Decolonizing Space

Keynote: Ea and aloha ʻāina on Mauna a Wākea
Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua

In this talk, I transport us to Maunakea, site of an upwelling of aloha ʻāina (love of land and country) activism in protection of this sacred summit. Following Tracey Banivanua Mar’s call to recognize how women have long been crucial to decolonisation and independence movements in Oceania, I focus on the ways wāhine (womxn) and māhū (transgendered & non-binary folx) have upheld leadership roles in the Mauna movement. I argue that one of the Maunakea movement’s most transformative potentials lies in the ritual investment of Kanaka Maoli political leadership unbound by a Western binary gender system. This is an invitation to remake futures against economies of dispossession and extractive research practices.

The myth of decolonisation in South African astronomy
Tana Joseph, AstroComms

South African astronomy as practiced by westerners stretches back to the time of British colonialism. Now, the Square Kilometre Array project has ushered in a new era of astronomical research. In this talk, I give a brief overview of the stages of astronomy development through the lens of various oppressive regimes. I also take stock of the current challenges faced by decolonisation efforts and potential ways forward.

‘Research as a site of struggle’: reframing ethics to decolonise astrobiology
Alessandra Marino, Open University

This talk argues for using ethics as a tool to change astrobiology research and establish a more equal and ecological practice. It engages with the literature on decolonising methodologies to advocate for change of paradigm in analog studies. After looking at the vestiges of colonialism that inhabit scientific methods, I propose a reading of geology and astrobiology that calls for resisting objectification of people and cultures, challenging ‘epistemic injustice’ and creating new ways of engaging with local and indigenous knowledge systems.

Coloniality and Planetary Science
Divya M. Persaud, UCL

Planetary science and “space exploration” are typically framed as politically neutral endeavors, but our work as scientists in this field exists within a material history of science serving colonialism. How we in Western planetary science choose to portray planetary terrain and communicate our work is informed by how we speak of terrain on Earth, typically within settler frameworks of extraction and exploitation, and reinforcing “terra nullius” policies. I give an overview of symbology and language around “space exploration,” democracy, and scientific analysis that betray coloniality in planetary science, drawing from Quijano’s Coloniality of Power and Eurocentrism in Latin America and Said’s Culture and Imperialism.

Computing, Technology and Space

Keynote: Science Fiction in Action: Notes from an ethnographer of a spacecraft team
Janet Vertesi, Princeton University

Drawing on ethnographic studies of spacecraft teams, I propose the study of science fiction in action, examining science fiction not just as a cultural product but as an active part of team culture. I show how references to science fiction touchstones like Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey are important for group membership, for sociopolitical commentary, and for active engagement and critique as part of team heritage and trajectory. Although many studies of science fiction are right to point out the role of sociotechnical imaginaries in state formation, perpetuating colonial or gendered visions, and establishing a shared future, I suggest that following science fiction in action allows us to see how these same critiques are engaged by the very actors involved in space exploration themselves, showing science fiction to be an active part of team culture and mission experience in perhaps unexpected ways.

Colonialism, Computing and Space
Syed Mustafa Ali, Open University

The importance of computing to space science and technology is self-evident, computers being deployed in rocket launch systems, on-board flight systems, satellite telemetry systems, and in astronautics and aeronautics more generally. Computing also plays a central, if not critical, role in the collection, analysis, reduction, visualisation, preservation and dissemination of astronomical data, as well as in the development of astronomical software and simulations.

What is less clear is the ‘entangled’ relationship between computing and colonialism, the ‘legacy system’ effects of the latter on the former, and the implications of this legacy for historical, contemporary and future developments within space science in relation to proposals for the colonisation of space, the resource extraction associated with that project, and the role of both in maintaining, expanding and refining existing power relationships.

Starlink: A Case Study in Weaponizing the Greater Good
Lucianne Walkowicz, Adler Planetarium

Starlink is a project by SpaceX to launch ~12,000 satellites into low Earth orbit to provide satellite-based internet access. Starlink has created great consternation amongst stargazing enthusiasts, legal scholars, and others, owing to the satellites’ potential threat to dark sky access, professionalized astronomy, and orbital debris. Because Starlink’s purported intent is to provide internet access to “underserved” communities, critiques of Starlink have been deflected by “greater good” arguments that paint critics as standing in the way of “progress”. However, there is little evidence that Starlink will make the internet accessible to communities that are “underserved” in anything but the most literal sense (i.e. lacking internet access specifically). In this talk, I argue that Starlink presents an example of how the “greater good” is weaponized by private industry to both deflect critique, and drive unilateral actions that primarily benefit their own ends, even as they come with global consequences.

