Societal Issues

Ethical Exploration And The Role Of Planetary Protection In Disrupting Colonial Practices

By Keith Cowing
October 18, 2020
Filed under
Ethical Exploration And The Role Of Planetary Protection In Disrupting Colonial Practices
Ethical Exploration

We recommend that the planetary science and space exploration community engage in a robust reevaluation concerning the ethics of how future crewed and uncrewed missions to the Moon and Mars will interact with those planetary environments. This should occur through a process of community input, with emphasis on how such missions can resist colonial structures. Such discussions must be rooted in the historical context of the violent colonialism in the Americas and across the globe that has accompanied exploration of Earth.

The structures created by settler colonialism are very much alive today, impact the scientific community, and are currently replicated in the space exploration communities’ plans for human exploration and in-situ resource utilization.

These discussions must lead to enforceable planetary protection policies that create a framework for ethical exploration of other worlds. Current policy does not adequately address questions related to in-situ resource utilization and environmental preservation and is without enforcement mechanisms. Further, interactions with potential extraterrestrial life have scientific and moral stakes. Decisions on these topics will be made in the coming decade as the Artemis program enables frequent missions to the Moon and crewed missions to Mars.

Those first choices will have irreversible consequences for the future of human space exploration and must be extremely well considered, with input from those beyond the scientific community, including expertise from the humanities and members of the general public. Without planetary protection policy that actively resists colonial practices, they will be replicated in our interactions and exploration of other planetary bodies.

The time is now to engage in these difficult conversations and disrupt colonial practices within our field so that they are not carried to other worlds.

Frank Tavares, Denise Buckner, Dana Burton, Jordan McKaig, Parvathy Prem, Eleni Ravanis, Natalie Trevino, Aparna Venkatesan, Steven D. Vance, Monica Vidaurri, Lucianne Walkowicz, Mary Beth Wilhelm

Comments: A submission to the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:2010.08344 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2010.08344v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Frank Tavares
[v1] Thu, 15 Oct 2020 17:14:18 UTC (1,292 KB)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