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The human race will step foot on another planet. Given the race between SpaceX and NASA to get to Mars, it seems inevitable one of the two teams will make it.

Don’t you dare enjoy the ride, though, or get caught up in the sense of awe that comes from doing the single coolest thing in a generation.  Doubly so if the coolest thing in a generation creates real, tangible progress for the human race, vice distracting the human race from progressing in the name of progressivism. Right, Matt Taylor? No, the correct feeling you’re supposed to be feeling is guilt for wanting to take on the responsibility of doing cool things, instead of worrying about whose most oppressed after the cool things are done.

Mission to Mars

NASA has discovered the best candidate thus far to have liquid water on it. Liquid water is a building block for life, so the implications of this finding are exciting to say the least.  I’m excited by the news to the point where I want to adopt my small part of the responsibility of getting the human race to other planets.

A system I helped design, test, and operate launched its first spacecraft in October 2011.  My experience: doing cool things feels frakking amazing!

So, why are DN Lee and Martin Robbins trying to pre-emptively piss in the human race’s Cheerios?  Let’s take a look.

The commentaries I’m referencing are a couple months old and exclusively related to Mars colonization; however, now that the human race’s Manifest Destiny includes more than just Earth’s planetary neighborhood, they are even more relevant.  Yes, I said Manifest Destiny in a positive connotation.  That, in and of itself, is revolutionary.  I can say “Manifest Destiny” with positive connotation, because I’m also aware humanity has evolved in the 160+ years since Manifest Destiny was “invented.”  I’m not even sure the current race to Mars qualifies as “Manifest Destiny,” but for the sake of entertaining the fear mongers, let’s assume it does.  Doesn’t the “mission statement” of the Mars race look something like following?

Earth is overpopulated, and all the remedies for solving the overpopulation problem on Earth are not palatable to anyone.  Therefore, in order to solve the overpopulation problem, we need places for people to live and sources of raw materials outside of Earth.

 Or

Because the Western world pumped the two weakest generations ever out of its school systems [Gen Y and the Millennials], we’re closer to catastrophic annihilation by our own hand than ever before.  In order to maximize the chance the human race survives long-term, we need humans on as many planets as possible.

Either statement is sufficient justification for diving headlong into the responsibility of getting the human race to other planets in a self-sustainable fashion.  Indeed, going to other words should be, in and of itself, enough to get anyone who has a speck of talent in STEM subjects to run the gauntlet of getting one or more STEM degrees in college and getting a job in aerospace, more specifically, with any of the companies/organizations taking on the responsibility of getting the human race to other planets.

This is Scientific, American

The Lee commentary is what I consider to be typical, pedestrian, fear monger hand wringing about the wrong colored/gendered people being excited about taking on the responsibility of getting the human race to other planets.  It focuses on an episode of StarTalk featuring Elon Musk, Bill Nye, and Chuck Nice.

Lee laments StarTalk’s host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, not wielding his position as host like a weapon to bog down conversations about STEM topics with valueless sidebars about intersectionality and social justice (because 2+2=4 if and only if you’re white, apparently).  After a perfunctory compliment about the gravitas of deGrasse Tyson and how super, cool, huge, totally awesome it is for him to have his position in the greater STEM community (which he has, in part, because he doesn’t ambush his guests with baiting questions about intersectionality), Lee continues hand wringing.

Lee points out 2 “important comments that hint to critical social justice issues.”  First, Bill Bye mentions the need to get more women into STEM. Sounds great, right?  It’s been done.  Everywhere performance is irrelevant, girls are taking more STEM classes and doing better at them than boys.  Moreover, it’s been that way for the last 15 years.  The utopian construct of intersectionality falls down in practice because in the real world performance matters, especially in STEM.  What’s the solution, giving out STEM degrees like they’re the toys you find in your cereal box?  Lee, of course, offers none.

The second has to do with Musk being raised in South Africa.  I guess that has something to do with the fear the human race would go to another planet and enslave any/all native populations?  I’m not sure how that’s done with less than 20 people, which is what the size of a first mission to another planet would be, but we’ll leave that particular detail to the mission controllers.  It’s possible Lee might be fear mongering about a possible far flung future vice the near future.