Can We Keep Space Verifiably Safe?
Anuradha Damale, VERTIC

There remains a policy gap on the international level with regards to state and non-state behaviour in space. Discussions within UN Member States surrounding possible multilateral instruments intending to address this vagueness are often disrupted by the question of verification, and how or even if behaviours and compliance can be verified. In October 2019, UNIDIR published a report called ‘Eyes on the Sky’, which, amongst other things, outlines developments in space situational awareness (SSA) technologies that could help states focus on the verifiable aspects of space security, hopefully allowing for more success in the negotiations for policy instruments to address those specific aspects of space security. As an emerging researcher in space security, I hope to use this talk to shine a light on what i’ve learnt so far: some of the current research in SSA, the applications of this research, and how SSA could ultimately benefit society.

Space for Society

Keynote: The Image of Exoplanets and the Imagination of Worlds
Lisa Messeri, Yale University

This talk examines different ways of visualizing exoplanets, from scientific light curves to artistic landscapes. How we depict worlds beyond Earth shapes the potential human futures we have the capacity to imagine. Understanding how certain visual aesthetics inform our imagination of the cosmos simultaneously raises questions of what and whose aesthetics (and futures) are excluded. This talk applies the lessons from exoplanet astronomy to some of the more recent representations of human space futures produced by Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin. I consider how nostalgia for a particular past shapes visions of the future.

Science in Society: The Need for a Policy and Ethics Approach to Our Science
Monica Vidaurri, Howard University/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The current landscape of international cooperation in space has little to no law, structure, and oversight, and is highly reactionary to any new action or actor. In addition, there is little ethical consideration of an unstructured and unregulated approach to space exploration and advances in space science. Given the inevitability of the commercial space industry in space science and exploration as well as humanity’s push to inhabit other celestial bodies, it is paramount that the space science community incorporates a policy and ethics approach to their projects early on in the project timeline, and actively works to create practices of good faith with the goal that these practices become norm in the scope of international space law. Establishing and maintaining a high level of communication between all actors in space – academia, government, commercial sector, etc. – and working on all levels from internal management to the international coordination will ensure that space science and exploration remains a largely peaceful and politically neutral effort. Self-imposed accountability, practices of good faith, careful policy consideration, and addressing all structural ethical concerns early in a mission or project will set a truly even stage in space exploration, and ensure that space is for all.

Vidaurri, Monica, et al. “Absolute Prioritization of Planetary Protection, Safety, and Avoiding Imperialism in All Future Science Missions: A Policy Perspective.” Space Policy 51 (February 1, 2020): 101345. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spacepol.2019.101345.

Satellite Earth Observation for Environmental Management in West Africa: A Case Study in Benin
Ufuoma Ovienmhada, MIT

This project explores an Earth Observation (EO) application with the enterprise Green Keeper Africa (GKA) based in Cotonou, Benin, that addresses the management of an invasive plant species that is threatening the ecosystem services of an estimated 40,000 people that border Lake Nokoue in coastal Benin. GKA helps control the infestation of the water hyacinth on Lake Nokoue by repurposing the plant into a product that absorbs oil-based waste. The EO application is an online Environmental Observatory that utilizes satellite, aerial and ground data to map the location of the water hyacinth over time and quantitatively describe the historical and contemporary ecosystem state. The techniques demonstrated in this project show significant progress towards creating a multi-data stream suitability model and Lake management tool that can be used by GKA, government decision-makers, and community members to engage with the Lake in a manner that protects the ecosystem services of surrounding human populations.​

“Tiemperos, Case Study #3 “: Tonalteca Meteorological Observatory and the importance of including the community in scientific research
Cintia Dúran

During 2017 and 2018, thanks to the FONCA young creators fellowship, I carried out a series of “good weather” request rituals in different places in the metropolitan area of the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. An approach to the scientific meteorological understanding of the city with the help of meteorological stations designed and built by me. This series of actions gave way to the first approach to communities settled in Cerro de la Reina in Tonalá, Jalisco, whose roots in nature, burnished clay, and community rituals constitute a fundamental basis in the civil development of the neighborhoods of that municipality. The final piece built and designed in collaboration with Ángel Santos, a community craftsman, using the burnished clay technique, detonated in my project the precision of including the community where I was carrying out said interventions and research.  After a year of work, thanks to Tonalá’s case study, I understood that the pieces could not have been achieved without the interest of the people, their generous teaching and the time available to participate in the actions motivated by my project.

Tiemperos 2018 concluded with a series of good weather rituals, educational actions on meteorology, and astronomy with the children Tastoanes and the construction of 2 electronic / craft hybrid sculptural pieces, which were used in the rituals.

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