned. And so stories like, you know, as far as storytelling
that’s the kind of thing that I get really excited
about sharing and because it, you know, that kind of forced
shift around how do you– if people thinking about Africa
and it was idea of construction of Africa as a background
backward, but then we actually have ways
and methods and ideas that are so far beyond the clunkiness
of the West’s future vision.>>Lucianne Walkowicz:
All right. We have now a longer break and
there will be a performance by D. Denenge immediately
following. So please stick around. There’s refreshments
in the back. And let us thank our
wonderful panelist again. [ Applause ]

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