Lee then gets hung up on the word “Stuck” in the StarTalk episode summary text.  Yes, Ms. Lee, we are stuck on Earth.  Stuck with people lacking the courage or ability to do cool stuff bogging down conversations about doing cool stuff with intersectionality and social justice.  Stuck throwing a mountain of effort, and of course money, into trying to turn STEM into a populist utopia when it seems clear, based on data, STEM is a hereditary meritocracy.  Stuck having to write a commentary criticizing a commentary with the following foundation, “Someone was oppressed once, so let’s ensure no one gets to go to other planets, because the theoretical people on those other planets might also be oppressed.” So, I suppose from my position from the cheap seats of “Easy Mode,” I say I’m very much stuck on planet Earth.

Look at it on the bright side.  This isn’t Civilization V, so someone won’t win the race to colonize another planet only to play one more turn just so they can spite-nuke everyone else.  You’d need way more than the Orkin man to solve a planetary infestation of cockroaches practicing intersectionality.  San Francisco will be nearly unscathed, I promise.

Guardian of the Galaxy, Apparently

I will give DN Lee credit for one thing: at least her commentary about how the human race dares to let those white people into outer space has some basis in reality.  A commentary for the Guardian by Martin Robbins has no such foundation.

The Robbins commentary starts with some good, old timey, “I won’t get it if I have a 1000 lifetimes to understand it” Wikipedia propaganda about Manifest Destiny.  I’ll spare you the long form critique, because it is the same as Lee’s base assertion if the human race goes to another planet, we’ll immediately enslave whoever lives there.

Robbins’ commentary deviates from Lee’s by going completely off the rails by starting to talk about American pop culture from the beginning of the space race.  Compounding the silliness is a quote from Russian Professor Anatoly Grigoryev, who 10 years ago said women are fragile and should be carried into space in the strong hands of men.

So, Robbins’ “proof” those white people are going to do something terrible when they go into space is a quote from a professor working in country whose space program had their last space race victory in 1957?  Oh, yeah, and a poster for a film called Devil Girl from Mars.

The icing on the cake is Robbins’ lamentation that DN Lee is fighting against “the most pernicious space myth in existence.” As he puts it, the myth is the following:

When we go into space, we will all magically become nice.

Selected as evidence of this “myth” are press releases celebrating cooperation and Star Trek.  This “myth” is the sentiment of an intellectual and emotional infant negligently ignorant of how aerospace and the Space Program work.  My experience working with NASA is they like it when teams perform to their expectations; conversely, they become unhappy when teams fail to perform to expectations. In short, it’s a meritocracy.

So the answer of, “Who gets to go to Mars?” is an easy one. “The best qualified applicants get to go, regardless of what their Tumblr profile says.”

If there’s a “most pernicious myth” being tossed around it is the following:

The most deserving candidates to go on a mission to another planet, if they are white men, are still just European colonialist, rapist slave owners.

Which is where the Mars race deviates from the entire experience of the human race.  None of the European explorers or conquerors the social justice crowd trots out as examples of why white people shouldn’t get to strive for anything cool earned their job by being the most qualified candidate, whereas the people on missions to Mars or Kepler 452-b for at least the next generation or two will exclusively be the most qualified candidates of those who apply.

The Robbins piece finishes with the following:

It’s early days, but if we really want to create a progressive new world then issues like these should be at the hearts of our efforts from the very start. I hope Musk and his peers open up that discussion sooner rather than later, and I hope that people like Lee can take part in it.

I’m going to drop a bomb, and maybe Martin Robbins doesn’t know this.  We can’t actually put people on other planets yet! The human race lacks the ability to put a human being on another planet.  So, besides the good think and good feels from putting a black, trans-genedered, “xol/xin/xiz,” potato-kin who gets D’s in algebra on a spaceship bound for Mars, what value is there, exactly, about having intersectional discussions about Mars colonization when the responsibility part, actually being able to get there, isn’t even done yet?  We haven’t put the cart before the horse, the cart is two towns over at the destination already before ever being loaded or hitched to the horse.

A Question for the Final Frontier

Given going to Mars is a massively complex problem, requiring massively complex solutions.  Given we know what happens when someone screws the proverbial pooch at any step along the process of design, development, testing, and operations of those complex solutions.  Given missions to other planets mean lives are on the line, with almost no hope of rescue.  Shouldn’t we, maybe, make sure the people involved in the first missions to Mars aren’t going to kill everyone on the mission by worrying about microaggressions when they were supposed to be doing orbit calculations or spectroscopy analysis of the atmosphere?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have Avians in Starbound to enslave while sucking their planet dry of every natural resource. YEEEEEE-HAAWWWWWW!


Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.