The day the SpaceX mission launched, I opened my social media to find various posts from friends and family members all saying the same thing: “They chose the right time to go,” “I wish I could go to space now,” “Now is the perfect time to leave Earth!” I understood what people were saying. It was a tough week, fraught with reports of coronavirus infections, murder hornets, and brutal police killings of Black Americans. The rest of the year continued to face more and more concerns. Nonetheless, all these posts seemed somewhat off to me for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint.
Now, I recognize what that feeling was. Looking over the posts again, I realized that almost every single one was made by a white person, and none were written by a single Black person. It made me wonder: why do we think we have the right to escape this? Don’t get me wrong. I understand that escapism is a natural human desire, and it’s hard to blame people for wanting to escape from a global pandemic and a racist government. But at the same time, what good does escape do?
These posts also reveal another strange phenomenon: how we view science as separate from the “real world.” Space, technology, and science are often considered exempt from our human world’s biases, wholly infallible and detached from racism, corruption, and inequality. But this isn’t true. Technology informs government policies, provides tools to corrupt police forces, and sows seeds of classism and inequality. Science informs health and medicine, two very unequal sectors of our society–as this pandemic has shown with difficulties in distributing vaccines to the most in need. Even the United States Space Program was pushed forward out of Cold-War era political tensions, driven by political motive and power. This isn’t to say that science is inherently evil or corrupt, but that it has an incredible capacity for political and social change.
Human problems don’t end when we go to space. They just change location.
Science is and has always been a human endeavor. As long as humans are involved, it will take on the biases of the people who create and study it. For example, NASA is not free from human prejudice and politics. NASA’s workforce is still about 72% white, and only a third of the employees are women. SpaceX founder Elon Musk certainly isn’t free from prejudice as well. Musk has expressed some progressive views, but he’s also courted controversy by speaking out against coronavirus lockdowns, spouting red pill rumors, and fighting union organizing. That doesn’t mean that SpaceX is necessarily racist or evil; it just means that the world of aerospace engineering is still capable of human biases.
These statements also show the wrong way we view science as totally disparate from our society. In reality, science and technology inform almost every aspect of our daily lives, from the information we receive daily to the medicine and hygiene we all need. Science is not separate from human endeavors but entirely integral to it. The world of science is not a detached fantasy world where one can ignore human problems. It is woven into every fiber of the world we inhabit now. We can use science and technology to create positive solutions, or we can ignore this opportunity and allow them to continue to enforce the status quo. Either way, we cannot ignore the impact of either of these sectors.
As attractive as it sounds, going to space will never be a true escape. People in space are still people, with all the biases, prejudices, fears, and traumas of people on Earth. Human problems don’t end when we go to space. They just change location. Science is an intrinsic part of every problem or solution that we have on Earth; it is not a distraction from our society but a fundamental aspect of it.
Most of us cannot go to space at this moment. It would be logically improbably and ethically wrong. Right now, the best thing we can do is stand our ground and stay on Earth. Hard as is it, we need you here, and now is not the time to run — or fly — away.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!